When my twins were three years old, I got so upset that I was no longer allowed to participate alongside them in their toddler sports class, relegated instead to watching from the sidelines, that I wrote an article about it. The piece ran in the New York Times online in the Motherlode column entitled, “Kicking Mom Out of Playgroup: I Want to Stay!”
In the article, I lamented the fact that after school, the activities I’d signed them up for, things like ballet and Kids in Sports, no longer encouraged or even allowed parent-child interaction. I wrote that I logically knew it was good for the kids to be independent, but did it have to happen at three years old? I wanted to be in the ring with them. If I was going to be a stay-at-home mom, I wanted to be with them not just watch them, especially after they’d spent all morning in school.
Fast forward eight years.
Are you kidding me?!
Now I’m a mom of four. My twins are 11. My littles ones are 5 and almost 4. Not only am I not able to participate in every class with them, but sometimes I don’t even drop them off myself. It’s special to the kids now when I do go to a class, not upsetting to them when I don’t.
I don’t feel the same desperate pull with my little guys; I know they’re fine without me. They’ve had to be. With so many kids to parent and please, they know it’s impossible for me to be everywhere. They’re more laid back. I’m more laid back.
I went to my little guy’s final Bulldog Baseball class in Central Park recently for the “awards” ceremony. I’ve been going to Bulldog Baseball for almost a decade now. In my stay-at-home days, I never missed a class. I diligently sat on the rocks in the park each chilly Fall Tuesday and watched one kid and then another run those bases. I even did it for my third kid, my daughter, the only girl in her class. (How cool is that?!)
When my little guy, my fourth child, started this fall at age three, I chose to spend the time he was in class having a mother/daughter special lunch with my 5-year-old daughter. I knew my little guy was happy playing with his friends in the park. Occasionally, I couldn’t be with either of them then if I had to prepare for or record a podcast interview with an author for my show, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”
When I showed up at my little guy’s class, he looked up, broke into a wide grin, ran right over to me for a hug and said, “How did you know where I was? How did you know where to find me?”
Uh, because I’ve been sitting here for all your siblings for almost a decade? Sorry! I flashed back to that article from a lifetime ago, those separation anxiety feelings I had when I was going through it all for the first time. I felt a lot of pressure back then to sign the kids up for all the “right” classes, to develop their nascent skills, to keep them busy, to keep me busy.
Now, some of my best times with my little guy aren’t when he’s in class. It’s when I take him to D’Agostino’s and he pushes the tiny shopping cart they have for kids and fills his basket, gleefully finding items from home scattered among the shelves, then helping me carry it home. Or when we go to our one special class a week together at the American Museum of Natural History and have a picnic beforehand.
I want to go back and tell myself and moms like me a few things…
1. You don’t have to follow the crowd.
Parenting style is yours and yours alone. Your best friend might be signing up for three classes a day. You only want one per week. That’s fine! There’s no pressure! There’s no competition. Do what works for you and your child.
2. Do what sounds fun.
If you’re happy doing it, your child will be too. If you’re completely miserable shlepping to indoor hockey and the kid isn’t even into it, forget it! Find something else. Now that I have 11 year olds, I see that their own interests develop over time. As they do, I encourage them to pursue the things that speak to them. I also allow my own preferences as a parent to factor in. There’s a balance to all of it.
3. Take back Saturdays.
For years, I had the kids signed up for activities on the weekends. I even spent a season with my older son doing travel baseball, double headers every single weekend. Even he didn’t want to go that often! His team took me away from the other three kids and separated our family. This year, I put my foot down. I took back Saturdays. No classes. No teams. Now, sometimes we go out of town. Sometimes we all go rock climbing. Sometimes the big kids have playdates and I take the little guys to do fun things like “The Trolls Experience.” I’m happy. They’re happy.
4. You don’t have to get it right at first.
It’s hard to know as a first-time parent what’s coming down the pike. All you can know is what you feel deep down. If you don’t love being a stay-at-home mom and every day is a countdown until bedtime, find something to do part-time, even while they nap. Listen to yourself. It’s okay to try things and then say, “This isn’t working.” Happy kids have happy parents.
5. Be confident.
In my previous article I wondered aloud, “Am I selfish?” I wasn’t selfish. I just had the kids signed up for the wrong class for their age and for our family. I didn’t have the confidence to pull them out and just spend time going to the grocery. Now I do. I still have the kids do activities they enjoy, just not at the cost of our special time together. Sometimes I use the time they’re in class to work myself. I don’t feel that separation anxiety and neither do they. We’re all better off.
“Let me in,” I begged the classes years ago.
Now I’m outta there.