When the Parents Have to be Good Sports

by Annette Burns on September 4, 2014

I don’t know how parents do it.  A recent New York Times article noted that parents are exhausted and harassed by the kids’ sports schedules.  Calling the sports system the “youth sports juggernaut” isn’t far off; the schedules are demanding and constant and getting the kids to the required activities interferes with lots of other things, like sleeping, eating and family time.    What I really can’t understand is how divorced or separated parents that don’t get along particularly well in the best of times navigate the crazy requirements of football/ soccer/ dance/ tennis/ hockey/ baseball games, competitions, teams, tournaments and practices.  Actually, most of what I see as a Parenting Coordinator is parents not getting along well with these things.

Ask any family court attorney, judge, parenting coordinator or custody evaluator: one of the most common disputes between divorced or separated parents is the extent of the kids’ extracurricular activities.  The most common situation is one parent “fully supporting” the child’s baseball, hockey or whatever, and the other parent feeling that the child is overscheduled or overworked.    The first parent may envision himself or herself as the supportive parent who does everything for the kid, and believes the other parent to be lazy and more self-centered.  The second parent, who thinks the child is overscheduled, may in fact just want to be driving the child around less and may feel that staying home and not doing much is a good thing for a child.  Add to this situation possible problems with the child’s grades, financial concerns, a child’s special needs, and parents that live huge distances apart, you have some real battles on this issue.

One thing seems fairly sure to me:  If the parents have agreed at some point that a child can participate in something, the child starts in that activity, and the child then seems to like it (and may even be good at it), the parents probably should move heaven and earth to get this child to that activity.   This becomes the case no matter how the activity interferes with daily life.   I’ve had numerous cases where a parent had to arrange for a friend or family member to do most of the driving.  I’m familiar with one case where a parent hired a “sports nanny” whose primary purpose was to transport the child to and from sports-related activities.

A parent who is simply arguing that practices and teams interfere with dinner or vacations is not going to get a great deal of sympathy from others who probably also have children with horrible schedules.  But when the arguments are that a child is overscheduled or exhausted, or the child’s grades are falling, the concerns have to be fully explored and resolved.

Another thing that complicates the extracurricular activities situation is when one parent has less, sometimes significantly less, than half the child’s parenting time.  Even with less time, this parent is expected to deliver the child to frequent activities during his/ her already limited time. If the parents have a roughly 50-50 parenting time schedule, then at least it can be said they are losing the same percentage of time with the child and spending proportionate amounts of time driving around.   A Father who only has his children on Thursday evenings but finds the child scheduled for dance each and every Thursday evening is going to have a compelling argument that he should not have to engage in that activity.  There are work-arounds for this; sometimes the activity can be done on more than one evening during the week, and sometimes the parenting time evening can be temporarily switched to another night.

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