Please welcome Brian from Luke1428! He’s one of my favorite writers on the Interwebs, and I know you’ll enjoy this one!
Wouldn’t it be great if children were born with a manual? Doctor hands the blanketed newborn to the mother along with a 3-volume set entitled “Parenting 101: Everything You’ll Need to Know About Raising Your Child.”
If that massive work could be written, it would surely hit the New York Times Best-Seller list.
Truth is, the X’s and O’s in those early days of parenting aren’t terribly difficult to figure out. Feed baby…clothe and change baby…give baby tons of attention and love. That’s about it.
Then around 18-24 months a little discipline might get added to the equation. The toddler begins to test certain boundaries and quickly learns the meaning of the word “No.” The parents are beginning to see certain characteristics about their child that get them excited about what he or she might become.
As the fine motor skills continue to develop between ages 2 and 4, activities begin to pick up. Mom hangs out with child at the park, chattering with the other moms about all things parenting. Pre-school is right around the corner. T-ball starts at age 4.
This is when the X’s and O’s of parenting that were once easy to ascertain turn into shades of gray. A self-imposed pressure begins to mount as important kid milestones are reached. We observe other parents in our social circle engaging their children in activities and wonder whether we should be doing the same. After all, we don’t want our children to be deprived or miss out like we did.
Culture and peer pressure begin to subtly become our influencer rather than our own parental compass. All around us experts say we “Should be doing this” or “Must be doing that” so our child develops properly. Mix in a little button-popping pride in our child’s accomplishments, and we begin to think, say and do some ridiculous things like:
“My child only received a ‘Satisfactory’ grade on his Kindergarten report card. Wonder if that will exclude him from going to MIT? Better get some after school tutoring.”
“My child is such an athletic shortstop for his age…he’s destined for the Major Leagues.”
“Oh no, it’s not hectic…my child loves going from school to tae kwon do, to piano lessons, to evening soccer practice all in the same day…keeps her active.”
“We have to attend that elite private school…the Joneses around the corner do and love it!”
These statements may sound absurd. However, in my 16 years of education, 13 years of parenting, and 9 years of participating in our own extracurricular kid activities, I’ve either said them myself or heard something similar to them from another parent. If truly believed and followed, the ramifications of the “have-to, must-do, can’t-live-without” mindset can be devastating.
Devastating on our pocketbook as we shell out fee after fee after fee to keep our child involved.
Devastating on our time as we rush from one commitment to another, gulping down fast food in the car.
Devastating on our stress level as it feels like we cannot keep up.
Devastating on our relationships, as the speed of life kills any downtime for meaningful communication to take place between parent and child or from spouse to spouse.
For many parents, pushing their child to excellence does not stem from a desire to do what’s best for the child. Rather, it’s rooted in two big issues:
1. Living out our failed dreams and personal inefficiencies through our own children and,
2. Living up to societal expectations, basing our decisions on what other parents do.
I think most children are indifferent about the activities we enroll them in, especially the younger they are. They would just assume stay home and play catch or tackle football in the backyard with dad. To them the time spent in one-on-one contact with mom playing Barbie dolls or baking in the kitchen beats hours of hitting tennis balls around the court, being instructed or yelled at by their coach.
This isn’t a call to abandon all activities and isolate our kids at home. As parents we simply need to be wise about what we involve our children in and how much pressure we put on them to excel. No first grader needs to be practicing T-Ball four days a week and playing 40 games in a three-month season. That’s simply overkill. Yet the competitive rec-leagues are filled with teams doing just that.
We all can fight the push-my-kid-to-exhaustion trap. In our household, my wife and I have started doing the following:
1. Talking to the children about their interests and dreams instead of assuming we know what’s best for them.
2. Refusing to care what other parents are doing in relation to how it impacts the decisions for our kids.
3. Setting limits on participation based on our budget and other time commitments.
4. Allowing each one of our four children to participate in only one out-of-school activity at a time.
5. Backing off pressuring them if the child expresses little interest in the activity I would prefer they choose.
I once heard someone say that if there is an Olympic athlete hidden in your child, they will tell you. Translation: I’ll know by my child’s communication and actions how deeply passionate they are about something. If they demonstrate a desire to be pushed in an activity, then I’ll push. Otherwise, by scheduling them into multiple activities they don’t care about, I’m simply producing frustration for all those involved and eating up valuable family time that could be spent in more profitable ways.
My challenge for you today is to evaluate the rat race that is your family life. Are you running from event to event trying to keep pace with everyone else? Do you feel pressure to make your child turn out “just right?” Is it creating unwanted stress that boils over into family conflict? If so, it may be time to set some new standards for living.
Are your kids able to keep up with all their activities? Do you get stressed out running from event to event? How are you working to reduce anxiety over what your child might become in the future? Are you trying to live out your failed dreams through your child?
About the author: Brian Fourman is a private school teacher and personal finance blogger. His hobbies include rental real estate, running and cooking. In his down time, he loves being a dad to his 4 kids and hearing his wife talk about all the cool things CPAs do at work. You can check him out providing encouragement and inspiration on his blog at Luke1428.com or by connecting with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.