Co-Parenting Conflicts over Sports

The divorcing or divorced parents I work with agree that conflict is bad for children, but they also believe that all their conflicts are entirely their ex’s fault. How can a parent detail with such precision the 100 things the other parent has messed up, but then struggle to find a single thing they could have done better? If I push for an answer, the response is something like, “Well, I shouldn’t have been so forgiving.” When I tell them that sounds more like a compliment, they reply, “I need to set better boundaries,” implying that the other person is a jerk that takes advantage of them.

The nature of conflict is insidious. It’s like when a pebble scratches a windshield. Most times, you can polish it out, but if you wait too long, dirt can accumulate inside, and over time it starts to form a crack. After a while, you have to change out the entire windshield. Like the windshield, children can only take so much before they break.

My inaugural post is about a tiny scratch: team sports. When parents cannot compromise, even over the smallest of things, the poor child bears the brunt of the pain. For these kids, their lives are about making sure their parents do not get upset. A normally simple decision, such as what league to play in or where, can cause deep anxiety in a child if the parents fight about it. As parents we can either chose to make the best of a tough situation for our kids’ sake or we can make a bad situation even worse.

Scenario: Team Sports Decisions

Most parents agree that their children benefit from participating in team sports. Sports teaches children teamwork, discipline, and responsibility. It is also a fun way to burn off energy and make friends. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids? Unfortunately, as a parenting coordinator, I am routinely called upon to help parents resolve sports-related disputes. If the parents cannot agree, then their children often miss out on the activity.

Both Parents are at Fault

Even if both parents agree to a sport, there are many more decisions to be made. Will the league be closer to Mom’s home or Dad’s home? Or should the child play on Uncle Junior’s team with all their cousins?

Understandably, no one enjoys fighting traffic so your child can play a sport conveniently located in your ex’s neighborhood. Nor would anyone want their child on a team filled with your ex’s hostile friends and relatives. But the alternative is that your child either misses out or only plays with a team when they are with the parent who signed them up. It would be tough on a child to only come to half the practices and games. They quickly fall behind their other teammates and do not have as many bonding opportunities. The teammates or coaches might also question their commitment to the team.  

Parenting Coordinator Focuses on the Child’s Best Interest

As parent coordinator, my starting point is always the best interests of the child. Allowing a child to participate in sports or other extra curriculars is important. The parents, not the child, should make the compromises.

Good behavior should be rewarded. If the league is in Mom’s district, then she should make concessions such as offering to help Dad out with rides or being responsible for team snacks. If the child is young enough, next season, the child can play closer to Dad’s home. If the child plays for Dad’s family’s team, then Dad should make sure the team parents make Mom feel welcomed. Save her a spot on the sidelines.

And Then There’s Team Snacks

In Hawaii, snacks are a big deal. Sometimes, the youngest kids are way more excited about the after-game snacks than the game itself. If it’s a good snack bag, there will be “oohs’’ and “aahs.” If not, they will make a face and then drop the bag on the ground.

Not all parents are privy to the unspoken rules and expectations of Hawaii team snacks. A less knowledgeable parent could easily make a fool of themselves and their child by bringing a cheap or overly-healthy snack. The more skilled parent should take the lead. Ask yourself if there are 12 kids on the team, is your ex likely to buy 6 spam musubis and cut them in half? If so, volunteer to bring the snacks and your ex can bring the drinks.

It may not seem like a big deal, but kids remember these things. You want your children to smile, not wince when they think of their sports experiences. It takes two to create conflict. One parent may be more responsible than the other, but there is always something each parent can do to create less conflict and chaos for their child. As I discussed in my introductory post, I am challenging parents to make shifts, big and small, to improve their “human footprint” and have empathy for their children. 

Share Your Experience

Have you faced issues with your child’s participation in activities? How did you resolve them? What compromises were made so that the child could participate? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

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