I had two contrasting experiences this weekend.
First, a friend posted the link to this article on NY Times, about a pair of 10 and 12 year old sisters who compete in marathons, triathalons, and more extreme events like the Xterra Challenge. The gist of the article is questioning whether it is good parenting to permit/encourage the children to participate in such events. The parents, for their part, have checked with an array of doctors to confirm that the girls are growing normally and appropriately, and to confirm that this is not adversely impacting their development.
The parents also claim that they are not pushing the girls into the sports, but rather that the girls have self-selected these activities and are self-motivated. If you read the article, it appears as though the parents (or at least the dad) are pushing the girls a bit–perhaps a bit much. (On the other hand, to make the story more appealing, I can see the author of the story digging for that angle). But take the concept at its pure core: is it bad parenting to encourage or permit a 10 or 12 year old girl to engage in this kind of (somewhat extreme) athletic undertaking?
I was contemplating that, in the back of my mind, as the family went to Schaumburg for an incredibly rare trip to Woodfield Mall. I haven’t been there in years. And I had not missed it, in my absence. But back to the story…while in Nordstroms, I saw a mom and dad with 3 kids. The youngest was perhaps 2–riding in a stroller, barely talking, but sitting up and eating solid foods. More on that in a second. I’d guess that the other two kids were perhaps 4 and 6. The relevance of these kids to this post?
On the bottom of the stroller, the parents had a giant bag of sliders. You know, the little White Castle hamburgers (or in this instance, cheeseburgers). Each of the kids was eating a slider as they were walking around through the Nordstrom. Little greasy fingers. Let me paint the scene:
2 year old, riding in the stroller, has a handful of mashed Slider, and is eating it, with both hands. Grease is literally dripping down her forearms, into the stroller, as she eats. She is nibbling away at the sandwich. When she finishes the sandwich, she starts to cry. Mom reaches into the bag under the stroller, unwraps another slider, and hands it to the child. Child starts to eat slider #2. Probably more like #3 or #4.
Both of the other 2 kids were eating sliders as well. Needless to say, the family had a bit of a weight issue. (I should probably say that the White Castle was a couple miles away from the mall, so this was a planned operation). That’s the kind of story that I’m just not creative enough to make up. Honestly, it was pretty disgusting.
Here’s the question: parents permitting or encouraging their kids to engage in competitive athletic events–admittedly hardcore athletic events, but athletic events nonetheless–make national news with the question of whether the parents are being irresponsible. These aren’t life threatening events–it’s not ultramarathon in the desert. It’s not swimming in shark infested waters. But that’s news, and society questions whether it is appropriate.
But parents shoving sliders into the mouths of their 3 kids…that’s just another day in suburbia.
What’s my point? (This is a blog. You expect a point?)
My point is that someday, I hope my daughter is athletic. And yes, in some ways, I hope she takes up biking. I think it would be incredibly fun to be able to do great bike rides with her. That will be her decision, and I’ll be happy either way.
But if she takes up cycling…if she builds up her endurance and does a 60 mile gravel ride with her old man…will people question my judgment? Will people think I’m crazy? Will people think me a bad parent?
This isn’t so much a question of what others will think of me…that won’t influence my decision either way. It is a question, however, of where our society is going. Would the people who read the NY Times article even notice the bag of sliders at the mall? How is it that children running makes the newspaper, and a bag of sliders doesn’t?
All rhetorical questions, no doubt. But I’m not kidding about the sliders.