When did parenting become a competitive sport?
As I look through the local free parenting publication, which I happen to think has some well written, well thought out, balanced articles and advice, I start to pay attention to the ads. ALL of the ads. And there are a ton of them. I get it, it’s a free publication…by not paying $3 for this magazine, I pay by having to look at the ads. But they are all for schools, activities, museums, playgyms, shops and photography studios. OK, schools, sure, fine, we all need to send our kids to school eventually. And lord knows that we all love pictures of our kids, and have to buy them toys.
What I don’t get, is when the schedule filling began. I know lots of people who have older kids, elementary-aged, who are in soccer, dance, basketball, tutoring, softball, track, summer camp, winter camp, skiing, snowboarding, and still get straight A’s. Why? Who the hell cares? I roll my eyes at the parent who says she can’t go on a walk with friends because little Susie, who is 3 MONTHS OLD, has swim class. I scoff at the parent who doesn’t want to hang out and just have a playdate (ok, a coffee and chat date for moms) because Johnny, who is 6 MONHTS OLD, has gym class.
Yeah, I’ve signed my kid up periodically for that stuff. I’m guilty. But I don’t buy it. She didn’t walk any sooner (not that I wanted her to) because we spent 3 months, paying through the nose, so we could feel obligated to drive her 15 minutes to climb on stuff for an hour. Oh yeah, and I don’t like zoos (though I’ve tried), and I CANNOT stand children’s music. RE likes Led Zepplin, and I’m cool with that.
It’s not because I’m not competitive. Trust me, anyone who knows me knows I’ll fight a point to the death (yours) and I like to win. I really do. I like success, and I work very hard for my own. Again, anyone who knows me, or has even only met me, knows that I work hard. But I believe firmly that children should have fun. And parents shouldn’t feel obligated to provide that fun for their children. They should have opportunities to make fun for themselves. That’s one of RE’s new words/concepts. Whenever we do something kind of new, or something that she’s deemed as awesome, she looks at me, giggling, and says, “mommy, FUN!” She’s having a blast, and guess what? We’re taking out the trash. Or stacking blocks and knocking them over. Or running through the mall (on a quiet, empty morning).
I had a mellow childhood. I danced. I loved it, but it didn’t rule mine, or I hope, my mom’s life. Sure, she shuttled me here and there, and my brother as well, and we always joked about “mom’s taxi,” but I certainly wasn’t over scheduled. Some of my favorite memories are from just hanging out with my brother, playing in mom’s fabric stash, or sewing, or building forts with the couch cushions, or lining up our stuffed animals for portraits. When I was having trouble with fractions and percentages in math (when WASN’T I having math issues?), my mom took me to Macy’s and taught me how to figure out the sale prices of items by rounding and using 10% as a base. So through shopping, something I “got”, I learned division, multiplication and subtraction. I still love a sale, and I still sort out the discount the same way.
I really do believe that children learn more from everyday activities. There are some schools of thought that support this, like Waldorf and many homeschool systems. Children absorb and learn the tools they’ll need for success in the future from the adults in their lives. RE, at 2, knows that when you shop, you give money, and get a bag or a goody. I’m also trying to teach her that credit cards aren’t really money, though that is a pretty abstract concept for a toddler. We’ll keep reinforcing that as time goes on. If our children are involved in our lives, daily, and at our level, they’ll quickly learn how to act in certain situations, and why sometimes it’s ok to do things differently. If we only ever let them do “their” activities, will they learn that life is all about making them happy, all the time? Probably not, but I’m sick of being looked down on because RE only goes to preschool once a week, and isn’t signed up for gym, dance, art, and storytime. She’ll be OK, and I’ll be a happier mom for it.