The One Commitment You Want to Keep
“But Mom, EVERYONE else in my class is going to be playing an instrument this year.”
“Right, but do you have an INTEREST in playing an instrument?”
“Is that something that you want to make time for considering the other activities you’re involved in this year?”
“No, but Sophia is going to play the clarinet and she ALREADY takes piano lessons and takes 5 different dance classes.”
“Is being busy a badge of honor? Is playing an instrument this year going to bring you joy? Is it something you think you want in your future? Imagine having to take 15 minutes every single night to practice – is that something you want?”
“Then we get the permission to say no.”
Ah, the parenting dilemma. Every other child is involved in SOMETHING. Soccer. Dance. Musical instrument. Scouts. Art camp. Ice skating lessons. And we need to push them to do MORE! And find selective branches of these activities because we want our kids to EXCEL. We need to PREPARE them for the future! We want to give them a wide variety of experiences so they are well-rounded and get a chance to try different things to discover their interests. The problem is, most of these things are structured, rigid, and ultimately take away from play, free time, quality family time, and at the bottom line: childhood.
I’ll be the first to admit that I can easily fall prey to this mindset that our children have to be DOING! That we have to get them INVOLVED! That we should be pushing them to excel and reach their full potential! This is coming from a mother who created a sensory activity for my couple month old baby and laid her on a piece of WRAPPING PAPER so she could feel and hear the different inputs from wiggling on the paper. 🤦🏼♀️ It was definitely coming from a place of “I want my baby to grow and be smart and have different learning experiences.” I look back at that time now and just think to myself, “couldn’t I have given myself a break? Couldn’t I have given MY DAUGHTER a break?” Why the heck did I feel the need to start getting my baby on the “right track” when all she really needed at the time was snuggles, love, and milk? I definitely carried this mindset that me AND she needed to be DOING. We needed to be PRODUCTIVE. God forbid we sit around for the afternoon and snuggle, read books, and giggle together. No, I had to help her grow BETTER than that.
Thankfully, even though I’ve had my fair share of baby wrapping paper moments, my daughter hasn’t got too caught up in the achievement mindset. Her, more than anyone in our family, does the best job at protecting her time and her peace. Although there is the occasional question of, “should I get involved in this? Everyone else is…” ultimately, she has come to appreciate and CHERISH unstructured time.
There are a handful of great opportunities for our kids that we’ve ultimately said no to. Both of our kids play soccer and really, really love it. My daughter in particular is really talented at it. I think that she could really excel in soccer if we put her in more leagues, specifically travel soccer. But right now, she’s only doing summer rec soccer and recently did an indoor league over the winter that only had one game a week. I know that she could become a soccer star if we pushed her and entered her into all these different leagues that would give her more practice and better teaching. But the time commitment and the amount that it would take away from our family peace is too great at this season in our lives.
Just last week, the kids were on spring break. I cleared my schedule, didn’t do any work, and didn’t put anything on the calendar. I made a plan to not plan. I just wanted to see what they were interested by themselves, not because there was some expectation placed on them to show up or achieve anything. We had a week filled with bike rides, playing basketball in a parking lot, hitting tennis balls, eating ice cream, reading books, and exploring nature.
The turning point for me as a parent came once I reflected on my own life and my own struggles. I realized that a huge source of anxiety for me came from this achievement mindset. I believed that I had to produce something in order to be worthy. I’ve done a lot of work to break out of that mindset. I’ve worked to find value in myself even during periods of rest and white space. And now I’m ready to pass that down to my children.
When the time came to start planning on summer and decide what we all wanted to be involved in, we made a list of all the options. There were so many ideas on the list that many of us were really excited about and didn’t want to say no to, but then we really took a look at how a typical week would go. Ultimately, it was Kenzie that said, “I want some time to just be home, too.” I love and respect her so much for knowing that and speaking up about it. I’m realizing that she’s been learning about her own boundaries right along side me as I’ve learned about my own.
I’m still learning about this. But I’m realizing more and more that often times in my life I’ve used the wrong calculator to measure success in my life: GPAs, number of working hours, number of weddings I took in a year, the number of activities I was involved in. And we can inadvertently measure our kid’s success by that same, dangerous calculator. Of course there is NOTHING wrong with getting good grades, working hard at your job, trying out different things you’re interested in, and taking responsibility for your life…those are all great things! But let’s not forget the other measuring stick in life. The one that measures our character. We need not only to count success by our busyness or accomplishments. We also need to count our success in creating boundaries, in finding the freedom to explore and play, and building empathy and kindness in our souls.
It’s okay if your soccer star eventually gets a D-1 college scholarship and all their hard work pays off. Just make sure that their mental health is sound, they’ve had time to be a kid, and they’re not a complete jerk once they’re there. Use this an an opportunity to take inventory of your own commitments and the obligations of your child. Is there enough room for white space? Is there any time for boredom? (I promise, a little boredom is okay!) Is there time to do some good, healthy, soul-work? It brings us to an extremely important commitment in our lives we often forget about: our character.
IS THERE TIME FOR THE COMMITMENT OF CHARACTER?
Conduct a litmus test on your family boundaries! Maybe you need to make some changes in your own schedule and that’s where it begins. Because when your kids see you allowing yourself some grace and some time to just….BE, then they will too!