Parenting in Grey

Little league baseball - College Station, Texas
Little league baseball - College Station, Texas

On a cold Saturday morning in early October -- somewhere along the I-95 -- my husband drives and our then 10-year-old son, who is in the back seat, takes in his instruction.

Since our son has been playing organized sports, the car has morphed into an unholy confessional -- the place where we lecture and advise and he is supposed to listen and abide.

By the start of this past hockey season, our son already had logged thousands of hours on the ice playing for various teams. He began his Squirt Major year playing in the Boston Fed League, and one of his team coaches told him he should learn how to take a face off in case he is ever asked to fill in at center.

"When the referee is about to drop the puck, don't look at the puck. Look at his hand," my husband tells him. "See if you can get the other kid to put his stick down first. Try to cheat in a little bit."

My husband played two Division-I sports; hockey wasn't among them. Still, he grew up knowing that little advantages -- like being first to make contact with the puck at the face-off circle or leaning into and against the opposing player -- potentially can have an impact on possession. It's not cheating. It's simply gaining a competitive edge, which is technically not an infraction.

From athletes to businessmen to fashion models to people in PR, it's human nature to capitalize, to want to have -- and then seek to get -- a proverbial leg up against your competition. We all do it everyday. In my industry, as in many others, it's called ambition.

A very smart pro sports general manager, who also played hockey, once told me sports are about pushing as far as you can to try and create every edge for you and your team.

Each pro sport has its share of athletes and teams who try to do this. The stories are as old as the sports themselves and if they get caught, the stories become legend.

Do an Internet search of "corked bat" and you will find a myriad of articles, ranging from Sammy Sosa to the Cleveland Indians. Google image "PINE TAR" and the first picture that shows up is of NY Yankee Pitcher Michael Pineda's neck.

And it's not just the athletes. Have you noticed that some sports equipment manufacturers are (inadvertently) aiding and abetting in this process?

At the start of the 2013-14 season, the NHL had to implement a new rule governing the length of the goalie's pads so as not to give netminders an unfair advantage against shooters aiming for the five-hole.

In golf, the USGA and R&A will ban the use of putter anchoring devices, which helped Adam Scott win the Masters. It wasn't called cheating in 2013, but it will be in 2016.

Odell Beckham -- would we be as amazed by him if not for his Magnigrip-infused glove? When do you think the NFL will call a moratorium on these gloves? And why is it ok for guys like Beckham today, but something that served a similar purpose -- the Stickum -- wasn't ok for Lester Hayes in 1981?

Is it cheating if you're a GM who is savvy enough to manipulate the salary cap? You're not suspended from your office if you successfully circumvent the complex rules. You're patted on the back and probably given a bonus.

If a team purposely underperforms during the tail end of its season to ensure its spot in a draft lottery, can it be classified as cheating? This year, Buffalo Sabres fans famously cheered their home team's losses in hopes they could have a shot at securing the first pick overall in the NHL Draft.

Everyday we encourage our kids to do their best and to leverage whatever resources they have -- or whatever resources we can provide for them -- that will help them succeed and win. This isn't limited to sports.

Some educators believe more affluent kids do better in standardized exams because parents can pay for tutors who can teach them the tricks of acing multiple-choice tests.

I myself have been asked to edit -- and even write -- friends' children's college essays. While I've never written anyone's college essay, I've reviewed and edited my share. I wouldn't call the teens I've helped cheaters.

We live in an age when parents will deliberately "redshirt" their children -- hold them back a year from school to ensure they are the biggest, most athletically-coordinated and verbally-proficient kids in kindergarten.

Apply to any all-boys private school in New York City and you will have well-meaning admissions people suggest you hold your son back if his birthday is anywhere near the midpoint of the calendar. My husband was born in July and I in October. We both graduated high school at 17. Many of our friends' kids are graduating as 19 year-olds.

So where is the line between cheating and gaining an advantage? And who decides?

My mom, a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines, who became a first-time parent in the early '70s and raised her children in Manhattan -- told me she believes it is far more difficult to be a parent today than it was when she was nurturing my siblings and me. She thinks we contribute to and have created a world that is just more grey. And grey is harder to navigate.

She says we have only ourselves to thank for this -- that perhaps somewhere along the way, we mistook ambition for entitlement.

She may be right, I think.