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Notes From A Single Mom: Helicopter Mom or Ripped-Off Consumer? You Decide.

I could be one of those single parents who overcompensates for not having a second parent around by jumping in and saving her daughter when the going gets tough and life appears to be unfair.

Or I could just be a ticked off, ripped-off consumer. You decide.

So the story goes that I enrolled my daughter in a volleyball club. She’s 15 and has never played volleyball before, but my very tall daughter (she’s 5” 10”) appeared to show an interest in the sport when she asked for a volleyball for her birthday. I gifted her the ball and went one step further by signing her up for a local club team.

It was a great mommy thing to do. Now, the not-so-great consumer part: It costs $1,800 for my daughter to have the privilege of being part of this club!

The ex-husband and I are splitting the cost, so that took the sting out a bit. But I reasoned, “Oh, it will be worth the money because she’s tall and probably has some hidden talent and perhaps she finally found her sport.” It’s my duty as a mom to develop my daughter’s potential anyway, right?

You can’t put a price on that.

So we’re about a month into weekend tournaments and my daughter spends more time on the sidelines watching the other girls play than she does on the court actually playing. Not that I’m keeping track of her playing time, but I just happened to calculate the total percentage of court time that she had last weekend and it amounted to about 2% of the entire tournament.

And my blood was boiling! The coach glanced over at me a few times because I was smokin’ hot. No, really. I’m pretty sure flames were coming out of my ears.

OK, so maybe my daughter isn’t as experienced a player as the other girls, who have been playing volleyball for three to four years longer than her. But she goes to every practice and works her butt off, just like the other girls. She runs, she hustles, she dives, she digs, she blocks at the net, she has a pretty awesome overhead serve for a beginner . . . and yet, she isn’t getting as much playing time as the other girls in actual game situations.

Did I mention that we are paying $1,800—just like all the other parents?

I did some Googling about “playing time,” and it turns out that it is a hot button in youth sports programs across the globe. There are plenty of parents, like me, wringing their hands and tempering their frustration on the sidelines because their children are sitting out while coaches continue to play their best players.

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Frankly, I don’t think it’s fair. I’m seeing firsthand that when you continue to play only the best girls, two things happen: These elite few only get better in their athletic abilities, creating an even greater divide between them and the other, not-so-experienced players like my daughter, ensuring them even more playing time in the future. And, something only a mom would notice: I see how wilted and defeated my daughter looks on the sidelines.

Lynn Armitage

(Or maybe I’m just imagining that, and looking at her through the wrong lens. Mine.)

When I think about all the money we’re spending/wasting for my daughter to be nothing more than a substitute player, it makes me mad, as a consumer—and breaks my heart, as a mother.

So I asked my daughter how she feels about not getting to play much in a tournament, and bless her heart, here’s what she said:

“It’s OK. I’m not good enough yet to play. I just need to work harder and get better at practice.”

The helicopter mom wanted to swoop in and wrap my arms around my gigantic little girl and say, “Well, of course you’re good enough! You can do anything!”

But I didn’t, because somewhere deep inside me, I knew she was right.

So I’ve decided to cool my jets and sit quietly on the sidelines like a good little ripped-off, ticked-off parent, with my teeth planted firmly in a very wide leather strap.

Because character is being developed on—AND OFF—that court. And I need to remember that’s something that no amount of money could ever buy.

Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer in Northern California and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.