Thursday, July 16, 2009

Even more rambling on activities

Wow, two posts in two days! Amazing!

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 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


Unknown said...

thank you for putting into words what so many of us experience daily. it certainly is impossible to be inconspicuous. if only we could sell tickets! :) i am the mother of 4: 3 boys ages 7,5 and 3and a 5-week-old girl. i am certain there is a code they announce when we enter Wal-Mart, lol. my two oldest play sports and we experience EXACTLY what you described. just last week my oldest had baseball practice at one field and then was going immediately to another field for the game. fortunately i let him ride with a friend to the next field as the rest of us didn't arrive for another 20 minutes after loading, buckling, changing, etc. it is so challenging to strike a balance between maintaining order & an environment that fosters instilling Godly character and CONTROL FREAK. especially when under the microscope of parents with "average" families sitting on the bleachers looking at you with "can't you control those children" in their eyes. they have NO IDEA! I remind myself daily (hourly) to relinquish control to the One who has it anyway. i so enjoy following your blog. i take comfort in identifying with the challenges you face and glean wisdom from your going ahead of me. May God continue to bless you richly!

Mommahen said...

We so know all about every. single. word. you wrote.

I have a 13yo, a 10yo, and a 7yo. My oldest started soccer at 4. My middle child started at 5, and the baby tried at 5 1/2. My friend (who only has two children) would tell me I was being unfair for not putting him in soccer sooner. After all Mark started at 4. Yeah but that was when there was only one of them.

We too try to stick to one sport a season for each child, but with Mark in middle school now it's harder. He still loves recreational soccer which is a great release for his aggressive personality. But he is on the JV tennis team at school. The baby has since decided that soccer is not his thing. My middle child still plays soccer and runs cross country with his school team. So fall is always the busiest with both oldest boys in two sports each. But running club is once a week right after school. And tennis is played on Saturdays for Mark and soccer is played Sunday afternoons. However, nothing trumps sports or school. If they have homework they WILL miss recreational practice, and I am very upfront with their coaches about that. And we do not particpate with the rest of the team when they transition to indoor soccer during the winter and summer. I enjoy my breaks.

I think that is something for us as a family to stress as well. That mom and dad need some down time too. We sacrifice a lot, warm meals, family time, movie theaters, money for extra gas, etc. to put them in sports. Being cooperative about OUR need to rest is another way for them to show they appreciate us during the busy season.

Sorry I rambled. Good thoughts Katherine. It's a comfort to read we are not the only ones who struggle with that balance. But we NEVER sacrfice a good meal at Chili's--dad's a manager! ;-)

Susanne said...

We did the same thing as you, Katherine. One activity per child per semester. Although, I have to laugh, one semester as it turned out, that one activity each for all three happened to all fall on the same night. That was interesting, for lack of a better word. LOL. When they became older and youth group came along we had to add that into the mix because we wanted them going to that and not choosing another activity over it.

Mothership said...

I love what you had to say about raising children and nurturing the relationship. We all think (hopefully) that our children are exceptional and I find myself being impatient with their antics at times. "Action not worthy of you!!" I'd like to scream. Thank you for the reminder to, within safe boundries, discover who they areand whose they are.

Michelle said...

I love to hear other people's opinions on this subject. I love that my kids get to try to activities but the chaos of a mother of 3 and all their activites gets to be too much. We moved to Maryland 4 months ago and so far the only activity the 3 kids are in is my son, Cub Scouts. I just signed the girls up for soccer in the fall. We have limited our kids to two activites each and usually they don't overlap. Hubby and I don't agree on this. Our kids are VERY happy and crave the unstructured play time a simple life allows. He wants them in everything but realistically we can't afford it nor do we have the time to do everything!

JJ said...

I love you for writing posts like this! So real. So affirming. Such perspective.

Hopewell said...

What IS up with parents who go to every stupid soccer practice? Let Go! Let the Coach do his job!!! My pet peeve with kid activities is that the parents are required to be there every stupid moment. I LOVE to cheer for my kids, but I don't need to go to practice with them!! I only have 2 kids, but I'm a single parent! Same problem.