I recently received a copy of RealSimple Family. I don’t subscribe to any family magazines now that my children are all school aged, but I can’t help myself from reading any magazine that is in my hot little hands. My mom was, and is, a big magazine reader. Getting our own subscription as we got older was a big deal. I still love the day when I find a magazine in my mailbox! But I digress…again.
So I start in reading this magazine that is all about families, and this specific issue was about “Adventures in Chaos” i.e. reclaiming a simple life in busy times. That sounded like a typical article you would see in a parenting magazine. Then I read the editorial and had to do a “WTF did she just say!?” I thought I must have misunderstood something. The editor, Kristin Van Ogtrop, said, and, I quote: “And none of us want to be the parent who says, “No, you can’t participate in that sport/play/activity, because I don’t feel like taking you.” While she implies that this decision is all about the lazy parent who doesn’t want to be bothered with transportation, it really boils down to the huge impact those things have not on the chauffeur, but on the whole family.
I made a plan when my oldest was born that I would never get him – or me! – to the point where I needed a planner to manage the things he was doing. There would be time enough for that. It is called adulthood. The cold, hard reality will come crashing in and force him to live his life on other people’s time. Trust me, I do it every damn day. Why would I ask him to do that now, during a time in his life where he should be free to be untethered? Why have our time together be about driving to an event and eating crappy food on the go, sitting in crappy weather, and suffering through whatever other indignities came with the commitment. Driving is the least of it!
But it goes on. In the feature story, the article focuses on one family with 4 boys. The oldest 3 are in sports, tutoring, etc. Their whole life is all about timing. The woman/mom states that she no longer has time for friendships. She rarely gets to be one-on-one with her spouse as adults. She doesn’t get to exercise the way she would like. Sadly, I could really relate to this. I personally worry about no longer having close friends, especially when I live in a town where I don’t have any close family either. I recently expressed to my spouse a fear I have about dying and that nobody would be at the funeral, because I just don’t know anybody anymore. How sad is that?! The article goes on to quote several experts who blame the changing times on the lack of outdoor play, the increase in technology and the overall parental desire to be involved and be morally responsible, based on research that shows a child has a better outcome because of it – parental involvement that is.
My oldest recently commented about how busy our neighbor kid is. They likely would spend far more time together, but she is never home. One day, she came over and stated that she had exactly 20 minutes. She had just come from 9 hours of gymnastics (this had been going on for days) and was on her way to soccer practice. She also has church, choir practice, play dates, etc. To top it off, her parents are divorced, so she shuttles back and forth all the time as well. As a family, we look at her and feel bad. Nobody in my house envies her situation in any way. Even if you took out the divorced parents part, it doesn’t seem like a good deal.
But I question, when did parental involvement turn into becoming the cruise director for your child’s time? I thought parental involvement was about being there for them, listening closely to them and helping them to become fully functioning adults. I came up with a little mantra when I became a parent. It went something like this: My job as a parent is to help my child avoid counseling of any kind, be it marital, relationship, financial, legal, etc. I figured that was a pretty decent goal and that if I was “involved” enough, but not too much!, in their lives, we might just make the goal a reality.
When I read articles like this and I hear stories about families doing so much all the time I have to wonder. Am I selfish? Is that what this all boils down to? Maybe it’s true: Maybe I don’t really want to drive them anywhere. But shouldn’t it be OK to say no? How can I teach my children that lesson if I don’t know how to myself?