Friday, September 14, 2012

Why has being a kid become a full-time job?

We started young. Maybe too young.
It's a circular argument currently wreaking havoc with my mind: we have to push kids to succeed, but they are just kids, why do we push so hard? 

This conflict is not new to me; nor did it originate with me. It is a dialoge, however, on which people generally take a stance. Some truly believe pushing their children further and further ahead, whether in sports, or academics, or both, is required in these competitive times. Others believe children should be allowed to be children. 

I find myself in both camps depending on the day, which way the wind is blowing, or how exhausted I am at that very moment in time. 

The struggle in my mind often sounds a bit like this: 
  • My kids are super smart and will clearly just naturally do well in school {following in Mom's footsteps, of course}. 
  • My kids are a tad lazy and don't seem to push themselves beyond what comes naturally. 
  • My kids take music lessons and are trained in a sport so they will be well-rounded. 
  • We do have a free afternoon on Tuesday; maybe we should begin working on another language. 
  • Boy Genius still enjoys free time to play and is so creative. He needs time for that outlet. 
  • Little Miss Thang is incredibly tenacious and has energy to burn. Does she need more?
  • They rarely play with friends during the week because they work so hard on their schoolwork. 
  • Someone {no names} brought home a few Bs last week. Clearly we could spend more time on schoolwork.    
I've spoken with a few trusted sources on these issues and we do not seem to either agree or find a happy medium. I am beginning to believe the level of intensity with which children are pushed at such a young age will have ramifications later in life. Will they seek that intensity in future relationships, work, life? I don't know, but I also cannot conceive that the push to do more, accomplish more, and succeed more will not somehow impact their adult world. 

Is it no longer enough that our {elementary aged} kids are learning above grade level at their gifted and talented International Baccalaureate school? Most of their friend have math "enrichment" {opposed to tutoring} on the side. By the time they reach junior high, the majority of the kids on the international baccalaureate track bump up two grade levels in math. And the kids in high school are stressed about class rank from the moment they walk through the door -- the top ten scholars of each class are pictured on the wall in the entry and their positions change every semester. Talk about pressure?! 

Is it no longer acceptable to, as I did, join a sports team in junior high having never before played the sport? By seven and eight kids are already on select teams, practicing three to five days a week. And traveling every weekend. Sports are still just teaching teamwork, right? Or is all the intensity leading somewhere further?

I wonder:  what is the end game? 

Harvard education? Professional athlete?

How exactly do we sign our kids up for 100-percent-money-back-guaranteed path toward success? 

So many parents seem confident they have the answer and it inevitably involves . . . more activity. 

It's as if we have lined them up at a starting line, blown the whistle, and expect them to run for their lives, quite possibly expending all of their energy . . . until . . . some indiscernible finish line in the far distant future.

I am a big believer in parenting backwards. In other words, determining what you want your child to be like / behave like and working backwards from there

Consider potty training. Everyone starts with the goal {diaper free} and takes predetermined steps to reach such goal. It only makes sense to me that, as parents, we should set goals and take such measured steps in other big-ticket parenting stages.  

My end game:  raise happy, healthy adults. 

There is no full-proof way to ensure this result. But starting with that goal, I can prioritize or plan some measured steps or goals I can provide or nurture: 
  1. A good college education and post-graduate degree. This seems like the best way to ensure gainful employment, though, I realize it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Do they need an ivy-league education? No; just a good education. Would I pay for an Ivy League education if either or both rise that far academically? Absolutely; but it is not my goal.     
  2. Hobbies they enjoy {and at least one which helps them remain active}. Some of the happiest people I know have hobbies they love and take time to enjoy as adults. 
  3. Strong friendships. As with any relationship, friendships take time and devotion. I believe the value they add to your life well exceeds the effort expended. 
  4. Family integrity. Traveling together, spending quality time together, and staying close. This  goal is non-negotiable. 
Could they get "ahead" even further with additional math enrichment? Possibly, depending on where their interests ultimately lie. Will jumping on the trampoline with a friend until their legs sag from exhaustion help build strong friendships? You have to bond somewhere. Is competing in a select-level sport crucial? No, though I do believe everyone needs to learn to be a team player. I also believe exercise is crucial. Can you be too busy or too over scheduled? Absolutely. 

Kids are gifted with 18 short years of childhood {and they don't even remember the first few}. By twenty, if not sooner, the real world will overtake childhood bliss. I want my duo to work hard, do well in school, work well as a team player, and learn the virtues of compassion and empathy. But I also hope they will always enjoy summers spent lolling in the surf or running around like wild, unbathed children.   

As with anything it comes down to balance.

That, and maybe I cannot truly plan it all out in advance. At some point I need to let the kids lead me. If they become crazy interested in a sport, I will nurture that to see where it leads. Maybe it will lead to a hobby for life. If they show extreme talent in math I should consider extra enrichment. Maybe I am nurturing a future engineer. If they want to lay in the grass and watch the passing clouds, who am I to say no? We generally have to slow down to think big. Maybe I'm nurturing the next innovator or inventor? Those ideas need time to grow.

How we spend our time will all have to develop over time as they develop and demonstrate their desires. Because any true success will come from their own desires. Not mine. Not society's. Theirs. I can provide the tools and nurture demonstrated talent, but ultimately, they must define their own success.

Allowing them to do just that, I suppose, is my ultimate parenting goal. 

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