Olympic women's gymnastics: Gabby Douglas and parenting gold
Gabby Douglas and the US Olympic women's gymnastics successes make a mom ponder going for parenting gold – and the extreme sport it is to raise an Olympian.
VIrginia Beach, Va.
Every four years we get to see how different parents go for the gold. Not just parents, but Olympic parents whose families are tight-knit and who themselves are self-sacrificing, with tearful post-medal stand hugs and commercials praising them for their dogged efforts to support dreams of gold. This year we even have a mom-to-be, eight months gone, competing.Skip to next paragraph
Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.
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While I marvel, I also struggle to understand and approve of the parenting extremes we traditionally encounter in women's gymnastics. I want to be impressed, yet feel family values and community are benched in favor of a more sleek and impersonal family unit.
Back in 1976 when Nadia Comaneci made the perfect 10s they no longer offer in the world of women's Olympic gymnastics, I remember being shocked by the revelation that Romanian girls left home and made the team their family at an early age.
Today it's Gabby Douglas' story that reminds me parents of Olympic hopefuls often make choices that both create and break families of all kinds.
Years after watching those perfect 10s go up for Ms. Comaneci, we learned of her emotional breakdowns, eating disorder and diva-gone-bad attitude. These are things that parents struggle to correct, but coaches and strangers trying to fill those roles can sometimes miss.
The question is, have these babies come a long way, or have the foster families – coaches and host families – raising them at critical developmental junctures, just gotten more adept at spinning the media? Do the ends justify the pre-Olympic means?
While Comaneci was the product of a state system, Ms. Douglas is part of a social system that should perhaps be the next reality show right after Dance Moms. There is a wow-factor to the similarity of the tug-of-war between trainers, parents, and little girls raised both to perform and be ruthless in their dedication to the sport, rather than emotional or social ties.
Douglas is well known here in Virginia Beach as a prodigy who, for seven years, was part of the Excalibur gym family. I have never been there and am not a gymnastics mom, but it's all over the papers here these past few months.
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. There can be infighting, sibling rivalry, there can even be parenting disagreements (between parent and coach or child and coach) that lead to a form of divorce.
Parents can be crazy, particularly during Olympic madness. (Ask even the most low-key coach at a tiny tot tumbling program anywhere in America how enrollment rockets and pushy moms sprout around the mats during this time.)
Douglas left Excalibur a year and a half ago to move to West Des Moines, Iowa – without her single mom and three siblings. According to our local paper The Virginian Pilot, "Natalie Hawkins, Douglas' mother, entrusted the youngest of her four children to Liang Chow, a former Chinese national team member who also coaches 2008 Beijing Games gold-medalist Shawn Johnson."