An Open Letter to That Mom in the Observation Area Last Week


A dear friend of mine who is a judge was sitting in the observation area of a gym club in her community. She was doing some practice judging in preparation for her upcoming judging test.

Scribbling away and minding her own business (okay, not really minding her own business), she overheard a group of parents discussing their daughters’ progress. She listened to the typical banter of gym gossip, minor complaints and even one parent who insisted that she was a judge (she isn’t) give her (incorrect) deductions for various gymnasts’ routines.

A veteran of hearing such conversations (her daughter was a high level gymnast and she has worked in the industry for years), she smiled to herself, rolling her eyes just a bit when she heard one mother lament in an obnoxiously loud tone: “I wish your Emily was my kid. After how badly mine did today, I don’t want her.”

My friend was speechless (and if you knew her you would realize that this is no small feat). Before she could say something to the parent (my friend is also terrifically outspoken), the mother had stormed off in a huff. Almost immediately, my distraught friend messaged me about the incident imploring me to use it for my blog.

So here it goes:

Dear Mom in the Observation Area Last Week,

So, you wish your kid wasn’t your kid? You wish that you had someone else’s child? Why? For the simple reason that your child doesn’t jump over a vault, flip on a beam, swing on a bar or dance across a floor to the standard you wish she did?

Look, ordinarily I would give you the benefit of the doubt regarding your comments. Maybe you were trying to make a joke. Or maybe you were even trying to offer a backhanded compliment to the other athlete, I would wonder. Then again, maybe you were having a bad day. Or maybe you just made an obtuse comment. It happens to all of us.

I might even have had a touch of empathy for you: we all from time to time see another person has and have a twinge of envy. Look, God wrote the 10th Commandment for a reason.

But the reactions of the other parents indicate to me otherwise: they were not even a little surprised when you spoke.  They all commented how they don’t like sitting with you at meets and how they feel uncomfortable listening to the disparaging things you say about your daughter. And, what I am afraid that it is even worse: you say these things to your daughter. But even if you say you don’t, she knows how you feel. Everyone knows how you feel.

You hit a nerve with me, mom in the observation area last week

Maybe you say such things because you worry that your child’s lack of skill is an embarrassment to you. But here’s the thing: Your child’s success in a sport is not a reflection of who you are as a parent.

You know what is proof that you are a good parent? How you treat your child and how you speak of her to others.

Maybe you have adopted this attitude because you think that somehow it will motivate your daughter to be a better gymnast. If she can gain your approval, then maybe she can gain your love.

Do I even need to explain how incredibly screwed up that is?

Maybe you are simply repeating a pattern from your childhood or even your marriage, that achievements are proof of your own self-worth. And now you are passing this legacy to your child.

If so, I am sorry that you have gone through this. But, please, I beg you, go see a therapist and break this chain of abuse…because that is what it is: abuse.

Your child’s time in gymnastics will eventually end (probably sooner rather than later if you keep this up). When it is over, you and she will still have a relationship.

Then again, maybe you won’t. Maybe you will alienate her first. You didn’t want a card on your birthday or to get to know your grandchildren anyway, did you?

Your child only has one mother and needs your unconditional love and support. You are the person who is supposed to be there to pick her up when she falls, to hug her and tell her that she is amazing and wonderful for simply being her. The big bad world will knock her down enough. You are suppose to be the one to cushion that fall, not to pour gasoline on an already roaring fire.

Also, thanks for giving the 99.9% of gym parents out there who are just trying to support their kid through their pursuit of excellence a bad name. It is people like you that create the stereotype for the rest of us. We so appreciate it. And by appreciate, we mean are deeply resentful.

I know that this is a harsh letter. It’s harsh because you need to wake up and gain some perspective. It’s harsh because I know you aren’t the only parent like this out there. It’s harsh because I know that this kind of behavior is not limited to gymnastics or even sports. It’s for every parent out there who places contingencies on their love for their child whether that contingency is a national championship, an admittance to a prestigious college or the pursuit of a certain career.

Maybe I sound like a sanctimonious jerk.  I am okay with that because I know that I am trying to protect your daughter and every other kid who has contingencies placed on their parents’ love. So call me whatever you wish; trust me, I’ve been called worse.

And to your daughter, all of those kids whose parents are like you I want to say this: You are not your accomplishments or your failures. You are you. And you are enough. Your character matters far more than your accomplishments. Your contribution to this world is not to validate your parents’ existence; it’s to be a part of the tapestry that makes our community. You matter and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Mom in the observation area in the last week, I understand your daughter is still fairly young. There is time to reverse the damage. It’s up to you. But this I can promise you: if my judge friend ever comes across you again, you will rue the day, so you might just want to be on your best behavior in that observation area. She likes to practice her judging and is likely to show up again when you least expect it. Just saying.

Kind warm regards,