Thursday, June 13, 2013

Overscheduling - Part 2

So....don't over schedule kids.

Honestly, I don't know what is best for your kids.  You do.  But I know there are lots of you out there who have been on the activity treadmill so long and want to get off, but feel too much guilt to slow down.  Maybe you have younger kids who haven't gotten sucked into endless activity, but you see your friends with older kids and are freaked out by what is "expected" of parents. 
I'm going to share some things that I have figured out to help you slow down and breathe a little.  Or a lot. 

First, what's your motivation for all the activities?  Are you hoping they'll get a college scholarship?  Do you want to pad their college resume?  Do you not want them to feel left out?  Do you sign them up because your kids "really, really, really" want it?  Do you do it so you feel like a good parent?  Have you forgotten why you started in the first place? 

None of these are bad reasons to have your child join an activity or two.  But things can be taken to excess - even when the activities are completely wonderful.

Before you sign your child up for an activity you should think about the cost.  I don't just mean the financial obligation, although some of them are crazy-expensive.  I mean, what does the activity really cost in terms of money, time and effort?  Will it require a frequent commitment over the supper hour?  Will you have to drag other kids to the event?  How many nights a week will it require?  Will you end up eating out because you are never around for supper? 

Every activity is a trade-off.  By saying "yes" to another commitment, you are necessarily saying "no" to all the family game nights, popsicle stick creations, impromptu dance parties, snuggly-book reading, tree climbing, extended family visits, etc. that you could have been doing during that time instead. 

Time is finite.  Do you want to spend an extra two hours dealing with an organized obligation?  Even if the activity only lasts an hour, you still have to figure in time to get your child ready, time to get the siblings ready, commute time, waiting around for the activity to be done time, waiting for your slow-as-molasses child to actually come out from the activity after its over time, commute home time, get coats and shoes put away time, washing the uniform time, etc. 

Let's not forget about the parent's time, too. My time is at least as important as my children's.  I refuse to spend all my time shuttling kids back and forth.  Not only does it make it more difficult to get everything done that needs to be done, but it would be darn near impossible to get anything done that I WANT to get done. 

I've heard so many friends complain that they don't have time to read a book, or do a favorite hobby, or hang out with their spouse.  Really?  You do have the time, you just don't choose to prioritize yourself enough to take the time. How about prioritizing your marriage?  What is a greater gift to kids than a stable home?

Have you considered that all your excess time sacrifice for your children's enrichment might not even be that great for them? 

Listen.  I don't want my kids to believe the world revolves around them and their activities.  All of my family's resources (time and money) should NOT go towards my children.  I want them to realize that their wants and needs are met within the confines of the wants and needs of everyone in our family.  Yes, their interests are important, but so are those of their siblings, dad and mom.

I also don't want my children to assume that once they have children, their own hobbies and interests come to a screaming halt.  I need a chance to reach my full potential as a human being, just as my children do. 

What about chores?  When in the world do children get the opportunity to learn how valuable a member of the family they are if they don't have time to make valuable contributions to their family?  Chores are important!  Even if kids don't like them (and even when they actually make a lot more work for the parents) kids need to do chores.  I refuse to send children off into the world who have no clue how to cook, clean, do laundry or do basic household maintenance.  I feel that is part of the training they need to become competent, independent adults some day.  And what better way to learn how to do what they will need to know than by participating in the running of the household from the time they are young?

We haven't even talked about weekends.  When will families go to church together?  When will families work together to serve others?  When in the world are extended families going to get together if every weekend is consumed with sports, scouts, or other activities?  Selfishly, I don't want to implicitly teach my children that sports or other organized activities are more important that grandparents.  Someday my kids will have their own children and I will long to be part of their life.   I would hate for my relationship with them to be relegated to cheering from some bleachers.  I want to interact with them, not just observe them.

I know you want your kid to feel included in the group.  You don't want them to miss out on future opportunities because they didn't put in enough time and effort in the elementary and middle school years.  But, which group is more important?  A fifth grade soccer team or siblings?   What is your family going to reminisce about when they are grown?  Yet another weekend-long tournament of one child or the summer they all together created swords out of cardboard and aluminum foil and played pirates every night till they were caked with dirt and thoroughly exhausted?

Still think round-the-clock busyness isn't so bad?  When will your kids get the privileged of being bored?   And I do think it is becoming a privilege now.  How often do your kids have the opportunity to occupy their time however they see fit without an adult structuring their time and without electronics?  Until kids get bored, they won't figure out how to amuse themselves and will expect the world to amuse them.  How will kids learn what they love without a chance to laze over mounds of books or stare ate the clouds daydreaming? 

When children's time and activities are dictated to them, they don't have a chance to imagine and pretend.  This time isn't wasted!  This is when children become creative problem solvers.  Kids can learn a lot from just being given some nails and wood - what to build, how to build it, how to modify their plans when things go askew, etc.  Kids need a chance to learn how to think.  They need the time to hone this skill.

I'm not telling you how to raise your child.  I am offering the support you might need to step off the activity treadmill that moves faster and faster each year.  Get rid of the guilt that might be holding you back from a less insane schedule.

Oh dear.  In reading what I have written so far, I sound a bit like a sanctimonious, self-righteous windbag.  Keep in mind, my oldest child is only 11.  I don't have everything figured out yet, but I've given this enough thought that I know the kind of childhood I do not want for my kids.  I know the kind of parenthood I don't want for myself. 

I guess what I want for myself and my kids is the chance to stop, breathe, and appreciate this life.  I want the chance to waste some time.  And in this go-get-um world we're in now, that's a luxury too many people are willing to pass up.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Overscheduling - Part 1

Step away from the activity calendar.  Yeah you.  My fellow parents who frantically tell me how busy they are with their children's schedules.  You who don't have a moment to yourself.

You who frantically respond, "Busy, busy." every time I run into you at Cub Foods or Target or wherever you manage to squeeze in some necessary shopping between activities.

Yeah you.  Who loves their kid beyond measure and is determined to do everything you can for them, no matter your personal sacrifice.


Really.  Just stop moving for a moment and take a deep breath.  Take another.  Let me give you a dose of honesty here.  This is not judgement.  This is just an alternate perspective of how family life can run.  Just hear me out. 

If you are happy, truly happy with your schedule, great!  I'm immensely thrilled for you.  You have decided how to balance your time and energy and it works for you.  I'm not out to change you.  There are lots of ways to successfully raise your children and I am in no way assuming mine is the only right way.

But I've talked with enough parents to know that isn't always the case.  Starting even before preschool, overachieving parents are so eager to help their children excel in every possible way that schedules are planned with military precision. 

It isn't necessary.  Honest.

I get the allure.  Every one of the activities your child (and my children, too) are involved in are important.  Each one gives them an opportunity to learn and grow.   They are all enriching and your child loves them and they will help to make your children productive members of society that reach their full potential.

But too much is just too much.  Everything can't be that important.

You can let go of some formal activities and let go of the guilt.  (If you want to hang onto the activities and guilt - again its your prerogative). 

How do you know your family is over scheduled in the first place?  When your kids eat most of their suppers in the car.  When your children's free time is spent taking turns watching their siblings' activities.  When all the joy is sucked out of family time.  When you know its overwhelming, but don't know how to make it stop.

Next post I'll talk about why slacking off in the enrichment activities is great for your kid.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Did You Really Say That?!?

Today I went grocery shopping.  Since school is out, I had all the children with me.  The biggest struggle when I have to take all the kids is figuring out where to put all the groceries after we buy them because there isn't much storage space in the Expedition if all the seats are full.

(Problem solved by:  Going to the discount grocery store first.  Going home.  Emptying the truck.  Going back for round two at Cub Foods).

The second most difficult thing about going out with all the kids is the sheer number of comments I get with six kids in tow.  I still struggle to believe that my family is that much of an anomaly.  Just a few decades ago, we wouldn't have caused anyone to turn their head.  (except for how adorable my kids are, of course)  Now those of you with multiple children or children with visible differences know what I am talking about.  Those of you with families of a more typical appearance might not realize what every family trip entails.

Just this morning, five people commented on my family.  That is not unusual.  I usually get an average of a couple comments an hour when I go out with all the kids.  Even among those that don't comment, I can see many of them adding the number of children in their head. 

I love my kids, and they are pretty awesome.  I feel like I can take them just about anywhere and they will usually behave remarkably well.  However, imagine what it is like knowing everyone is staring at your kids.  People seem to have stronger opinions about  larger-than-average, trans-racial adoption-type families.  Many of these people can't seem to hold in their opinion or nosiness.

First, let me say that many people are kind.  I feel almost bad typing this,  but I sort-of expect somebody to say, "What well behaved kids you have." whenever we all go someplace.  But I know this isn't because my kids are so much better than other kids.  Look around wherever you go.  There are tons of well-behaved kids that nobody comments on.  It is just when you see a herd of them, people expect them to be unruly.  By being average (or can this Mama brag and say slightly exceptional) people are shocked into commenting.

Let me also be clear that no mom is opposed to hearing wonderful things about their children.  The following unsolicited comments, or variations thereof are all acceptable:

      "You have a beautiful family."
      "Your children are so well behaved."
     " I had 6 (or 8 or 10) children too.  It goes so fast."
     "God has certainly blessed you."  (my personal favorite)

However, many people have forgotten the rule their Mama's (should) have taught them.  "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Today at the grocery store, a woman asked me if all my children have the same father.   (I'll let you stop for a moment and remember what my children look like.)  I said, "Of course.  My husband and I have been married almost 15 years."

Now this is a pretty funny example, but stop and think about how incredibly rude that actually was.  I would venture to guess this woman would never have asked that to a family who has two or three children.  At what point did it make any difference to her if my children had one father or six different fathers.  It was none of her business.

So here's a cheat sheet of personal questions or rude comments not to say to that mom you see in Target with a swarm of children around her. 

     "Are all those kids yours?"     This is by far the most common comment I get.  It sounds pretty benign doesn't it?  Except, with two children who do not look exactly like me, it can lead to them feeling like they don't fit in or belong.  This question is usually followed up with another comment.  If it is a variation of one of the nice comments listed above, its less bad.   If it is followed by a variation of one of the comments below, not so great.

     "Why do you have so many kids?"  Because we love kids, obviously.  I would never ask someone why they don't have more children.

     "How can you afford so many kids"  How can you afford your bills?  We make priorities and spend accordingly.  Just like you.  A variation is "You must be rich."  No.  We are frugal.  I don't question how you spend your money or if you can afford your lifestyle.

     "Which ones are your real kids." or "Couldn't you have anymore of your own kids."  I have touched on this before.  They are all mine.  To imply that any of them are less than my 100% real kids is insulting and rude.  Again, how children join a family is nobody else's business.  My children don't need some stranger to suggest that some of them belong more than others when we are cruising the produce aisle.

     "I'd shoot myself if I had that many kids."  For some reason, they never come up with a different form of suicide that they would rather commit than endure the horrific catastrophe of loving my wonderful children.  I haven't heard, "I'd drink cyanide." or "Jump in front of a train." or "Climb into a grizzly bear exhibit."  At least they would get some points for creativity.  My kids are amazing. If you could only be so blessed as to have children like this. 

     "Do you believe in birth control or is it against your religion?"  What I believe or don't believe about such an intimate topic is none of your concern.  Would you please tell me what form of contraception you use?  As far as religion, I would love to talk to you about God.  But sometimes the popsicles in my cart are melting, and I have to pick a kid up from preschool, and it just isn't a great time.

     "Were they all planned?"  Did you really just ask me that?   In front of my children?  None of my children were surprise blessings, but even if they were, what concern is it of yours?  Do you really expect to hear a stranger's story of one Mojito too many and a romantic sunset and...

     "How can you give them all enough attention."  Well for starters, I don't waste my time asking strangers rude questions.

     "I don't know how you do it."  Well, the same way you do, of course.  I get up.  Fuel myself with some caffeine.  Do what needs to be done.  And go to bed.  Just like you.

     "I don't think its fair to the older kids to have to help raise the younger ones and miss out on their childhood."  I agree.  I am the mother.  My older ones do not raise the younger ones.  It is offensive to assume that I would farm out that responsibility.

   "Don't you know what causes babies?"  Any variation of this is icky.    However, if you saw my husband, you would be shocked that we didn't have a dozen kids.

     "Are you done yet? You're not going to have more, are you?"   This comment is usually said with a shudder of disgust.  Maybe we will, maybe we won't.  Maybe I'll have another one just to annoy you.

     "It is very irresponsible to have so many kids because of overpopulation."   What about the environmental strain of buying all new things instead of hand-me-downs?  What about the strain of drinking bottled water, flying on vacations, pouring pesticides on your lawn, eating lots of meat, snowmobiles/boats/jet skis, giant homes with few people in them, new electronics, vacation homes, etc?  Everyone leaves a carbon footprint.  Our per person carbon footprint is pretty small compared to many people who ask this question.

More importantly, my children are going to be a blessing to others.  You think they are a burden.  I would argue that the world needs more compassionate, kind, hard working,  people who are able to creatively solve the problems of the world.  They are an investment in the betterment of society. If you feel so strongly about overpopulation, why did you have children?  Which children deserve life and which do not? 

     "You've got your hands full!"  Yes, better full than empty.

     "How will you be able to afford their college?"   Maybe we will luck out and a few won't be college material.  Seriously, though.  Are you my financial planner?  Would you like to see our 5, 10 and 20 year financial plan?  How much will you judge me if I tell you that I wouldn't pay for my children's entire college education even if I could afford it?  I believe college students need to have a financial stake in their educations.

      "Do you homeschool?"  No.  Do you?

     "My taxes go to support your kids."  Hmmm.  This one has some merit.  I'm not on government support, but I do take the adoption tax credit and child tax credit.  My kids go to our church's school, so they don't go to public (although I happily pay taxes to support public education).  My taxes go to support your family's access to roads, firefighters, clean water and libraries, too.  That's how it works.

However, my many children are going to be productive members of society that will be paying into social security to take care of you when you are old.  You're welcome.

     "Better you than me."  Absolutely.

      "You guys are just like the Duggars."  Yes, we are exactly the same as the Duggars, just like your family is exactly like every other family that has two children.

Please remember that I have heard every "clever" comment and opinion on my family.  And I can handle it.  What bothers me is that my children have to hear your unsolicited opinions and comments.  They are the ones hearing you suggest that you would rather be dead than have so many little ones.  They are the ones hearing you spout off that the world would be better off if they didn't exist.  They are the ones being reminded ever time we go out about how "different" they are for being in a large family.

So, if you wouldn't say it to the mom of  a couple of kids, don't say it to me. Especially in front of my children.

Yup.  We're one kid away from being the Von Trapps.  Otherwise we are exactly like them.  Except I can't sing.  And my kids kids don't wear such cool clothes.  And Ben isn't an over-strict parent that blows whistles at kids.  Other than that, we are so totally the Von Trapp Family.

Hey, we have kids from birth and adoption.  We are exactly like Angelina and Brad.  Except for the whole fame and money thing.  And we don't have  nannies. And I am not an action hero.  And Ben is better looking  than Brad Pitt.  Other than that, we are absolutely Brad and Angelina.

The Jacksons had lots of kids.  We are just like them.  Again except for the musical ability.  And dancing.  Although my kids think they can moonwalk well.  Yeah, we're just like them.

This is the Duggar family.  They have lots of kids, and so do we.  We all love God, so we are exactly like them, too.