Hockey Playing Moms: Parenting from the bench and ice

Photo by Minda Haas Kuhlmann from Flickr.
Lindsay and her daughter.

It’s a battle within yourself. You want and need to play hockey so bad, as it’s a way to feel like yourself again, but at the same time feeling judged by others for bringing your kids with you and parenting from the ice and bench, like a bad mom. ~ Heidi

When I started playing Sunday shinny in Kingston, Ontario, I noticed a trend that I had never seen before: kids entertaining themselves at the rink while moms used Courtney (me) as a pylon. I thought maybe I hadn’t seen “unsupervised kids” at the rink before because when I played in Vancouver, mostly at the multi-pad ScotiaBarn, it would be too hard to keep an eye on one’s children. But in Kingston, we play at a 2-pad rink with far less opportunities for kids to be out of parental eyesight. Over the years, it seems like more and more of the moms that I play with on Sundays have been bringing their kids to the rink. Sometimes these moms have to get up from the bench and go break up a fight or offer a bribe for better behaviour, and then they hop on the ice for their shift. At first, all I thought was that this must be a “small-town thing” where you don’t have to worry as much about “stranger danger.” Yet, as the weeks and years have passed, I started to think that it would be really easy for parents without childcare (and in particular moms) to say, “No childcare = No hockey for me this week.” But these moms have made a different choice. They have found a way to nurture their love of hockey while also taking care of the kids.

I took the opportunity to reach out to some moms who have parented while playing hockey to learn a little more about their experiences. Some of the moms have been playing hockey for decades, some are newer to the game. Some have tiny humans and others have semi-self-sufficient humans. Some of the moms are in Canada, some are in the United States. What remains consistent for all of the moms is the importance of hockey to their own identity and mental health.

Parents predominantly bring their kids to the rink because they lack other childcare options. For those with partners who work shift work, it means that sometimes they will have to bring their kids to the rink. Tessa, who started hockey in her youth, brings her 7 and 10 year old daughters to at least half of her hockey games. At one point, Heidi, mom of 4 biological children and 4 foster children, would bring her kids to the rink every other Sunday so that she wouldn’t miss hockey. She also notes that “It’s hard to find a babysitter for that many kids!” However, sometimes the “lack of childcare option” is simply because both parents end up playing hockey at the same time. For example, Patty explained that her and her partner are both at the rink a lot:

If it is before bedtime, we take them with us. I have gotten a sitter as well in the past, but that’s a bit hard to swing. My husband and I each have different nights when we play to try to prevent overlap, but we also have called in favors from friends and had other people watch them at the rink (including the spouses or parents of teammates). [The kids] attend tournaments, too.

Patty and her kids.

Sometimes, the kids are there out of necessity because they are so little that they are still nursing. Patty used to play 5 times a week and now with the kids is down to about 2 times a week:

I’ve nursed both of my kids in the locker room before and after the games – and this was while playing for both my women’s teams and my men’s teams. It was a common occurrence for my husband to pop in for a second just to hand me a baby, or to shove the stroller in to the locker room for me. In the summer season of 2019, some of the guys I played with would take turns holding my baby while we were in the locker room so I could finish getting dressed. That group was a bit older, so most of them were seasoned parents who didn’t mind holding a tiny kiddo again!

Adult hobbies can be key for maintaining one’s mental and physical health. Hockey is often talked about amongst my women’s teams as “me time” or the thing that keeps moms sane. So how does bringing the kids to the rink affect the idea of “me time”? Lindsay has been playing hockey for 15 years and has 2 kids. Her and her partner haven’t brought their kids to the rink yet, but they did bring their “daughter to ball hockey on occasion this summer and it was certainly a distraction as you want to make sure they stay in your sights.” She also mentioned that she’s not yet comfortable with her kids going to public bathrooms alone. Moreover, like many beer leaguers, Lindsay enjoys a beer after the game and she recognizes that “having the kids there would change that.” For Patty, having her kids there is both a distraction and a motivator: “Hockey is definitely my ‘me’ time and I am a bit distracted sometimes if the kids are there, too. But it also makes me want to play really well, to play for them.”

Heidi reflected that hockey is her “little bit of sanity” and one of the few opportunities she has to “talk to other adults!…When I go to hockey by myself I crank my music on the way there and home because I can. I can focus on the game and on me. I can talk to other adults and feel like a real person.” Heidi continued to explain how these moments of parenting play out in practice:

I used to put them in the penalty box (with helmets on as per the rules) or set them up near the bench so when I was on the bench, I could tend to whatever their needs were (a fallen off mitt, an argument between siblings, a runny nose, to answer a question, to fix their tablet, etc), and of course so I can know and make sure they’re okay! Even while skating I can look over and make sure they’re okay.

Heidi also talked about the guilt that comes with parenting while playing, stating “It’s a battle within yourself. You want and need to play hockey so bad as it’s a way to feel like yourself again, but at the same time feeling judged by others for bringing your kids with you and parenting from the ice and bench, like a bad mom.”

Heidi with her eldest when she returned to the ice. Please note that she scored a goal in this game.

Similarly, Sahila, mother of 2, said, “Yes. I feel guilty leaving [my son] at the lobby or [in the] stands by himself. I am sure there is a lot of mom-shaming going on. As time goes by, I don’t give a shit anymore what people think. As long as he is safe and he is not destroying property, I am fine with it.”

Sahila and her daughter at a tournament.

Parenting while playing can also make for some memorable moments. Sahila explained that her son is neurodivergent (ADHD):

He has his set ways of doing things. One time he went to the bathroom and stripped down and a parent/coach had come up to me and said he needed to be helped in the lobby restroom. Everyone had a good laugh as he was running around the lobby naked, in hopes that I would help ‘wipe his butt.’ I was a little embarrassed at that time. Now I am just laughing about it. He did this on another occasion where my husband and I were skating in a drop-in. We literally paper-rock-scissors who gets to tend his bathroom needs.

Heidi had this this parenting memory to share:

One time while playing, I just finished a shift and as I’m about to sit on the bench I look across to where my kids were all set up and I can see my 2 year old (he was with siblings) walking beside the glass window railing licking the whole glass all the way along as he walked back and forth. As I’m yelling across the ice “stop licking the glass, stop licking the glass, ew, gross, stop your brother!” I realized how crazy I sounded! This was the first time I had let them sit over on the stands too! I think it was that same game I found myself banging on the glass with my stick to tell two of my kids to keep their hands to themselves.

Note: NOT actual footage of Heidi’s child.

So we know what mom’s think about parenting from the ice but what do the kids think? Do they think it’s a drag to go to mom’s ice time? Are they excited to watch mom score a goal or make a save? Lindsay said:

Our oldest daughter is very curious about hockey and the fact that we are able to play. She is interested for a few minutes but slowly loses interest, no fault of her own. Kids don’t understand the ‘me time’ so they continue to seek you (mom) out during the game for questions and their own needs. I think the social aspect of the game (locker room and on the ice) is fun for them since they get to meet new people and see women enjoying a sport.

For Sahila’s daughter, hanging out at the rink in her teenage years is unsurprisingly not the most exciting thing to do, but her son “always asks ‘What rinks are we going to today?’ The record we have is 5 different rinks in one day, for all 4 of us (me, my hubby and the 2 kids).” Tessa said of her kids, “They have never complained about it in the past, but this season they love it. There are a couple of other kids who come regularly to the games as well and they like to play with them.”

Example of an event poster offering free childcare for children under the age of 12.

It is becoming increasingly common for events to offer free childcare because organizers have realized that offering childcare is a small price to pay to increase overall participation/attendance. So, I asked the moms if childcare at the rink be helpful for them. Heidi said, “Yes! Sign me up!” Lindsay was also keen on the idea but was unsure about cost or the logistics of how it would work. Tessa pointed out that adult rec games are often so late that her kids would already be in bed; thus, childcare wouldn’t necessarily help. Sahila responded, “Absolutely! I think it will put my mind at ease that he is in a safer location and [that] he will enjoy having other kids to play with as well.” Patty said that it would enable her and her husband to play together again: “If there was drop-in care available, it would be great! If we had that, then my husband and I could actually play together again, which we rarely get to do at this point.”

While it’s not a common practice for community centres to offer child care options, it does seem to be more on the radar for organizers these days. The City of Burnaby offers drop-in child care stating, “We know that it’s not always easy to find time for your fitness. That’s why we offer convenient and affordable childminding services while you enjoy a heart-pumping workout at the gym, weight room, in a fitness class or at the pool.” They charge $5.10 per hour or they offer 10 pass options. Tiny Beans has an article listing the Best Gyms with Childcare in New York City. Yoga studios have also figured out that offering child care can increase their business. For example, Yoga Mommas in Toronto offers childcare for $8 a child.

Presumably, the reason why rinks haven’t historically offered childcare is because men are still seen as the dominant clientele and, surely, they have a wife at home tending to the kids! It’s like how men’s bathrooms rarely have baby changing tables, as if there are no gay dads, single fathers, or just dads who dare take their babies out without a woman chaperone. As the demographics of hockey change, so too do our rinks need to change. Rinks could charge parents in ways similar to the above options, or they could roll childcare into league fees. At this point paying some $900 for ASHL hockey would not be all that different from paying $910. I realize some people might feel like they shouldn’t have to pay for other people’s kids but, personally, I want the moms on my team to play! They are good hockey players and their absence on the roster is felt. Also, they are my friends and it’s always sad when someone can’t make it to hockey. So, I’d be willing to chip in some money because they make my ice time more enjoyable.

To close this piece out, I’ll leave you with some advice from the moms for any parents out there wondering if they can pull off parenting while playing.

Lindsay: “Don’t give it up; hobbies and sports are so important and will be there when your kids have moved out. Maintaining friendships and physical fitness is important, despite how challenging it can be for moms :)”

Sahila: “Have a thick skin. You know your child best, so don’t let others shame you for wanting to have your ‘me time.’ Don’t be too hard on yourself and get a good support system within the people you skate with. My teammates are very good about keeping an eye out for him. The hockey community is very supportive for the most part.”

Patty: “Playing hockey is the closest to having zen time (if that makes any sense, but hey, I’m a goalie, we are weird anyway) that I can get. When I play hockey, the other cares and worries of my day do seem to melt away and I can just be in the moment – I have to be if I’m going to stop the shot! I feel strong and capable when I’m in net; I feel important. It is worth it to make the time to play, even if I don’t get as much sleep that evening, and it allows me to have space to be myself – and it feels really good to be able to still play after having a couple of kids. I’m happy I have a supportive partner, who also plays, so he really does ‘get it’, and we work to try to make time for each other to go play.”

Heidi: “Play! I am so glad I got back into it. I forgot how much I loved the game. You also don’t realize how much you lose yourself as a mother. You deserve this! And there will be no judgment from me when you’re yelling across the rink at your kids lol.”

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