Students in Dr. Stephen Sweet’s Sociology of Work and Family course at Ithaca College were encouraged to write editorials on how job tensions affect families. The blog posts in this “Millennial Voice” series were identified by their instructor and peers as offering poignant appraisals of what needs to change and why.

Each post is informed by 23 articles read as part of class assignments, as well as an additional 10 articles independently researched by the authors.  Links to relevant references offer additional exploration for interested readers.

Today’s post was written by Kerline Batista. Kerline is a Junior Sport Media Major at Ithaca College. She hopes to work in Major League Baseball after school. 

In the three years I played softball, I played more than fifty games for three different teams. My parents made it to fewer than five games.

Teenagers, parents believe, can fend for themselves. And while this is true in regards to practical duties, such as being able to find their way home from school, teenagers still need and crave parental support.  By consistently missing their teenagers’ games, parents disconnect themselves from their children at the most crucial time in their lives. Teenagers go through various once in a lifetime experiences such as getting their first jobs, applying to college, and first dates. These are all equally as important as when a child learns to read, write, and walk; they just simply are not recognized the same by parents. The curtailment of their parents’ involvement in their teenagers’ lives can lead to resentment, bitterness, and hostility.

I never took offense to my parents’ lack of physical presence at my games; I understood that they both had to be at work. However, I cannot say that their lack of presence did not affect me emotionally. To some extent, I felt as they neither cared enough nor were interested in that part of my life.

But my parents, I know, did care. They were not absent from my games because of a lack of interest.  They were consistently absent because of work.

Work is an essential part of American life and culture. We go to work, we come home, we sleep, and we wake up to repeat the cycle. Workers in the U.S., in fact, are some of the most overworked when compared to those in other countries. France, for instance, reduced their workweek to 35 hours whereas America’s workweek remains at 40 hours or more.  Furthermore, the average American with kids, according to a study by the Bureau of Labor, spends 9 and 8 hours per day working and sleeping, respectively.  Roughly, 17 hours of an American parent’s day is gone without a single interaction with their kids. These numbers are just the average; plenty of Americans work far more hours per day.

Most of my games occurred on Saturday afternoons, which are times when my parents are typically working. My parents are part of the 29.2% of Americans who work weekends, which is more than the U.K (25.5%) and France (21.85%). They did not have the luxury of taking off from work or negotiating flexible schedules to attend my games. Taking a day off from work means losing a day’s pay and for plenty of families in America, that is simply not a possible trade-off.  Therefore, their child’s games take a backseat.

And with the number of stay-at-home moms on a steady decline since the 1960’s, as Pew Research data demonstrates, parents have been forced to treat extracurricular activities, such as sports, as more of a baby-sitting institution and less as a fun, interactive family experience.

Sports serve two purposes to parents, one of them being to keep their child busy while both parents are away at work. Sports are also a purchase—an investment—that insures their child will be admitted into a decent college. It is a box to check off of their long list of parental obligations. Parents believe they have to provide their kids with material and intangible goods to guarantee a greater future. Alison Pugh, author of “Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture,” calls this “pathway consumption,” where parents prioritize purchasing experiences for their children rather than involving themselves in their daily lives. For instance, while parents do invest in ballet lessons and top-notch soccer cleats for their children, they do not take the time off to attend any of these recitals or matches. So while parents might be able to purchase an experience for their children, from a child’s eyes the absence of parents is a source of discouragement.

Parental involvement is essential for the development of a healthy relationship. It is easy to understand, however, why parents’ attendance at sporting events has declined: an increase in the number of hours worked and a shift in parents’ obligations. In an ideal society, parents would work less and have more free time to spend with their children, but we do not live in an ideal society. Since there are serious repercussions for taking time off from work, such as being perceived as uncommitted and unprofessional, parents should focus on redefining their obligations. Worry more about your child’s accomplishments now rather than the ones that are to come later.

My parents missed my hitting my first home run, receiving Most Valuable Player, and being named captain of all three teams I was in. They invested money into league fees and anything that would land me a scholarship to a good college. At age 18, my resume was extensive and filled with the extracurricular activities my parents funded. But, I did not receive an athletic scholarship; all I have are my athletic memories, which my parents are barely a part of.

To our parents, I say, “be a part of your child’s life.”  To our parents’ employers I say, “make this possible.”

photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com