Yesterday I got to rambling about outside activities for kids. It got rather lengthy so I'm installing the next chapter today.
The question was:
Um, how do you keep the ball from rolling right out of control with you on it, trying not to look like a circus act? Fear of being out of control is the underlying issue here. It is what has kept me from allowing my older children to branch out into sports, girl scouts, and other positive activities outside the home.The circus act part is a given. So let's talk about the next issue:
2. On fear and being out of control. This is a very real, very scary possibility. I'm no psychologist, but I will say in my observations of families, those with "control issues" tend to look good on the outside - and they do get things done - but at a huge cost (think Michael Jackson).
Of all our teens' friends, those whose parents try to control them (either by having unrealistic expectations of athletics, academics, behavior, or - the ultimate relationship killer - just general perfection) have the most strained, "I can't wait to get out of here" relationships with them. I don't know about you, but that's not where we want to be with our crew.
I struggle with wanting to control things. Sometimes I go bonkers over eternally insignificant things, like which way to load the dishwasher. But I am learning. In many ways I liken parenting to catching the proverbial greased pig. You may not always be able to get a firm grip on it, so you'd better let it out in a fenced area. In other words, you have to let them have some running room within some set limits, even if that means a little inconvenience for you.
But this, of course, makes us uncomfortable. We like to keep that fenced area about the size of a large cage, so we can throw them some slop every now and then through a little peephole.
But keep in mind that a little exercise is good for them and helps them grow stronger. Besides, eventually they get hungry, so they will come back. And (the added bonus) after all that running around, we all sleep better at night.
3. On outside activities. There are lots of ways to do this, and every family has a different ways of deciding what and how much. So take with a grain of salt what we have done in our family:
a. Few "organized" preschool activities. The exception to this is swimming lessons (for safety) and preschool choir (because they meet at the same time we are already at church). We made this decision early on, mostly because we figured that anything that can be gained by a bunch of three-year-olds chasing a soccer ball can be done in the back yard, without having the pressure of having to be on a time schedule for "practice" and "games" (if you've ever been to a preschool soccer game, you understand why I use the words loosely).
A trip to a thrift store for a uniform or a tutu is a cheap alternative and can get the same emotional benefit as investing an entire season of hauling your preschooler (and all of his or her siblings) to and from organized activities.
Most of our kids did not do their first sport/music lesson etc. until first or second grade. Allie-15 did not discover volleyball until 5th grade - but I can assure you her "late" start has not hampered her one bit.
b. One sport/activity per person per season. Or alternate seasons. I do believe that there is merit to involving our kids in team sports, classes, and other things that teach them new skills. Especially if it’s a skill I don’t have or that I have no passion for (you want them to catch the passion as much as the skill). My experience is that, while it is difficult because of younger siblings in diapers, the elementary/middle school years are the best time to do this. There are usually other kids who have never tried a certain sport or activity (or at least aren’t very good at it), and kids haven’t yet developed as much of a fear of failure.
So like it or not…now is the time to explore new things.
HOWEVER (watch out, this is part of my Big Family Soapbox), I believe some of the exhaustion I experienced early on in parenting came from having "Small Family" Expectations" of a "Big Family" Family. And by "big family" I mean more than two children.
The fact is, if you have three or more kids, you have more work to do than "most" people do (that is, if you hang out with "average" people. Roll with me here - no hate mail please. For example, on Libby's-11 softball team, out of 12 girls on the team, only four families have more than two kids each).
More laundry. More dishes. More doctor's appointments. More shopping trips. More field trips. More stuff to keep track of. More people to get sick. You have more potential for conflict (time AND personality). You have more places to be, more things to consider.
You will simply NOT be able physically to do some of the things others do. (And generally, when you do the math, you will not be able to afford everything for every child, anyway. When everyone on the basketball team wants to go out to a restaurant after the game, we have to do a mental calculation of what this means to our wallet. Hmmm, a "little" spontaneous dinner at Chili's could put our crew out close to $100. We either bow out, suggest a cheaper place, or only the player gets to go. It's tough!)
So right here, right now, let's all cut ourselves some slack. Whew, I feel better, don't you?
But of course your kids don't want to hear all that, because they are still under the misguided notion that life revolves around them.
So you have to arm yourself, and educate your kids, to understand that families need down time. Time to be home. Time to be quiet, time to read, time to dream, time to DO NOTHING. (Okay, and time to get your room cleaned, but you don't have to mention that one just yet.)
Unfortunately in our culture, you have to practically take on a battle mentality to fight the overwhelming pressure to fill up every.single.day. with "activities." It is hard, but BE STRONG!
From early on, we have tried to help our kids make good decisions about choosing activities, including saying "no" or "wait" to some good things. It's good training for later in life.
That being said, even with careful planning, careful pruning of outside activities, if you have a houseful of kids, you are going to be BUSY.
That's why you need:
c. Realistic expectations of participation. Our kids go into activities knowing that: (1) they will sometimes have to attend rehearsals and/or practices without Mom watching The Whole Time; (2) they will sometimes have to ride to and from activities with someone other than Mom; (3) they will have one parent at their games/recitals/performances, but may not have both; and (4) they may or may not have all their siblings at every game/recital/performance.
The reality is, over the course of a childhood/adolescence, they will have parents and siblings at many, MANY of the things that are important to them. Think Long Haul, and pace yourself.
The converse of this is relinquishing ourselves of the expectation to be a leader for everything our children are involved in. I have, at various times, taught Sunday school, been a room mom, or a team mom, youth leader, etc. Dennis has taught children's church, manned youth group functions, and helped coach. But never for ALL five of our children's activities at the same time. That would be schedule suicide. Let's just be realistic with ourselves and teach our kids to have realistic expectations of their parents, too.
I want to hear what works for you!
Next time: The Sunset Review