Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dear Lisa Suhay

Dear Lisa Suhay,

I read your recent article on Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas. You admit mid-article that you shouldn't judge other parents.  You say that "of course you never want to judge."  I really think that you should have stuck with that idea and not written this article at all.  Yet you push past it with "the tendency to judge other parents is pretty powerful" and continue blithely on.

You know that you shouldn't judge other parents, but you feel that the tendency to do so is "pretty powerful" in certain circumstances, and that's enough justification to write a public article for a widely read title?  Your own impulses trump your morals fairly easily, there.  While we're talking about parenting, what sort of example are you setting for your children?  I wouldn't ask, but, considering the circumstances, the tendency to judge you is pretty powerful.

The article is about how the biological parent-child bond is so important that anything, including Olympic dreams, should be sacrificed to keep the family unit together.  However, early on, you say:
Still, visit any highly competitive training facility in sport, child or adult, and it truly is a family complete with all the love and dysfunction of the real thing.
Emphasis mine.  Sentence yours.  If children get genuine familial love and a sense of family from a training facility, is being away from family to train for the Olympics really so anti-family?
"I wanted to make my Olympic dreams a reality, so I told my Mom, 'I need a better coach, and I need a better coach now,' " Douglas told Time magazine. I'm sure she's a lovely child, I adore her smile and am rooting for her and shouting at my TV set like anyone else, but all I could think of was Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and what happened to her. It made me ask, "Who's the parent?"
The parent is the person who heard what Gabby said, agreed with her, and arranged for the move to the new coach.  The parent is the person who supports her daughter's dreams and recognizes her daughter's potential and helps her to realize her goals.  Do you want her mother to bring the topic up first?  Or do you want Gabby to be less ambitious?
However, all the reports today talk about how this Olympian has blossomed in Iowa
Great!  That's terrific.  Her new situation seems to be going very well for her, then.
Perhaps the stability and not just the coaching is what this child really needed coming from a home where her mother, who according the Virginian-Pilot divorced the same man twice and has struggled on disability to provide for her needs.
You may want to edit that sentence, as the syntax is a little off.

This is where shit gets real.  This is where your article stops pretending at idle musing and gets right into the judgmental criticism.  Her mother divorced the same man twice!  Her mother's poor!  For all of your "keep the family together at all costs" rhetoric, it's very telling that suddenly it's better to farm the kids out away from that all-important family unit if it'll get them away from the atrocities of poverty and divorce.

I'm not rooting for poverty and divorce.  I also don't think that poverty and divorce make people bad parents.  I don't know anything about this family's financial situation or how it affects their day-to-day living.  I don't know anything about why Gabby's mother married that guy or divorced him.  It doesn't sound like you do, either.  Have you been to their home and talked with their friends and family and sat in their kitchen and helped out at bedtime and discussed marital history?  Probably not.  Does Gabby's mother confide in you?  Probably not.  Do you know much about Gabby's siblings or their lives or their schooling or how loved and supported they are?  Again, probably not.

Poor people have kids and rear children and live as parents all of the time.  Is it ideal, no.  Struggling financially or not being able to afford certain luxuries or not being able to provide your child with certain opportunities hurts.  But Gabby's mother did provide her with great opportunities and was able to give her a great shot at rare success so very, very few people ever get to strive for at all.  Does Gabby's mother give her a new pony every year, I'd guess not.  Did Gabby's mother support her dreams and encourage her success and help her to realize her goals?  Yes.  Which of those two is more important when it comes to parenting?
I realize that I do not have what it takes to be any kind of Olympic parent. My hat is off to you all. Yet I wave my hat and smile for the parents who chose the path that kept them walking right beside their child. The path where everyone is under the same roof or at least in the same state at the end of the day.

I believe that there is a deeper strength we must train into a child, a tempering that forges their ability to win in life and still be on the medal stand. The kind of Olympic mom who is up at 5 a.m. making toast and hugging her child and whispering, "You can do this," in her ear before the event. I would not be able to give that responsibility to a stranger because those are the golden moments all parents treasure – win or lose.
Here's where you make it plain that the focus isn't your child.  The focus is you.  Your desires, your goals, your interests, your memories.  You want your children beside you.  You want to enjoy golden moments.  I understand where you're coming from, but what's best for the parent isn't always what's best for the child.  What's best for the family overall isn't always what's best for the child.

Parenting includes sacrifice, and I expect that you know that.  I know as little about Gabby's family as you do, but now that we've heard your interpretation of events, here's mine.  I like to think that Gabby's mother loves her enough to do what's best for her.  Gabby's mother recognized her potential and was willing to sacrifice that same-roof golden-momentness to help her achieve her goals.  As opposed to thinking, I'm poor and this house is chaotic so she's better off somewhere else, maybe her mother thought, My daughter's something great and I want to help her to make the most of her amazing gifts even if it means missing out on sharing her life the way I want to.

If it comes down to reaching for the stars or being tucked into bed at night by their mother, your kids will get tucked into bed.  You want your children right beside you where you can teach them the values most important to you.  Instead, Gabby's mother taught her daughter that her gifts are special, that her goals are important, that her family shares and encourages her dreams.  Isn't that better than, "I love you and I support you, only as far as your needs mesh conveniently with mine?"

With love,
Frank Lee