Recently, USA Today ran a series of articles on the problems with kids in the United States: too much structured time and no time for free play, leaving them lacking in coping skills and awareness. In my experience- even “play-dates” are closely monitored by over achieving parents- so they intervene at the drop of a hat to resolve any hint of conflict. Sometimes, this makes me think about times when life seemed a lot simpler.
When I was a kid I was involved in a lot of activities – both free play and organized. I played kickball regularly in my front yard with all the neighborhood kids. My sister and I spent many summer afternoons sharing all of our Barbie stuff with the Cody girls across the street – between our two families we had it all- the Barbie townhouse, swimming pool, the camper and that really cool pink convertible. We played “traveling house” a very clever game we created with our next door neighbor Heather- in which we put all of our precious belongings in a wagon and walked up and down the street seeking a location to establish our temporary home. It rocked. Our bikes were our primary mode of transportation. In the winter we walked to the ice rink at the school and we skated until dark. We went sledding in the backyard and built elaborate snow forts.
My parents were Involved Parents (IPs). I have fond memories of carpooling to various things. Mom and Dad attended concerts and competitions and helped with homework. My dad contributed to the construction of some rather elaborate projects…roller coasters built from toothpicks and Valentine’s Day boxes in the form of grand castles. I had a fantastic childhood filled with great experiences and opportunities.
With two children I now consider myself an IP, but the definition of “involved” has definitely shifted. My son plays hockey and my daughter is in competitive cheerleading, so it goes without saying that we drive to and from the gym/ice rink 4-5 times per week per sport with games and competitions on the weekends 9 months of the year. It’s only 9 months because we opt out of year-round hockey to enjoy lacrosse and football in the off-season. And cheerleading takes on a lighter schedule during the summer months. Experienced IPs can manage this schedule in our sleep.
Being IPs today also means Volunteer Opportunities. They actually ought to be called volunteer require-itunities, because they are not really voluntary….they are a required component of being an involved parent. There’s concession duty, poinsettia sales, booster club meetings, selling t-shirts, selling coffee, generating flyers, sweeping the gym after competitions. There are the purchasing opportunities which could fall under the category of require-itunities…. the gear and the photos. Any IP knows you need the proper gear to sit on the sidelines of your child’s event. I have cheer sweatshirts and buttons that deem me “Abby’s Mom”, hockey gear that labels me “Harrison’s Mom”, a new Nikon to capture all the memories, a video camera with more footage than a CBS mini series, as well as professional photographs of every team my kids have ever been a part of. Involved Parenting certainly has developed into a complex web of commitments that rival the responsibilities and pressure of a full-time job.
My son participates in Kung-Fu year-round. The focus on individualism is a great compliment to all the team sports he plays. I love Kung-Fu. Being an involved parent means that I drive my son to the school gym one time per week and I sit on the floor and read for 90 minutes, and then we drive home. That’s it. No candy drive or concession stand duty. Did I mention that I love Kung Fu?
I think that kids are overly scheduled today, and due to many different factors: an unsaid desire to stay competitive (I have to keep up with the Joneses AND if I play Little League I will be a Hall of Famer!), health concerns (my kid plays sports so he/she is not eating Doritos in front of the TV) and fear of freedom- kids are in structured activities because it’s a safe place to be, away from situations and people who can do them harm. In fairness, most families also have two parents working, which adds to the scheduling complexity.
The truth is, I would not trade being an IP for the world. We all want what is best for our children. So we do the things that we believe will help them develop into happy, balanced, productive members of society. There are days I spend more time in the car running to activities than I do in my home. These are the days when I turn off the radio and talk with my kids. I field questions like “Where do dead birds go?” and “Who’s your favorite First Lady?” We talk about all kinds of things. I know that children grow quickly and their needs change even faster. There is a short window of opportunity to be an involved parent and I’ll have lots of time to myself when they head to college. Maybe I will take up Kung Fu.