I’d spent the past few weeks festering in frustration. My child with special needs was struggling to manage their anger and articulate their feelings using words. To put it bluntly, I felt like a complete and total failure. None of my typical tricks and tools were working, and I was stressed to the max.
Multiple people have suggested martial arts classes to me. Martial arts, they say, teaches discipline, respect, and confidence. At first, I blew off the suggestion. Then I called a few local studios. Each of them wanted me to bring my child to the studio twice a week for practices and commit to weekend tournaments.
I stopped listening when the owners droned on about the rankings of belt colors and group meditation. Not because what they do may not work for some kids, but because I began to think, is there really something wrong with my kid that needs to be fixed by adding more to our calendar–or is there something wrong with current parenting expectations?
A week later, my family is standing in line at a local café. A couple is behind us, and the man asks my eight-year-old daughter what sports she’s in. She tells him she’s currently taking drum lessons, but she used to play basketball. “Really? No sports?” he said. The woman then asked each of my other three kids the same question.
My oldest replies that she doesn’t like sports. My son couldn’t care less about anything other than Paw Patrol. And my toddler, who is the typical fourth child, is in zero — that’s right, zero — Mommy-and-Me gymnastics or dance classes. Because her extracurricular activity is following her big siblings around and annoying them.
It’s one of those awkward but friendly-enough stranger-child conversations, one we’re accustomed to. Because modern parenting culture is all about the extras. The more, the better.
Every new parent I meet—whether we’re at the park, the school pick-up line, or at a birthday party—asks each other the same question. What activities are your kids in? (AKA: Who goes the most “above and beyond” for their kids?)
Our job as parents has shifted from raising good humans who graduate high school and hopefully find happiness in their lives to kids who are well-rounded and talented. They must know, from a young age, exactly what they are good at. Then they need to hone in and quickly excel.
Parents know that this break-neck speed race track we’re on is freaking exhausting. But we just keep going. All of us—collectively.
My kids aren’t fantastic because of the number of activities they are enrolled in or what their behavior was on any given day. They have always been incredible.
There’s so much pressure for kids — ahem, parents — to perform well. Whether the child is doing something individually or as part of a team, they are always “on.” Always going. Always doing. Always achieving.
And it doesn’t stop there. We create elaborate chore charts for kids — or we don’t make them do chores at all. There’s no in-between, moderation, or compromise. It’s all-or-nothing these days. We either are of the mindset that we don’t want to raise helpless, entitled brats who don’t know how to start a washing machine or we don’t want our angels to lift a finger, because after all, they are so busy with all their aforementioned extracurriculars. They can learn how to fold a towel when they’re in college.
Then there’s the dreaded classroom clip chart systems where are our kids must constantly be on their best behavior. Otherwise, their clip will get moved to “think about it” or worse, get-your-ass-to-the-principal’s-office. The public humiliation kids face for simply being human, for having bad days or seasons, is stressful.
Since when did kids have to hold their shit together, being so polished and poised, yet we, as adults, don’t hold ourselves to the same level? Who decided that children–whose brains won’t even be fully formed until they’re in their mid-twenties–can’t ever screw up? Why can’t they get a high-five for being average if average is their personal best?
We are draining our brains and bank accounts to make sure our kids are the best and most — the most behaved, the most talented, the most intelligent. As we strive toward our goals for our kids, we’re missing the person right in front of us — the child who they are right now.
I feel like we’re all trapped. We know we’re out of control, but how do we stop?
As we strive toward our goals for our kids, we’re missing the person right in front of us — the child who they are right now.
I admit, I’ve been caught in that web of “more” before, and it’s not fun. I have four kids, ranging from a toddler to a tween. I’m not immune to the temptation to take my kids’ education further than school and immerse them in anything and everything that will make them better human beings. Yes, I made my children a color-coded chore chart — which we don’t stick to anymore. And I absolutely have moments of mommy-shame when my child brings home a note from the teacher regarding even the most minor behavioral infraction.
Now, there is nothing wrong with raising a well-rounded kid. Nor is there anything wrong with letting your kid hone in—focusing on that one activity they really enjoy. Kids today have more extracurricular options than we ever did growing up, and the options are diverse—which is a good thing. And we should definitely not raise spoiled kids who grow up to believe the world owes the all the favors.
Once our fourth child arrived, I had to put in place some boundaries for the sake of our family. First, I decided not to make a mountain out of a molehill. My kids are going to screw up — every single day — and that’s OK. We address it and move on. Making mistakes is part of life. I also made a one-activity-at-a-time-per-kid rule, because though my oldest would love to be a world famous ballerina-gymnast-novelist-artist-baker, there’s no room in our schedule or bank account for all of those activities.
I know what we’re doing is counter-cultural. My kids aren’t scheduled from dawn until past dusk, seven days a week. In fact, they have a lot of unscheduled time where they play outside or—gasp—play with the toys we own. We sleep in on Saturday mornings and then have pancakes. We go to church on Sundays, have friends over for dinner, go to the library.
Do I question our slower pace? Sometimes. I look around us and think, are we doing the right thing by having a lower-key life? Are my kids going to be OK? What if they grow up to not be go-getters? Then I caught a glimpse of this meme—and it provided the relief I needed.
I was reminded that my children are already great. My oldest is organized, creative, and intuitive. She always knows exactly what her baby sister needs. My middle daughter is athletic, funny, and thoughtful. My son is energetic and empathetic. And the baby? Well, she’s always up for making us laugh or offering a hug. Yes, they have their moments. I mean, with four kids, there’s always someone having a moment. That’s real life, right?
My kids aren’t fantastic because of the number of activities they are enrolled in or what their behavior was on any given day. They have always been incredible. Long before—and long after—music lessons, temper tantrums, basketball games, and missed homework assignments.
Like many moms, I’m relentlessly trying to raise good humans. But it doesn’t stop there. Part of raising great kids is appreciating who they are now.
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