This post is a full-chapter excerpt from Tough Love Letters, Eiler's latest book.
Tammy is in her late 30s and is absolutely all about her son, Timmy. Timmy is a 10-year-old “phenom” baseball player who competes year-round on various indoor and outdoor “Elite” travel teams. Tammy and her husband Tommy spare no expense when it comes to their little prodigy, paying for private hitting and catching lessons throughout the year.
Tammy’s life essentially revolves around Timmy’s baseball tournament schedule and private lessons. In her mind, his success equates to her success, and she thrives on it. “Classic Tammy,” as those who know her would say, is a mom who can be found pacing behind the practice cage, with a heavily caffeinated whipped latte in hand, barking out commands to her son to perform the way his private coaches are instructing.
Tammy and her husband Tommy travel almost every weekend of the summer season to elite tournaments to watch Timmy and his team compete in local, regional, and even national tournaments. Tammy and Tommy also have a younger son, Tommy Jr., who is on the newly formed tee-ball travel circuit as well, and it looks as though he may be the next natural ball player in the family.
At ten, Timmy shows a good bit of athleticism for his age and is one of the larger kids on the team, both in height, but also in weight (and it should be noted this “weight” is not just muscle). It’s clear he’s one of the better players on his team, hitting a couple of home runs each year and making a few nice throws to second from his catcher’s position. Tammy and Tommy couldn’t be prouder of their boy and have visions of Division 1 schools knocking on their doors in a few years.
Tammy is the Team Mom of Timmy’s travel team, where she organizes and delegates the food and beverage lists for “tailgating/refueling” in between games, designating which of the other players’ parents will bring the pulled pork, the buns, the chips, the hot dogs, the burgers, the brownies, the cookies, and the soda. The young athletes are sometimes playing three or four games in a day, and their parents believe it’s important they refuel when they have downtime in between play.
Fast-forward three years to Timmy, now age 13. Many of the other boys Timmy once towered over have hit puberty, so Timmy is no longer one of the tallest boys on his team. But he is still the heaviest—and the slowest.
To make matters worse, Timmy really doesn’t love baseball anymore.
He dreads the grind that his parents have set up for him and actually is beginning to resent them. Furthermore, he’s coming into an age where his hormones are all over the place. He’s becoming aware of his self-image, comparing himself to other boys and taking an interest in girls. It should also be noted that little Tommy Jr. is currently the prodigy, as he is now 10 years old and following in the footsteps of his older brother both in height and in weight.
Team Mom Tammy is 42 years old, is 5′5″ tall, and weighs 208 pounds. Her husband Tommy, who is also 42 years old, is 5′8″ tall and weighs 235 pounds. Tammy and Tommy never thought to consider the fact that genetics was going to play a role in Timmy’s growth—he would most likely never be a tall fellow—or that their family’s eating habits would play a factor in Timmy’s girth. Nor did they consider how the pattern of eating “what he wants, when he wants,” just as his parents do, has become his habit at an awkward age of 13—and sadly, the same will be true for little Tommy Jr.
Regarding her own self-image, Tammy is embarrassed by the way she looks, but she is so busy with Timmy and Tommy Jr.’s schedules that taking care of herself seems frivolous. Tommy is not much happier as he knows he’s put on weight, and though he’s married, he feels lonely. To make matters worse, they don’t find each other physically attractive any longer. With tournaments and associated hotel stays almost every weekend, they are eating at fast food restaurants frequently and tailgating at games. Timmy and Tommy’s practice schedules during the week have them running as well, so the fast food habits are the rule rather than the exception at this point.
Tammy and Tommy’s version of intimacy is sitting down together with calendars in hand over a take-out meal of fried food, navigating the boys’ travel schedule, lessons, practice, and homework. As far as they are concerned, their life is their kids, and connecting with one another on a romantic level is a thing of the past.
Essentially, Tammy and Tommy are no longer a couple. Instead, they have transitioned into a business relationship where they serve as dual sports agents for their boys.
Dear Tammy and Tommy,
In your quest to live your dreams through your children, you are oblivious to the fact that you are leading your boys down a path of detrimental behaviors that they will likely spend the rest of their lives trying to reverse—and worse, they may even resent you for it all.
The unhealthy food and drink that you are supplying to “fuel” your young athletes on game days is actually just serving to quench your own desires. Hot dogs, cookies, brownies, and chips for “refuel” purposes?
You are the parents, and you are responsible for their food choices. Did you ever consider something as simple as a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts between games? Or a chilled smoothie of plain frozen yogurt, frozen berries, coconut water, and a teaspoon of honey? Or something more robust for extended breaks, such as a Tupperware bowl of diced grilled chicken breast and steamed rice pilaf with avocado? These eating habits sure as heck would be more in line with those of most professional athletes! And as for the frequent out-of-town travel and hotels, not to mention the reliance on fast food, you’re again sabotaging your children due to your own desires and wants for convenience.
As far as Timmy’s skill development, you invested significant resources with private lessons for hitting and catching, but little-to-no development on his speed and performance training, his nutrition, or his rest and recovery. All of these elements are required to foster a top-notch athlete, even at the youngest levels.
And guys, honestly: if it happens that Timmy or Tommy Jr. are truly prodigies, it will become clearly apparent without the grinding travel schedule that you started when they were 6 years old. While hard work undoubtedly plays a role in development and the success of an athlete, genetics cannot be overlooked in the making of a prodigy. Ask yourselves, as neither of you is over 5’ 8”, do you expect either of your sons to reach a height that Division 1 schools are looking for?
In addition to being the focus of your time outside of work, your boys’ travel-ball tournaments are your primary source for social events and family bonding. At this point, Timmy doesn’t even enjoy the game. Are you so invested that his feelings don’t enter into your scholarship equation?
Tammy and Tommy, you need to find balance. You need to let your boys be boys, where they climb trees, shoot hoops, play a few different sports, and spend time simply being active together as a family. Perhaps you can take weekly hikes and bike rides together.
You also need to find time for one another, taking care of yourselves and each other, for each other as well as for your boys.