How much is too much? How much pressure do you put on your kids to get involved in activities? How much time is acceptable? How much money is reasonable to spend? Does it make you a better parent to heavily schedule your kids? To spend loads of money on dues, equipment, travel, memberships, uniforms, entrance fees, team photos, etc.? To revolve your life around your child’s activities?
Growing up, extracurricular activities were a part of my life, but they did not dominate my family’s time. I was involved in sports every season, a few school plays, stints in clubs. Not a real go-getter, but no slacker either. Yet society has changed and the importance of involvement in such activities has grown. Sure, they teach important life skills such as teamwork, time management, and communication. But let’s be honest- along with fun, exercise and personal enrichment, they are a must for college admissions, scholarships and social networking! With this new reality in mind, I fully intended to turn my children into Renaissance persons. Each would learn a musical instrument, speak a foreign language, play sports, join clubs, volunteer, and be school leaders… Doors of opportunity would fly open for them!
But my Master Plan of Parenting Perfection was doomed; children have those pesky brains of their own! Our daughters welcomed a wide variety of activities and rarely needed a fatherly “push”. Our sons have been another story. Regardless of the pressure, enticements, bribes, lectures and fatherly wisdom thrown at them- they refused Dad’s master plan. Many tears, hard feelings and hand -wringing passed before I finally let go of my master plan. This was hard, and hurt my sense of my role as their male role model. Instead, I am trying to gently nudge them along and encourage each to pursue interests of their own making. I worry doors of opportunity will not open to them as readily as for my daughters and their “get involved” attitude. But to be honest, I am relieved they don’t aspire to meet my definition of Renaissance men. That would have been too expensive and too exhausting! Instead, I am learning to accept, respect and celebrate all my children for their uniqueness.
I was an only child. My parents poured their hearts, souls and what little money they had into me. To prepare me for the vision of the life they wanted for me, they sent me to very good schools, dressed me well and provided for me lessons in guitar, piano, tennis, swimming and even macramé (hey, it was the 70’s). They encouraged me to take French in school because it was more “cultured” and to join clubs and activities. This was only ok with me when it was an activity I really wanted to do. When it was something forced upon me, it was torture.
I remember being a really, really busy kid, especially in the summers. My very organized Mom had my days scheduled in 15-minute-increments (including “down” time). I just wanted to do what I wanted to do including playing the piano, riding my bike, playing tennis with a friend, etc. but only if I wanted to do it. I needed my time and my activities to be primarily motivated by my own interest in them, not by how it would make me seem in front of others.
Because of that (and don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to my parents for everything), I am cautious about what to nudge my children into. I know from my own experience that you will show more interest, devote more time and put more energy into something that is of interest to you. So I’ve tried to put aside my “it would be wise if you took up…” notions and instead asked them what they are interested in doing. So far, as Thomas said, that has worked well for the girls. The boys, not so much. They do need a nudge especially because we do have to be realistic and consider what colleges and future employers think of them. What a shame that is. Still, I won’t force them into something just for the sake of how it will look on a college application. I will keep suggesting and providing opportunities that I think they might take to and hope they take the nibble. If not, I may have to force feed it to them – just a little.