There’s a different fallout from the increasingly larger body of activities we impose upon our children. Did I say impose? Yes. And I meant it. How many children do you know who desperately crave to be in at least one team sport every season of the year, on top of music lessons, social organizations like Boy Scouts? And yet there we are, the attentive parents, constantly asking our children what activity they want us to sign them up for. But how often do we give them the option to sign up for nothing?
Atop of the over-committed child the fallout is frayed nerves of parents: both those who race to get their children to these activities, and the parents who volunteer and actually make these activities happen.
In today’s society a dual income family is practically imperative, though this comment may become arguable if our economy continues on its current path, but that’s a different rant. With two parents obliged to be at an office, or some form of workplace at the same time that a child’s after school sports program has a practice, parents embark upon the scheduling race of finding stay-at-home, work-from-home, or otherwise available friends who are also parents, and with whom children can carpool to activities.
What is interesting about our generation of parents, however, is the subtle pressure to enroll your children in these activities, particularly sports, and particularly here in California. With access to the outdoors open all year long, a child can participate in any sport he or she wishes: from baseball to swimming. There is no season with freezing rain, accumulating snowfall, or ice storms felling power lines that force a family to take pause, and hunker down at home until the first crocus of spring.
But the pressure to enroll children in organized activities is not just unique to the west coast. When our oldest child was only four he was in a t-ball league, and then tried his hand (well, foot) at a soccer “league” with “games.” And at this ripe old, wizened age of four, he received trophies for his participation.
Wait. Wait. Wait.
Trophies. At four. In organized sports. And then this begins to mature into the overlapping of sports seasons, and two hour practices three days a week and an 18 game season. Where does the time go? When this is happening during the school year there are nights where an eight year-old boy is staying awake until 9:30 PM finishing homework because his baseball game went until 7:45, and he had had a guitar lesson before the game.
But of course we continue to push our children into these activities. How are you to know if your child is going to be the next Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, or Michael Phelps (before he was caught with a bong)? And if your child has that potential, and you don’t start him or her early, then you are potentially ruining his or her chances at every realizing that potential because all of the other potential super stars are starting sports earlier and earlier.
But isn’t this nuts? It’s nuts for the kids. It’s hell on the parents. For the few parents who volunteer their time to coach these sports, it’s even worse. Lucky are the few volunteering parents whose teams have parents who carve out time to help out the teams. Often, however, volunteers are saddled with team where the parents want their kids to participate in these programs, principally run but volunteers, and these parents have very demanding expectations of the programs, forgetting that the people volunteering their time have kids on the teams, have jobs and lives outside of the teams, and are giving of their time to help out other kids. The worst part is that the most vocal and demanding parents are typically those who put in the least amount of time supporting or organizing the teams. They are parents who show up at the games, not even necessarily when the games start, and scream their heads off, insuring that their kid is getting enough playing time, and excelling above all others. And when they don’t like what they see these parents will literally get in the face of volunteer coaches and umpires and referees.
What happened to the days of kids in elementary school going home after school to play in back yards, and practice sports with their friends, and parents, and take time to learn for what they have affinity, and about what they actually care. Eventually, some time around middle school, kids start to figure out what they can play well, and what they really care about, and then the kids start bugging parents about what the kids want to play, not what the parents push their children into because of so many possible motivations.
Maybe along with fiscal re-trenching, and gross restructuring of our economic barometers, it’s time for us to restructure the expectations with have for our children, and re-examine the expectations we have for our selves.