It is natural to have preconceived notions of what parenting will be like prior to having children. The reality of actually parenting little beings with their own desires/talents/wills/limitations is another story altogether. Add to that the conflicting information posted on the web, in parenting books, and on social media and it can be downright confusing.
What adds to the complexity of parenting are the ‘shoulds’ that inevitably permeate the landscape of parenting whether from some ingrained ideas from ones own childhood, from the news or other research, or from what other parents are doing.
I feel no compulsion to keep up with the Joneses and I do not see parenting as a competition. I have a live and let live mentality which extends to parenting decisions as well. I suspect I want what a lot of parents want for their children which is for them to be healthy, happy, well rounded, well-adjusted, decent contributors to society.
I’ve been witnessing some friends’ frazzled lives where between both parents working full-time and their kids being enrolled in myriad extra-curricular activities (tae kwon do, karate, hapkido, gymastics, Chinese, swim, ballet, piano, drums, guitar, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, Girl Scouts, chess, tennis, golf, soccer, football, basketball, baseball, chorale, pottery, etc) there is no time to just ‘be’. There is the never ending shuttling of kids from activity to activity and the complaint from their parents that they are stressed and exhausted.
My older son takes one after school, once/week Lego building class and is involved in Adventure Guides (which has a very laissez faire schedule). While at school he takes French, music, science, PE, computers, and art. As a family, we spend a lot of time together. He has play dates, goes to birthday parties, attends summer and winter camp and that’s about it.
I don’t feel like he is missing out on anything. We expose him to a lot and encourage him to try new things but unless and until he shows an interest in something (as he has with Lego and he has taken classes for 3 yrs now), I just don’t feel the need to push him into anything or make sure all his after school time is scheduled.
Yet, and even without intention or malice, I feel a degree of ‘don’t you think you should’ from other moms. It isn’t done directly but is usually a reaction to learning how little we schedule him in. Don’t get me wrong, we do push him, to read, to explore, to play, to challenge himself but we just don’t accomplish that by scheduling him in a variety of activities. Just today, in trying to arrange a play date with one of his friends from school, the mom responded that between soccer, basketball and baseball there was no time this weekend. No time for kids to play with each other just seems odd to me.
I feel like I am supposed to (or should) be more driven to get him involved in all sorts of things, but for who? For his sake? Maybe to make others feel better about their own decisions? That is part of it, isn’t it? Showing others the great things we are doing for our kids? Only, I just do not see it that way. My kids are going to have their whole adult lives to be stressed out, why would I want to start that now? And, it IS stressful for kids to not have enough down time. Sure, my older son sometimes complains that he is bored, but that is part of being a kid. Not knowing how to be bored (or, better, not knowing how NOT to be bored) is a life skill.
I am not frazzled or stressed or overwhelmed by his (and, soon to be, their) activities. Our life together feels very manageable and I both cherish and relish this time. I know it won’t always be this way. They already grow up too fast, and I don’t want to speed that up by having him (and soon to be, them) spend more time away from me, away from home than with me at home or out and about. I’m not sure that that is how to raise well-adjusted, independent beings.
As a child, my parents didn’t enroll us in anything. I didn’t participate in sports, I didn’t take dance, I wasn’t a Girl Scout. I did take piano lessons. I did learn how to ride a horse and spent many summers doing so. I did go to cotillion. I was a debutante. But almost all of my after school time was either spent at home or at one of the neighbors or with my grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins.
I think about how I want my sons to remember their childhood because I know that how they perceive it will, in part, shape who they become. Yes, I want them exposed to a variety of activities, which I think happens as they go to birthday parties and school events and as we schedule outings with friends. He’s expressed an interest in golf, so his dad will take him golfing and we’ll enroll him in a golf camp or arrange lessons to see what he thinks. But, he doesn’t have the temperament for team sports, something we’ve discussed with him a number of times, and while I know I could sign him up for soccer or basketball or baseball, my gut tells me that it would be a struggle and another cause for battling with him (to go to practice, to go to games, to not be frustrated with himself). I have friends who say their kids hate this or that activity but they seem to continue on regardless.
I have no judgement on those who believe in enrolling their kids in many activities, I really don’t. I do wonder, sometimes, why they do and what we’re missing, but their life is not my life so I don’t care what they do. Maybe I should