As our family has just started this venture into organized sports, I'm much more aware of the things we've been giving up and the compromises that everyone has made. I have to admit that if Big Brother decides he doesn't want to play next season, that would be okay with us. We were adamant from the beginning that this be a fun learning experience for Big Brother. We wanted him to learn the rules of the game without a whole lot of stress. His coach has been great about this, but there are some parents (you all know the ones I'm talking about) who are already shouting at their 5-year-olds to make them run harder, kick farther, and be more aggressive. Encouragement is one thing - critiquing your child's performance mid-game is another!!
The more we've listened to the conversations around us, the more certain I am that many of these well-meaning parents are missing the point of organized sports and activities. In general, I don't think there's anything wrong with sports, music lessons, or organized activities for kids. I only worry that, as a society, we're pushing our children too hard too fast and losing sight of what kids really need to be successful in life. They don't need dance lessons at three or golf clubs at two. Our children need more time with us as a family - more time to learn just by being a kid. Here are some of the warning signs I've seen from the parents I've worked with in the past.
1. Loss of Family Time - If you find yourself skipping family meals, grabbing food to-go, and rushing off to the field every night, it may be time to re-think your priorities. There's tons of research about the importance of family dinners, but yet they seem to be the first thing to go when you think about practice schedules and lessons. Also, take into account how many times you have to say "I'm sorry, we can't ________________, we have a game". You may find that your kids would rather have the chance to go to the water parks, zoos, museums, and other free festivals that are being taken away because of their busy schedules.
2. Financial Stress - Sports and activities are expensive. On top of the fees for leagues and lessons, there is always equipment to purchase, special clothes to buy, snacks and water bottles to donate. Not to mention the cost to repair instruments, participate in fundraisers, and order pictures. If you find that you're putting other expenses on credit cards so your kids can play t-ball, take piano lessons, and participate in 4-H, it's time to cut back.
3. Marital Stress - The most important relationship in the family is that of the husband and wife. If your hectic schedule is adding stress to your marriage - whether it's the stress of getting everyone to the game on time, financial pressures, or just the reduced time that you get to spend together; it's time to put your family first.
A few weeks ago, I was bagging groceries at Aldi while two women had a conversation about this very topic - well, sort of... They spent ten minutes comparing schedules to see who was busier. One woman complained that she hadn't seen her husband in a week because they'd had practices every night. The other woman had no idea how she was going to get her two kids to all the activities they had planned for that weekend. And the refrain that I heard over and over was, "Why do we do this to ourselves?". By the time my groceries were packed I wanted to ask them myself, "Why are you doing this to yourselves?" - seriously!! If you haven't seen your husband in a week, if you don't know how you're going to afford new cleats, and if you are so stressed that you're snapping at your children, it's time to let something go! Just don't let that "something" be your family!!
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