Facing competitive parents? At home or away, author Kathleen West offers tips

Welcome to our Novel Advice column, where Parade.com connect with your favorite novelists and bestselling authors to get their perspective on life’s tricky situations. From dynamic family concerns and relationship feuds to simple misunderstandings, we task the authors with some of life’s biggest questions and ask for guidance on its toughest moments. This month we hear from author Kathleen West, whose new book, Home or Away, is out now. Below, she answers a reader question!

My daughter has been doing recreational gymnastics for a few years now and recently moved up to a more advanced class. Enter the competitive parents stressing from the bleachers and charting their child’s sporting paths. My daughter is only 8, so I can’t say I feel the same way. But I find every week boring. I don’t want to be downright rude and sit on the sidelines of other parents, but I also don’t want to hear their side comments and be in their little competitive corner. How can I distance myself without looking downright rude or frosty? —Samantha, 34, Pennsylvania

Kathleen West:

Dear Samantha:

I’m the mother of two teenage athletes, so I’ve been there. It can be irritating, and sometimes downright toxic, to get drawn into conversations about children’s giftedness in any field. Kudos to you for seeing the big picture and, it seems, letting your daughter drive the athletic train.

Related: Inspirational Quotes

My best advice is to give your friendliest smile and wave to the group, then sit or stand somewhere else. If someone asks you why you’re alone, you can make a self-deprecating comment like, “I’m so nervous for her, I just need some space. If the conversation persists, you can steer it away from the children and towards yourself: “What do you do for work?” “Read any good books lately? “Were you an athlete growing up?” If it gets really sticky, you can say, “My daughter is experimenting with gymnastics, and I don’t know how far she wants to go.

In my latest novel, At home or away, the main character, Leigh, spends her time watching sports away from other parents. She may seem distant there, but she has friends in other spaces. We don’t always have to be carpenters or worry about looking rude. It’s okay to guard against irritation by setting firm, friendly boundaries and finding our people in separate spaces from our children.

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