I’m sitting on a bleacher again. I think I’ve clocked a million hours since my kids started participating in sports and things artistic. By now I’m a pro at it. I have my book, my bottle of water, my newspaper, a blanket in winter, bug repellent in summer, sunblock all year long. If a younger kid is dragged along, I’m prepared with enough food, juice boxes, and amusements to keep him or her supplied for a week. I’ve learned how to stay alert for the three-and-a-half minutes my kid is actually doing something in the three hours I’ll be sitting here and to look generally attentive to the rest of the game, rehearsal, lesson, or whatever, while still reading the paper or chatting to another parent. It’s an art form, developed over years of conscientious practice.
In all seriousness, bleacher time is some of the best of what life is all about. Parenting is ultimately about witnessing: watching our children, giving them approval, filling them up with enough delight in them and their developing competence that they develop self-confidence. The two are inextricably related. The more competence a child gains, the more confidence comes with it. The extra confidence gives them the boost that same child needs to try something more challenging. Attentive parents are the key ingredients for setting that formula in motion for a lifetime.
Being a good parent means being a good sport about all the time you spend in uncomfortable seats beside fields, courts, rinks, and pools and in arenas, auditoriums, classrooms, and theaters. Your kids need you there. And, in truth, so do you. Missing the action at all these events means missing the good stuff about being in a family. Missing sharing with other parents means missing what it means to be raising children in community with others.
I’ve come to calling the other parents who share in the suffering and delight that goes with being a parental audience “bleacher buddies.” Often enough, the only time we see each other is on the bleachers. We chat, pass the time, give each other a smile when a kid does something great, a commiserating shrug when things aren’t going so well down on the floor, field, whatever. Sometimes these casual encounters plant the seeds for a solid friendship. More often, they become part of the fabric of community, the backdrop of our lives. There’s something comforting and rewarding in just seeing the same faces and families again and again over the years as our respective kids grow from T-ball to Little League, a learn-to-skate program to competitions or hockey games, the elementary skit to the high school musical. As we travel together from parent night to parent night at the various grades, we watch ourselves and our kids grow.
I’m concerned about the many over-stressed parents who seem resentful about the time they spend watching kids and attending parent conferences. In fairness, they really are over-stressed and stretched. We all have more to do in a day than is humanly possible. But what these tired and fretful people often don’t realize is how much we can be emotionally and spiritually fed by being at the kids’ events. In the community of other parents, there is an opportunity for perspective and support for our parenting. Time on the bleachers isn’t just for the kids’ sakes. It’s also part of what sustains us as parents.
In summary, to be a good bleacher buddy:
- Embrace time on the bleachers. Witnessing your children’s activities is an important part of your job description as a parent. It builds confidence and competence.
- Remember that attending kids’ events isn’t just for the kids. It’s also for you. Stop thinking about all the things you have to do and “do” being on the bleachers.
- Find ways to be generous to other parents on the bleachers. You are part of their community.
- Make sure you regularly tell your kids just how much joy is added to your life whenever you are watching them play, perform, learn, and grow.