Care and Feeding

Can I Make My Son Quit His Travel Sports Team?

The rest of our family would like our life back.

A mother puts her head in her hands and looks stressed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by PIKSEL/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our 15-year-old son is involved in a niche sport. He joined the rec team at 10, made the club team at 11, and the “elite” team at 13. He genuinely loves it, and it gives him so much joy. During the pandemic shutdown, he didn’t participate at all (for obvious reasons)—and though he was bummed, it was so much easier on our entire family. We no longer spent entire weekends driving three or four hours each way to his tournaments. We had our son home with us every night for dinner. He got closer with his two younger sisters, instead of spending every night at practice until after they went to bed. And most of all, we were able to spend holidays together enjoying one another’s company, instead of cramped in a hotel room with another family we dislike, solely because both our kids play this sport.

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My husband and I have had serious conversations around to what extent our son should rejoin the elite team now that it has resumed post-pandemic. We now realize the emotional, financial, and physical toll this sport has taken on our entire family. And though we love our son, we don’t think his participation (which realistically won’t result in any college scholarships) should outweigh the welfare of the other four members of the family. We are heartbroken to break this news to him, and we know he’ll be angry at us for a while. We understand and accept that. But as I hear him talk with his teammates about how happy he is the season is resuming, I’m starting to doubt our decision. Do you have any advice for how we can make this decision? How do the needs/preferences of one family member weigh against those of the others?

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—Is It Worth It?

Dear Is It Worth It,

I truly understand how you feel. I’m a youth coach, and I often spend my nights and weekends shuttling my two girls to practices and tournaments all over Southern California. It’s not the most enjoyable way in the world for me to spend my time, but I do it anyway because my kids love it, and they depend on me for the support.

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Before you consider removing him from something he seems to really love, I encourage you to consider the myriad ways to make this more manageable for your family. (Financial constraints notwithstanding—that’s a different conversation.) For instance, you might carpool, which has worked well for my family. You could also arrange reciprocal play dates with teammates’ siblings or your children’s other friends, so that they don’t have to attend every game or practice. You could even look into child care to help reduce the load on your family, if that’s in your budget. I think it would be a shame to deprive your son of this activity. Let me add that if you choose not to listen to me, you may end up with a resentful kid who may be angry at you for more than just “a while.” So many kids are seriously depressed during the pandemic because they don’t have an outlet to express themselves, and I wouldn’t want your son to become one of those people.

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For me, my family’s approach to sports also comes down to a rule that’s important to me: if you start something, you should finish it. Nobody likes a quitter, and we always urge our kids to persevere when things get hard. If you’re thinking of pulling him from the sport because it’s too hard for you, what kind of example does that set? It’s quite possible that he’s in between seasons while you consider these larger questions, in which case I’ll let you off the hook. But if you’ve already committed to the new season, I think you’ve got to stick out this season at least.

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It seems as if you have your heart set on making this decision to remove him from this sport, but I truly hope you reconsider.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My dad is a hypochondriac. He constantly looks up symptoms online. He goes to lots of doctors. He takes his vital signs multiple times a day. He tries to take OUR temperatures and calls at all hours if we manage to let slip that we’re sick. Until recently, we’ve mostly brushed it aside as a quirk, but we all privately acknowledge that he should have probably sought professional help for this long ago. The few attempts we’ve made over the years to address it seriously have been rebuffed and at his age I do not believe continued pushes to go to therapy will be successful.

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Overall, this has been a challenging but manageable aspect of an otherwise awesome parent. Our dad is fun, funny, interesting, supportive, and has made many sacrifices to give his family a wonderful life. That said, COVID has been predictably brutal on him. Now that he is vaccinated, he has turned the full force of his COVID anxiety on our kids who are too young to be vaccinated. He wants to spend time with them, but whenever we are together, he is a hurricane of worry and it makes our time together tense. He wants to take their temperature. He thinks he hears a wheeze. He read this or that about the delta variant. He thinks they may have MIS-C.

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It’s also not limited to COVID. He asks us to call our pediatrician about every small issue (we decline). He thinks the baby is too hot or too cold, obsessively monitors their fluid intake, takes their pacifiers because he thinks they will suffocate. I am usually able to brush this off, but as the parent of an unvaccinated kid in a once-in-a-century pandemic, I am feeling a little extra anxious whenever our kids get sick. We know vaccines for them are a long way off (they’re under 2), and we’ve decided to take some calculated risks for all of our own good, with pediatrician blessing.

That said, both my partner and I are less able than usual to withstand the constant onslaught of COVID doomsaying about our kids. My kids are too young to notice, but clearly eventually they will. My dad is disabled and needs extensive care, so I am not able to see my mom without him and I don’t want to not see them. Is there a way for us to deal with this to make our interactions better, smoother, and less anxiety-producing for everyone? Or do we need to cut way back on contact until things improve? I don’t know when that will be, and it makes me sad to think his mental illness may result in less time together. Surely others with difficult but loving parents may have some insight?

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—Step Away From WebMD

Dear Step Away,

In your dad’s defense, this delta variant is not something to be trifled with, especially for kids who are too young to be vaccinated. That said, our children can’t live in bubble wrap forever, and I agree that your dad needs to dial it back a bit for everyone’s sake. I don’t think it will work to tell him to relax and stop obsessing—his health fears seem much more deep-seated than that. Instead, I’d suggest that you have him sit in on a visit (in-person or virtual) with your kids’ pediatrician. Their doctor can provide science-based information to quell his fears around COVID and give him some reassurance that your kids can take part in normal activities with the proper precautions in place.

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All that said, I know you mentioned that asking him to go to therapy at his age wouldn’t be successful, but I think you should demand that he does. Nobody is too old or set in their ways to benefit from a mental health professional, and it’s clear that he needs help coping with what sound to me like unhealthily high levels of anxiety. Alternately he could start getting help at least by discussing this anxiety with his primary care physician.

For his own well-being, I think you should step in to ensure he gets some professional help. And if he’s unwilling to agree to that, then sadly you should inform him that the visits with him will be few and far between. The mental health of your young, vulnerable, impressionable children is paramount, and they shouldn’t be exposed to anyone who will add more anxiety to their lives. No matter how much that person loves them.

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• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a biracial woman, and my husband is Black. My 3-year-old daughter looks a lot more like my sister and I (light-skinned, lighter brown and looser curls, hazel eyes) than she looks like my husband and his relatives. His sister has a daughter a year older than mine, and she has much curlier hair than my daughter and deep-brown skin and eyes. I love my niece, and I think that both she and my daughter are two of the cutest little girls to ever exist, but it seems like my husband’s family treats them differently and has a huge blind spot surrounding it.

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My daughter is always complimented by everyone on how pretty/well-dressed she is, gets little extra treats that her cousin doesn’t get (if my mother-in-law goes to the store, she’ll bring back a small piece of candy for my daughter, for example) and it seems like my daughter gets away with a lot more. For example, if my daughter chases the cat, she’ll get a gentle “Oh, let’s not chase the kitty, he doesn’t want to play,” whereas my niece gets snapped at with, “Back off from that cat right now, or you’ll be in trouble.” Even my niece’s mom remarks on my daughter’s beautiful and unique eyes, and it seems like I’m the only one who will go out of my way to follow it up by complimenting my niece on how nice her eyes are too.

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Thankfully, all the adulation from her grandparents hasn’t gone to my daughter’s head yet, but I’m worried it’s a matter of time. I don’t want to immediately jump to it all being colorism, but I feel that a lot of my daughter’s preferential treatment has colorist undertones. My husband doesn’t see this at all, no matter how much I try to bring it up—he says that it’s because our daughter is the baby of the family and all the older people want to spoil her. What should I do? How do I call my husband’s family out on this preferential treatment without being too accusatory (which I know will make them very defensive and insist they’re not doing anything wrong)?

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—Fed Up Mama (and Auntie)

Dear Fed Up,

First off, I want to give you props for even addressing this. We live in such a self-centered world that many parents wouldn’t care about anyone else as long as their family is treated well. It’s no secret that a lack of empathy and compassion is one of the main reasons our country is in the mess it’s in.

It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on in your situation without witnessing it myself. It could be an age thing with the “baby” getting preferential treatment, it could be colorism, it could be something else. No matter what the case, I believe the direct approach is the best way to address it. In a perfect world, the message would come from your husband since they are his parents. However, from what you mentioned, it doesn’t seem like your husband agrees that there’s an issue here, so you probably won’t be able to use him as an ally. So then the question becomes whether you should leave it alone and risk potential problems down the road with your niece and daughter, or speak up and risk alienating your husband and in-laws. It’s not an easy choice to make.

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I think you want to speak up or else you wouldn’t have sent me this letter, and personally I think that’s the right decision. First off, you should let your husband know that you’re going to have a conversation to address his parents’ behavior because it makes you uncomfortable. Assuming he’s not onboard with your plan, he may roll his eyes or beg you not to start anything, but if you feel passionate about getting this off of your chest, then you should go for it anyway. This could impact both kids in ways that could be detrimental if left unsaid.

I know that this could be super uncomfortable, but here are some tips to make it go as smoothly as possible. A conversation should take place in the moment your niece is subjected to a scolding from your in-laws—but also done privately. Nobody wants to be shown up in front of a group of people, so pull your relative aside and say something along the lines of, “Hey, it seems like you’re a little rough on Suzy for simple mistakes, and whenever my daughter does the same thing you take it easy on her. Have you noticed this? What do you think?” At that point, let that relative share their thoughts on the situation. If you want to share your hypothesis about colorism, that would be the time to do it. You can also address the compliments your daughter receives that your niece doesn’t.

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Yes, there’s a chance they could be offended, but remember that you’re coming from a place of love, not judgment—and I firmly believe if you can’t keep it real with your family, then who can you keep it real with? In the event they do get offended, then I would leave it alone for a while—but trust me, even if they’re angry with you, they’ll be more aware of their behavior going forward.

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It’s good that you’re taking this action now before the girls get older and more aware of the world around them.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter struggled with virtual learning at the end of the 2019–20 school year, so I decided to home-school her last year for first grade. I thought it would be the best option to bridge the gap until she could go back to school in person. It was a total shitshow. My daughter is an extremely extroverted and high-energy kid, and trying to keep her as engaged as she wanted to be was exhausting. I was counting the days until school reopened, and she was eager to go back too. She went back to school this week. She’s thrilled to be back with her friends, and she likes her new teacher. My anxiety is through the roof since I dropped her off on Monday morning. I have no idea why. Of course, I have concerns about COVID, but our school district has been very careful about reopening, and I feel pretty good about the precautions in place. So what am I so freaked out about? Is this a normal thing that a lot of parents are experiencing right now or am I losing it?

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—Anxious Mom

Dear Anxious Mom,

One thing I know for sure is most parents who are taking this pandemic seriously (myself included) are feeling a strong sense of anxiety as we send our kiddos back to school. For the past 18 months you’ve been completely in control of your daughter’s safety and well-being as she was under your nose the entire time, and now it’s up to strangers to keep an eye on her. It’s totally normal to feel a lump in your throat right now.

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I’ll tell you a quick story. Like you, I had to deal with virtual learning for my two kids for over a year, and it almost drove me to the point of insanity. Our school year started about a month ago and I was also counting the minutes until the first day of in-person school started. I even blocked off my entire calendar for the first day of school to lay in bed, decompress, and enjoy a quiet house again. But do you know what actually happened? I felt the same anxiety you felt and stared at the clock until it was time to pick them both up from school.

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My school district is also very strict about COVID protocols, mask wearing, and vaccinations for staff and eligible students. So what was the problem? I love them, miss them, and I’m concerned about them. This pandemic has certainly reinforced for all of us how fragile life is, and our parental instincts to protect our children have increased exponentially.

My anxiety has significantly decreased now that my kids are fully entrenched in their in-person routine, and I bet the same will happen to you in about a month from now (barring any COVID outbreaks of course).

Don’t beat yourself up, Mom. I’d be more concerned if you weren’t feeling some anxiety right now.

—Doyin

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