Thursday, March 5, 2015

Caught in the Act

When the latest activity/program booklet came out at the Y, I picked it up and brought it home, thinking about all the great things Esme could do.  We could sign her up for soccer, or gymnastics, and we definitely need to get her started with swimming lessons, I thought to myself.  Then, when I compared our calendar to the course offerings, I started to get a little anxious.

If we did this swimming class, then she would miss two of the session times...if we signed her up for indoor soccer, that would throw off supper time on Thursdays...and that on top of music class, which we are already enrolled in.  Thankfully, somewhere in this process of thought, I caught myself: I was buying into the notion that in order for Esme to be
well-rounded she needed to be exposed to a variety of activities and in order for her to be successful in the world, we needed to take advantage of every opportunity available to her/us. 

I am so glad I realized this, because then I was able to stop this train of thought and return to my "keep it simple" mantra.  About this same time, I was in the middle of reading All Joy No Fun, which I highly recommend.  The book is about how parenting kids these days affects us as parents, and one of the chapters is called Concerted Cultivation.  That chapter, and it's title, directly relate to the conversation I had with myself about which activities to sign Esme up for and the pressure I felt to provide her with as many opportunities as possible.
And it turns out I'm not alone in feeling like this and that it's actually a fairly recent phenomena as far as parenthood goes (just think of how much parenthood has changed since the 1930s much less Stone Age). 

The author, Jennifer Senior, does a great job of synthesizing all her research and presenting it in a way that makes sense, but here's my paraphrase: Prior to the 1950s, having kids was something people did in order to keep the family going and to help with the family store, so to speak.  It was a practical, necessary thing to have more hands around.

But then, after World War II, all sorts of changes started taking place, and many of those changes affected how parents parent.  In fact, it wasn't until the 1970s or something that parenting even became a widely-used word.  About this time, we started to "hire out" a lot of what we did as parents-- and we started to have kids because we wanted them, not in order to help with the farm or family business.  What resulted was a heightened pressure to be the very best parent we could possibly be and our primary parental job was to help our kids grow up to be happy, well-rounded, and successful.

With all this in mind, it is any wonder that we have put so much stock in extra-curricular activities, shuttling our kids from one activity to the next, and trying to give them every opportunity under the sun?  Of course, there is joy in seeing your child succeed and find something they love to do.  And there is certainly good that comes from participating on a team or in music, but those things shouldn't become the measure for how well we are doing as a parent.  They are shouldn't replace family dinner and quality time just shooting the breeze.  They shouldn't become the end-all be-all of what we offer our kids.

At least that's how I see it.  And that's what I try to remember when I think about the life I want to give my kids and as I plan our family's schedule.  At this point in our kids' life, we have learned that if an activity or event starts after 6:00pm, it does more harm than good.  We have decided to not sign up for the next session of evening music classes, despite how important I feel music is) because it leaves the kids overstimulated and gets in the way of bedtime.  And we have made peace with the fact that Esme will not take swimming lessons until this summer.  I'm pretty sure she'll still turn out okay.  :)

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