Four Myths of American Suburban Life ~ #2

Number Two: Scheduling your children in countless extracurricular activities helps them get ahead in life.












(via Flower Power Mom)

It may seem logical to want to expose your child to a large number of interests, just to see what “sticks” as far as attention and talent go. I remember sitting with my girls ) when they were toddlers wondering if I had little prodigies in the making. Prodigies of what I didn’t know, but I was curious, nonetheless. My own mother was a musical genius at a very young age, for Pete’s sake. A pie-in-the-sky dream was brewing that I had a Mozart or Monet on my hands and didn’t even know it yet!

So what did I do at this tender age of interest development to bring forth such mastery?

I scheduled my kidlets to the hilt, of course, and proceeded to drive to every mommy and me class known to man. Art, gymnastics, pee wee soccer, swimming, ballet…it was a quest to uncover The Interest with which my children were going to begin their love affair. This would be a discovery of the talent that would take them to high places through years of practice and hard work and possibly lift the burden of heavy college tuition hikes. Say, whaaaat?

Yeah…I went there too.

Who am I to dictate, dig out, discover, prophesy, or predict what my kids would glom on to in the way of activities? I’m thinking varied exposure to things is a good thing, but I’m finding out that if you really pay attention to your kid’s strengths and have heart-to-heart conversation, you will be led to where you need to take them to make it all happen.

Praying is pretty important too. When I finally realized how silly and anal I was being about searching for these destinies, I released it to God and asked for guidance. At that point, things really started happening with my girls as they asked me for opportunities for new activities. There was basketball, soccer, piano (more us than them on this one) and one very intense year of I-love-all-things-about-horses-please-let-me-ride-every-day. I embraced the horse girl thing, knowing that at some point my youngest’s athletic skills would probably trump her stable time. I actually had a moment of sadness when she couldn’t identify a horse at a parade this summer. Memorizing horse fact books used to be the favorite past time. Yet, I also was proud of her for recognizing that a girl just can’t do it all. It’s also a good thing to see that the mother of a girl can’t do it all (or drive it all) either.

We’ve had many discussions about what it means for school work when there are too many scheduled activities and events packed in a week. We’ve always sent the message that academics come first and if there is “slippage” in any way, other activities will be stripped away like bark on a whittled stick. I think the message that “sometimes you just have to choose the one you like the best” is a good one. Over-scheduled kids have a much bigger chance of becoming over-scheduled adults…and we all know how that turns out (see Myth #1)

Aside from the harrowing school time vs. athletic time dilemma, there is another thing that has been haunting my 21st century thought process (I’m a little late to the party).

Do you think kids really play anymore?

How is your memory of your own playtime? Is it full of days spent with dolls in your bedroom, banana seat bike races, driveway matches of H.O.R.S.E. and twilight games of Capture the Flag?














(That’s me…super-fly bell bottom rollerskating diva circa 1980)

It seems like my memory has more vivid images of these games and hard-core playing than anything else from my childhood. It’s where I learned to entertain myself (being an only child), fight fair with friends and listen to others’ opinions of which game should be next. They were times of being completely engrossed in my backyard refrigerator box fort without a care in the world. My imagination was marathon running to the point of having to be reminded six times to “come in, it’s getting dark.”

I find it disturbing to constantly see the tops of kids’ heads in public settings. You know…the stance of being fully engaged in texting or gaming with slumped shoulders and glassy eyes. This doesn’t seem right. Has the gravity of our situation with this tech-savvy generation freaking anyone else out? I’m just short of not being able to sleep it bothers me so much. Of course, not to the point of being an excellent example with the closure of my own laptop (I’m working on that), but it does make me think these kids are seriously missing out on something they might see as old-fashioned.

It appears there is a lot of running from one extracurricular activity to the next with gaming and tech time smashed in between.  In my own minivan world I finally implemented a no-device rule. We either talk or listen to horrible pop music stations (I’m begrudgingly held hostage by Justin Bieber and One Direction) and the car time seems to be a time of bonding and catching up. I actually learn quite a bit in the car about what’s up at school. I think it has to do with having the back of my head to them—-my junior highers must feel safer sharing stuff when there’s no eye contact involved.

I do believe kids learn about their strengths through playing, or as my girls have taught me to say, “hanging out”. Interacting and genuinely having to communicate with one another is invaluable in learning to navigate the world in general.  I’ve had many conversations lately with other worried parents that the art of communicating (especially in the written word) is losing steam, especially with an internet connected generation. The relational connections need to be conscious and consistent—overscheduled kids miss out on this. The down-time (with the added benefit of being device-free) is crucial to social development and the ability to identify one’s own strengths.

If we interact with our kids and listen as they speak from the heart, we know our kids. We hear the changes in interests and desires. We are keen to the possible directions of where their interests can lead them. It is then that we can make a commitment to a desired activity and support it with everything we’ve got.

At the beginning of every school year I have a candid one on one conversation with each of my children. I ask them three questions:

Which of your activities bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment?

Which of your activities do you see yourself doing in two years?

If you stopped participating in ____________, what would you miss about it?

This usually sets them on a positive course. Sports tend to win in our house, but the interest and passion is genuine.

I’m going with it.

* * *

More thoughts on unconventional living here in this post.

What are your thoughts on all of this, lovelies?


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5 Responses to Four Myths of American Suburban Life ~ #2

  1. Amber says:

    I have come to the realization that if my kids are naturally talented in a sport/activity, it doesn’t matter when they try it out because if it really is a natural gift, they will excel and love it no matter what age they discover it.

    and thanks for the reminder about prayer…I always seem to forget that part :)

  2. Adrian says:

    My son is scheduled to the hilt, but I tend to think of it as a good thing. The activities he is involved in – Scouts, church youth group, church band, bowling (well, maybe I could live without that one) are activities that are exposing him to positive values and good kids, as well as terrific leaders. It does give him accomplishments that he can be proud of, which is important, I think. And it serves nicely to painlessly separate him from the electronics I detest as much as you do.

    My theory on teens is to keep them too busy to get into any trouble, and so far it has worked nicely on boys #1 and #2, and so far with #3. He is an honor roll student, and is working towards his Eagle Rank and is part of the Scout’s Honor Society. On the other hand, you’ll notice that my Email is AdriansCrazyLife, so maybe I’m just delusional and letting him be sucked into the whirlpool that is my 90-mile-an-hour life. Definitely gives me something to think about!

  3. Pam says:

    My little guy is only four and I already worry sometimes about this stuff! I also wonder if spending all that time on the road back and forth for so many parents is a way to live through their children in some ways. I especially notice it in the attention starved or insecure women I know. They need to be able to talk about all the THINGS their child is doing to puff themselves up in front of others. It honestly makes me sad for their children.
    I also agree about PLAY missing in so many ways now. I hear parents of 5th graders talking about the amount of homework and the complex subjects/ and or projects that seem to take up every waking minute and it sort of makes me sad. So when are they supposed to PLAY and burn off energy, use their imaginations?! The hard part for me living in a city is I feel like I can never take my eyes off my child. My mom used to let us go play in the yard while she was in the house taking care of her daily tasks. Now it is practically child neglect if you do that. SO I find myself keeping him indoors a lot more than I would like to. I feel bad if I consider a class for him just so I can have an hour to get something done. Double edged sword here? I do hope to support whatever he has an interest in, but plan to totally stay back until he expresses interest. Geesh…Sore spot here 😉

  4. Pam says:

    P.S. I did mean SOME parents – not all. I know that for a lot of us the concern comes from a truly genuine place. Just wanted to clarify that the more I thought about it. Thanks for making me think a little further Lara. You always inspire great reflection!

  5. Michelle says:

    I have a few sister-in-laws that have multiple kids and multiple activities, it truly is daunting. There is an extracurricular activity every night of the week, I honestly don’t know how they do it! My husband read something about the thing missing most from little boy’s lives is unsupervised outdoor play. So many of us go outside and hover to make sure they have all their needs met when really they just need to go out on their own and experience it. This post is a great reminder that we are on the right path. We don’t have a tv and limit i phone time to less than an hour a day (which never seems long enough for me honestly 😉 ) Hoping they grow up and want me to listen.

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