I can’t stand going to my 8-year-old son’s Little League games. I love seeing him play and cheering him on. But one of his teammates (I’ll call him “Gordon”) has parents who seem to be complete assholes. Every game, every play, they’re screaming at their son: “Pay more attention, Gordon!” “Baseball stance, come on, Gordon!” “Watch the field, Gordon! Stop messing around!” It’s constant and unrelenting. Occasionally, Gordon’s mother will yell at other kids, or the whole team. Once, I heard her threaten to smack Gordon. I’m fine with parents cheering. But when parents coach and make negative comments, it just sucks—most of all for their poor kid.
We saw a lot of coaching from the sidelines when our kids were playing under-6 soccer, but it dissipated as they got older, especially with my wife coaching both my daughters’ soccer teams and taking control. This is something I’ve never seen before.
I’d like to say something to the parents of poor Gordon, but it’s awkward and difficult. Given the “Blue Lives Matter” stickers all over their SUV, the clothing promoting the use of assault rifles, and the behavior I’ve described, I don’t think we have many values in common. They haven’t shown any self-awareness. I am also not entirely certain they aren’t packing heat.
I could talk to the team’s coach, who is a good person. But I’m sure he can hear this constant harassment from Gordon’s parents from the stands. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, so it isn’t clear what talking to him about it would do.
—Seething on the Sidelines
Poor Gordon! But indeed, confrontation with angry fans of heavy weaponry is unwise. You don’t say whether you’re white, but if not, the racially hostile “Blue Lives Matter” stickers suggest further cause for caution.
However, you must talk with the coach, Sidelines. He has the authority in this setting, and you don’t. If you interfere, you will (at best) be dismissed as busybodies, but most parents respect and want to get along with their kid’s Little League coach. (Though it might be best if your wife spoke with him; given her own experience, she can empathize with his challenges.)
The coach either hasn’t been paying attention or is hoping that the bad behavior he’s observed isn’t a pattern. Hearing from you could let him know that the problem is serious and motivate him to speak with Gordon’s parents. You and your wife might suggest that, in addition to confronting Gordon’s parents, the coach could set some rules on parental conduct. In response to my inquiry, Little League International sent me the guidelines for parents on “Honoring the Game,” which include: “Leave coaching to the coaches, tell your kids you are proud of them win or lose, and avoid doing anything that will embarrass your kid.” Your coach could distribute these to all the parents. If Gordon’s parents don’t change their ways, remind the coach that it’s OK to ask them to leave the field. They shouldn’t be allowed to ruin game day for everyone. Also, during the game, please cheer for Gordon by name. He needs it!
I’m single, and now that my children are nearly grown, I have the time and desire to go out with friends. But while I was raising children and mostly too busy to go out, something changed. My closest, oldest friends now have significantly more disposable income than I do (mostly due to having a spouse, better jobs, or no children). So when it comes to eating out, getting tickets for performances, planning a weekend away, or whatever, I find that I either have to decline or spend more money than I can afford. If I bring that up, one of the following things happens: Someone offers to pay, which is fine once in a while but can get awkward; or we go someplace cheaper that people aren’t happy with; or plans are made without me. Mostly, I just rack up more credit-card debt so that I can be included and my friends aren’t made uncomfortable. But I wonder: Why can’t a group of people who are politically (and economically) progressive resolve what must be a fairly common situation? Why can’t we even talk about it? How should this work among caring and like-minded friends?
—Rich in Friends, but Still Poor
Dear Still Poor,
Having a social life is such a gift. Many Americans are terribly isolated these days, and, especially as we get older, friends make all the difference to our happiness—and even our life expectancy. But you shouldn’t have to impoverish yourself to hang out with your friends. I’d recommend bringing the issue up not when everyone is in the midst of making a specific costly plan that they’re already excited about, but when the pressure’s off. Frame it as an ongoing problem that you’d like to address together.
I’ve been on both sides of this problem, Still Poor. Those with more money feel guilty about it, especially if we’re progressive enough to know that our income is a matter of luck and birth rather than brilliance and character. (Perhaps if we were libertarians, being richer than some of our friends would make us feel smug.) Those of us with less money feel a sense of shame, too; even if we know it’s not our fault, we can’t help absorbing capitalist ideology, which tells us that people with money are smarter and more disciplined than others, or just have their shit together in some ineffable way.
I don’t love the way your well-off friends have handled this so far. They certainly shouldn’t respond by excluding you. But you might consider worrying less about their moments of generosity. Intriguingly, the German psychologist Horst Heidbrink studied this problem and found that the friends with more money didn’t mind picking up the tab; it was the poorer friends who felt awkward about letting them. You may feel uncomfortable when they offer to pay, but why not try accepting their offers graciously? You’ll be helping them live their redistributive politics.
It also sounds as if others do the inviting and you react. What if you initiated more of your circle’s social activities? When you find a happy hour at a great bar, or an affordable restaurant that you love, invite your friends to meet up there. Throw BYOB parties if your place is big enough. Depending on your interests, invite friends to lectures, art openings, or on nature excursions (bird-watching, hiking, walking). Organize weekend day trips to the beach. Have a picnic in the park and ask everyone bring food, along with their dogs and kids.
In my experience, the absolute best way to navigate financial inequality among friends is by creating a culture of entertaining at home. Have small groups of people over; they’ll bring wine, and when you cook, you control the expense of the meal. Better yet, they might even reciprocate by inviting you over more, having realized that people with greater means should play the host more often.
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