by ALICIA KLEPEIS
My daughter Acadia returned from school the other day, lamenting about her friends and their busy schedules. Every time we try to schedule a play date, it seems we need to book weeks down the road or squeeze a get-together between piano lessons, ballet and horseback riding. While conversing with the parents, I discovered some of these girls are playing three instruments. One girl is on three soccer teams and plays hockey.
Neither my daughter nor I want to get on board this crazy train where life is a series of tasks to check off a list. But that can leave her in the lurch, socially. What’s a parent and child to do in this era of kids who literally seem to be creating resumes before they have left elementary school? The simple answer: go with your gut. Back in the day, kids went outside and found friends to play with. We might have taken part in some activities but it is unlikely our parents had the time or the inclination to run us to every activity under the sun.
Tip #1 – Know Your Child
From what I have heard from my own three children and their friends, many kids today do not want to be booked all the time. If they have a passion for dance, sports or music, by all means encourage their pursuits. I am not suggesting kids have no scheduled activities. But it is the kids who ultimately are engaged in these activities so let them have some say in these choices.
Tip #2 – It’s OK to Say No Sometimes
When my oldest daughter was in fifth grade, I told her she could choose two activities at any one time during the school year. With three kids, it is impossible to have each one choose more than that. We have one car and my husband’s work schedule is often erratic. But Lily kept asking to join more groups. “This one only meets every other week (or once a month).” I foolishly relented and, after a short time, we were both stressed and grumpy from all the running around. It gets very hectic and expensive to have many activities; especially ones that require purchased gear. Make a rule you are comfortable with and stick to it. You’ll be glad you did.
I am not suggesting kids have no scheduled activities. But it is the kids who ultimately are engaged in these activities so let them have some say in these choices.
Tip #3 – Don’t Get Sucked Into Competition
As far as I can tell, a major impetus for creating über-kids is because we think if our kids are playing multiple sports, several instruments and doing other challenging activities, it reflects well on us as parents. Sitting on the sidelines at my daughter’s game this fall, I was shocked to hear the parents talking about tips for the SATs and whether to send their kids to private school as a way to get ahead in the college admissions process. Did I mention my daughter is 10? Comparing ourselves to everyone else may be human nature but it creates anxiety for both the parent and the child. To be sure, every child has strengths and weaknesses. We need to celebrate those strengths and encourage kids to explore the world—in their own pace and time. A good friend of mine called recently to ask me if I thought her son’s GPA was “good enough?” She had been sucked into the vortex of competitive parents. Turns out, he was the salutatorian of his senior class—and he wasn’t the nervous one. Take a step back before getting worked up about your children as compared to them…
Tip #4 – Enjoy the Time Together
It may sound painfully obvious, but one of the reasons we all got into this parenting business was to enjoy it. Playing a game of tic-tac-toe at the coffee shop with your 6 year old. Making spiced apple waffles with your teenaged son on a Saturday morning. Watching your daughter learn to dribble a basketball in the driveway. These are the moments to savor. We all know years pass so quickly with kids. Your young children are thrilled just spending time with you, without having a specific plan or agenda. Is letting kids pursue their interests part of your job as a parent? Absolutely. Is it just as important to let your children be children and not worry about having a resume yet? You bet.
And while this does not solve the problem of friends who are so “scheduled” it is difficult to find time to hang out, maybe they will also get the idea sometimes less is more.
ALICIA KLEPEIS is a freelance writer from New York.