“How can you let your daughter be a cheerleader? I mean, you’re a professional, educated woman! How could you want THAT for your child?”
It took me longer than I care to admit to process that comment and get over it. I normally don’t care what others think, but this stranger at a party really struck a nerve. I guess I was caught off guard because we were just making small talk at a fundraising event, while supposedly on our best and most charitable behavior. The last thing I expected when she asked about my teen’s extracurricular activities was negative commentary and judgment regarding my parenting skills.
Education aside, I was dumbstruck and rendered uncharacteristically mute, unable to address the merit of her statement because I was too blown away by her presumptuous rudeness. Would she have blasted another parent for allowing a child to play a dangerous sport such as football or rugby? Or for condoning their choice to join a particular religious or political club?
Let’s be honest. It was about cheerleading stereotypes. Perhaps she thought she was doing a public service by saving an innocent teen from becoming a “Barbie.” Her reaction was guided not only by bad manners, but also by bad judgment: Stereotypes are characterizations and misconceptions of what’s real. Even if they originate from something valid, they should be taken with a grain of salt and an open mind. We could all benefit from a little perspective from our myopic views.
Cheerleading is a sport like any other team sport. It requires hours of practice in strength, teamwork, agility, flexibility, and tumbling, which are not only impressive, but dangerous. It builds character, leadership skills, and self-confidence. Our JV and Varsity teams participate in charitable events and constantly promote school pride and spirit.
Sure, I get it: The girls cheer for the boys’ teams and it is 2016 after all… but it’s part of the package deal and I’ve yet to come across an activity that is perfect.
Recently I was caught in an elevator with a woman, who was passionately explaining to her husband that cheerleading is a joke: “If you ask a competitive cheerleader though, she’ll get real sensitive and set you straight, trying to convince you it’s a sport.” This time, I wasn’t caught off guard, although perhaps I went a little too far when I turned around and said, “I’d love to see you run, jump, and tumble with the agility of a gymnast before passing judgment.”
Here’s what it really boils down to: My daughter chose this sport and is committed to it. Should I forbid her to participate? Although I cheered in high school and felt that it greatly benefitted me physically and emotionally, I never as much as suggested that she try out for the team. I refuse to live vicariously through my children. My daughter played lacrosse for several years and then decided to try out for cheer. I had mixed feelings about her giving up lacrosse after years of investing in the sport, but was determined to support her decision. Because this was her choice and not a path I carved out for her, she is dedicated and motivated. She has learned that hard work pays off and commitment is the name of the game.
Would the reaction have been different if this woman knew my child? I suspect not, given how naturally and instinctively her judgment rolled off her tongue. My daughter is not just a cheerleader, and is not defined by her sport of choice. She is an outstanding student, an active member in student government, an officer in her youth group (where she has held several leadership positions), a youth cheer coach, a creative crafter, avid baker… you get the picture. Cheerleading does not singularly define her.
Most importantly, my daughter is a kind and happy person who cares about others. In the world of teens, I’d say that’s more meaningful than anything.
Parenting is hard enough without us judging one another and I know that sometimes, I’m guilty of it too. Here’s what I wish I said to that judgmental mom (whose kids are so young she has no clue what’s coming): You disagree with my parenting choices and feel irked so deep in your core that you couldn’t help but comment. Deep inside you is where your opinion should’ve remained because not only is it none of your business how I raise my child, it’s rude and inappropriate to comment. And if you’re not concerned about offending me or having bad manners, you should be concerned about karma. She can be a bitch.