Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Tyranny of Good

Parenting and family living are full of tyrants.  You might be thinking of the pint sized ones who rage over food choices and dictate everyone's sleep schedule but that's not exactly what I was thinking.  I was thinking of the passive aggressive ones, the tyrants who sneak into your house without you really even being aware, who you find yourselves in servitude to even though you don't really recall making a conscience choice to do so.

One of those tyrants seems to be connected to good.  It pops up when your daughter begs to do dance classes.  It appears again when your church starts a new program that promises to help your children become more spiritual.  It just continually resurfaces with fliers from school, Facebook posts from friends, and newspaper photos of the latest sports camp.  Our culture has created a smorgasbord of "good" opportunities and activities for families.  Each activity is somehow connected to a facet of child raising that we should be tapping into in order to raise well rounded, even Godly children.  Apparently, our kids should be taking piano lessons, acting in the community play, participating in at least one sports related activity, registering for robotics workshops, and attending our churches' weekly Bible club.

I hesitate to say that lest others think I am a big stick in the mud.  Those things are good things and really don't seem like tyrants.  But they are.  They are tyrants because they make parents make choices they would not ordinarily make.  They cause parents to abandon personal values connected to finances, time management, and childhood in general.  Instead parents feel guilty, as if they are depriving their child.  It seems like it is really hard for parents to say things like "No, we're not doing that activity because they practice twice a week and have a game once a week and that is too much of a time commitment for our family."  "No, we can't make a regular commitment to that activity because it interferes with our supper hour. (or our bedtime.)"  "No, we can't afford that activity."  "No, we can't afford that trip."  "No, we're not doing that because I don't like the values that coach or organization seems to stand for."  I say it seems that way because in my own personal experience, it has seemed really hard for me personally to say those things.

Our fear or guilt over depriving our child of amazing opportunities in childhood has meant that people keep their kids out way too late, eat supper via a plate of food carried out to the car, and spend the amount of money many people around the world make in an entire year on one activity for their child to participate in for 6 weeks.

The longer I have been a parent and the older my kids get, the more I realize how upstream I am swimming.  And it makes me frustrated because I am pretty sure I am no the only one who feels that way.  This week, I heard another parent describe a situation involving her small group at church that was considering pushing their meeting time until 9:30, on school nights, despite everyone in the group having elementary aged children.  She appeared to be the only one who had a problem with such a late dismissal time.  

This summer, the whole idea of swimming upstream smacked me in the face as my 7 year olds brought home the sign up sheets for summer tee ball/baseball/softball.  Apparently, our local park and recreation programming no longer sponsors tee ball, baseball or softball for anyone who is out of kindergarten.  The only option available is to join the club team.  Both D and I saw the sign up sheets at different times and we both had the same reactions.  The initial impression from the paperwork was that it would cost $145 per child to play for 6 weeks during the summer.  (After asking around a bit, I found out this wasn't quite accurate as $100 of that was a deposit that was refunded if you worked in the club's concession stand.)  For us, the initial impression was that it would cost us $300 since we have two kids.  (And we would also have to travel in two directions since one of our seven year olds would be playing softball and the other baseball.)  Deposit not withstanding, for girls to play softball, at age ten, the fees jump to $150 plus the refundable deposit.  None of that is particularly out of line for a club team.  But it just seems crazy that if you are wanting to introduce your child to a sport, that you should be shelling out such a significant amount of money.  It left me feeling like I was the only parent who thought the fees and immediate jump from tee ball to a traveling club baseball/softball was a bit much.

So what's the point?  Am I just ranting and then crawling into a bubble, where my kids are sheltered from the horrors of an American childhood?   I hope that isn't how this sounds.  Every family makes different choices, and if you are happy with the choices you're making about organized sports, music lessons and other creative outlets, and academic pursuits, then so be it.

But for those of you who do feel like you are swimming upstream, know you're not the only fish.  Let go of the guilt that you are ruining your child's high school or college football career.  (Because quite possibly, you're not.  Natural athletic talent is natural athletic talent, club sports or not.  As a soccer coach, my hubby always says the best way to increase your ability is just to play.  It doesn't matter where, whether it's shooting baskets in your driveway or playing football in the empty lot at the end of the street.  I have to agree.  The times when I grew the most in terms of athletic ability were the times when I just played a lot.)  It's okay if you don't have the money to buy your child 14 different dance costumes or hotel room for a club tournament.  Saying "No, we can't afford it" is a life lesson your kid needs to learn.  (Even if it feels brutal to say it as a parent.)  No one will think you are weird if you can't do a weekly activity because it dismisses hours after your child's bedtime.  (Okay, maybe people will.  But not me.  I completely understand.)  Just keep swimming.

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