I remember three things growing up as a kid. First, I was allowed to be a kid. I went to school, and when my homework was done, I was allowed to go outside and play, whether it was riding my bike or going to the ball field to either play some neighborhood football or baseball. Second, other than watching the Banana Splits or HR Puffinstuff, the rest of my afternoon and evening hours were used participating in interests whether it was music or a community interest, but it was at most one or two days of the week, and only approximately a one hour commitment. But that is exactly what it was, a commitment, if I signed up for it, that is exactly what I made, a commitment. Others every week were counting on my participation, but these were things I was enjoying, so being “guilted” in attending was not an issue. But my mother encouraged it nonetheless. Third, I was encouraged by my mother to do the things that would impact my life as an adult. It was not even a choice. It was important to my mother that she supported my endeavors and dreams.
And really, this is the way it should be. As a parent, we should always want the best for our children. Our children should always be our first priority. We are responsible for guiding, teaching, and preparing our children for life as an adult, something we all know, being an adult is not an easy thing to do. But what we have in our bag of tools, is experience. We were kids once. And as adults, we can see what things were done in our past, and the impact that was made on where and who we are today. We also know what else could have been done.
It is hard enough to accomplish this with the Norman Rockwell image of the perfect family having both parents. But it does get more complicated when there is more than one child, or when there is only one parent, no matter the reason for that. But the responsibility remains the same, preparing the child for the future. And that is a commitment. And a parent that is dedicated to this obligation, will not dwell on their past and what was lacking or not achieved, will make sure that all efforts are made to make sure that what is done for the child, or children, helps to make the child’s life better than that of the parent.
Today, I still believe that most parents want the best for their children. That has not changed. But what has changed, was the amount of pressure we have not only put on ourselves as parents, but on our children as well. The children still go to school, that has not changed. But what has changed for so many, are the activities following school. There are way more choices than what there were back in the 70’s and 80’s, and even if they were outdoor activities, “indoor” facilities have been constructed allowing what was once a seasonal activity, to operate year round.
And unfortunately, this has led to the elimination of something I feel is very important, allowing a child to be child. There simply is no time left. Many children participate in extracurricular activities in school, followed by after school functions like karate lessons, music lessons, sports, and other community events. There are so many choices.
But this type of scheduling does more harm than good, all around. We think that we are offering more choices, exposing our children to more options to choose from, in hopes that the larger amount of choices before them, will lead them to their future. Unless the activity is of solo participation only, then participating in any team activity means that others are relying on every child to attend, and attend regularly. And participating in too many activities will clearly mean that a scheduling conflict will some day arise, and choices will have to be made between the conflicting events. While this is definitely a teaching tool, it is unfair to the others who are participating who are expecting everyone on their “team” to show up. It is also unfair to put the child in this position, because clearly, the child enjoys both activities (or more), and is not being expected to show loyalty to one over the other.
And then, as if scheduling was not impossible enough to be in more than one place at one time, there are family functions to consider. The trick is learning to balance what is critical versus what is traditional, what is important to the child and what is important to the parent. A child who practices for a musical performance with her peers, which will include a fun celebration afterwards, looks forward to that, and is devastated when told they will not be attending. And it does not matter what the reason is, the child was looking forward to such an event with their friends.
We spend a lot of time as parents teaching our children to find something that they truly enjoy, a dream to build upon, reach for something that could make a difference in their lives.
It has always been my belief, that as long as it does not involve a funeral, anything that my children are involved with, comes first. My daughters, now that they are getting older, may have a better understanding of scheduling conflicts, but that does not make their heartbreak any less, if they are told they cannot participate in something that they have been working towards for so long because of other scheduling issues. Yes, they may be tradition, and tradition is very important.
As a parent I have always felt I had two responsibilities, providing my children with an education to provide them for life, and to provide my children with a religious foundation (no matter what religion they choose to pursue, I want them to have something). Everything else to help them develop their sense of being. And that needs as much attention as conflicts with traditions.