I had it all puzzled together. I would pick up the kids from school, grab McDonalds on the fly for their afterschool snack, run across town, drop the girls at talent show try outs and take the boys to martial arts. Then I would reverse my route, in rush-hour traffic, pick everyone up and have just enough time to go home and throw something together for dinner. At the end of the day I would drop in bed, exhausted to the bone.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
When I was raising my kids, I was fairly typical. I wanted the best for my kids. After all, it’s a competitive world and I wanted my kids to have every advantage. We did sports, music, camps, horseback riding, tutoring, language clubs, charity, youth group, and we held our kids to a fairly high academic standard. I used to joke with my kids that their only memory of me would be the back of my head as I carted them around to all their various activities. I was like an event coordinator for my kids, because like so many parents, I didn’t want them left behind. And I reasoned, it was better to keep them busy than have them lazing around the house with their electronics.
Our Christmas letters were a litany of our MANY activities. Pity those who even read them! And ironically, the letters always ended with a sincere wish for PEACE in the coming year. Ha! Now that of my kids are grown and gone, I shake my head in wonder that we survived it all.
Times They Are A Changin’
Their childhood was in stark contrast to my own. I walked to school, I had chores, and plenty of time for homework and creative play with my friends in the neighborhood. The only thing my mom drove me to was piano once a week. Otherwise, my mom was busy doing her own thing rather than managing my schedule.
Families are often hassled and frazzled. I see it in my office. To be fair, part of the issue is that both parents often have to work. But even in families where one parent stays at home, the busyness of the family is often related to the children’s tight schedules. Today’s families work around the children’s schedules.
Product Development Parenting
Parents today are raising kids in a hypercompetitive culture. We are proud to list the myriad activities our kids participate in and commiserate with our friends about how utterly exhausting it all is. Busy = important. We approach our parenting with “marketplace values”, seeing our task as “product development”, according to University of Minnesota Marriage and Family professor, William Doherty, PhD. Says Doherty: “a good parent is an opportunity- provider in a competitive world.” More activities = better parent. But the problem is, how much is enough? There will always be more things our kids could squeeze into their over packed schedules and we feel guilty if we do not provide them with those valuable opportunities. After all, that’s what everyone else is doing.
But just because everyone is doing it, does it mean it is a good idea? How is this shift in our culture affecting our kids? One study from the University of Michigan looked at kids from 1981 to 1997. Over that time period, playtime decreased by 25%, unstructured outdoor time decreased by 50%, structured sports time doubled, and homework time increased by 50%.
Family Mealtimes Boost Academic Success
Another survey showed that 33% of families no longer have family dinners on a regular basis. Is that a problem? An American adolescent health study showed that regular family meals were associated with academic success, and better psychological adjustment. Those kids were less likely to use drugs and alcohol, or engage in early sexual behavior, and they were less likely to commit suicide.
Even more, having regular family meals was the strongest predictor of better academic achievement, higher scores, and fewer behavioral problems. Amazingly, family meals beat school, church, sports, play, studying, or any other positive influences for promoting success in children.
My purpose in writing this is not to guilt any frazzled parents out there. Based on my own parenting, I clearly have no room to criticize. What I am hoping is that parents, especially young parents, will pause and think about whether this frenetic approach to parenting is in our children’s best interest. It is so easy to get swept up in the culture and not question the values we see played out around us.
Maybe the place to start is with a leisurely family meal where everyone gets to talk and laugh and reconnect. It’s a great time to get to know your kids and keep up with what is going on in their lives. And when you are tempted to rush through the process to move on to the next thing, remind yourself you are actually doing something that will help your child succeed in this competitive world.