Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Time for Everything {Part 5}: Make Time for Rock Sales




Sometimes my writing is retrospective. I'm able to write with a certain level of acceptance and perspective about a lesson learned or a truth gleaned. I'm on the other side and I share the journey. It's still very real but it's a bit less raw.

And sometimes, like right now, I write from the trenches. All of you lovely readers get to enter into my overthinking angst in real time. You're welcome.

I've been thinking and writing about this complicated issue of time and opportunities and raising kids in an overcommitted culture over the last two weeks. I'm writing about it because we're in the thick of it as I type this. 

We're crushing kids' extracurricular ambitions right and left around here. It's fun and not at all stressful and yielding all sorts of familial harmony.

Weighing opportunities for our kids, for our family, for myself--it's bringing out the worst in me. And by "the worst," I mean that it's showing me what's true about myself and revealing some things I'd rather pretend aren't there: ambition, performance, approval, people-pleasing, idolizing my kids' happiness and success.





What in the world?

You'd think we're dealing with existential catastrophes when really, it's just a simple yes or no or not during this season or I'm sorry we're going to have to back out.

Except that it doesn't feel simple. It feels like failure.

I finished the book Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung over the weekend and honestly, I don't know that I've ever read a more timely book for myself and for my culture.

Here's how he begins the chapter on parenting our kids in today's "crazy busy" culture:


We live in a strange new world. Kids are safer than ever before, but parental anxiety is skyrocketing. Children have more distractions and more opportunities, but parents have more worry and hassle. We have put unheard-of amounts of energy, time, and focus into our children. And yet, we assume their failures will almost certainly be our fault for not doing enough. We live in an age where the future happiness and success of our children trumps all other concerns. No labor is too demanding, no expense is too high, and no sacrifice is too great for our children. A little life hangs in the balance, and everything depends on us.

Can you relate? My husband and I feel the burden of responsibility every day. Each new decision feels heavier than it should and our kids aren't even in high school yet.

Deep down I know that there is beauty in margin and open-ended play for our kids. I'm actually kind of passionate about it. Time and freedom and flexibility were some of the reasons we chose to homeschool way back when and they're values we still cherish even though our kids are now in public school. 

But suddenly it seems like good opportunities are rolling down the lane like bowling balls, threatening to knock down our deeply-held values like wobbly pins.

Opportunities morph into obligations because I allow them to boss me around that way. I'm not sure why.

Some of it is comparison. Just look around. There are a lot of families committed to seemingly worthwhile endeavors. Sometimes I worry that we're missing out. And then I ask, What exactly are we missing out on?

More commitments.

Less family time.


More stress.


Less calm.


More to keep track of.


Less joy because of all the crazy. 


More "opportunity."


Less availability. For family. Friends. Community. God. 


Sure, I could say that we're missing out on teamwork, camaraderie, future athletic opportunities, and untapped potential. And while these are good things, they are not ultimate things. 

Every yes comes with a cost.

I had coffee with a friend last week, a mom whose kids are all grown. I was talking to her about these dilemmas and one particular opportunity about which we were undecided for our middle child. She heard me. She considered my stress over the whole deal. And then she said, He's in 4th grade.

Sometimes it's that simple. We're not writing college applications here. We're in fourth grade.

I needed someone to state the obvious.

Do you know what even the best and brightest fourth graders could be doing if they had more margin?

Playing wiffle ball in the backyard with neighbor friends. 

Teaching their younger brothers how to make illicit noises with their armpits. 


Finishing homework so they can play.


Reading books. Or having someone else read them books. 


Making their moms laugh with their delightful fourth-grader-ness. 


Getting a rash from playing football in the front yard and rolling around in grass clippings for hours.


Keeping up with their favorite teams' stats.

Playing basketball in the driveway and board games on the front porch. 

The last week and a half has provided a break from a lot of our scheduled activity and I've observed the beauty of all the unscheduled activity bustling around me. I don't know what's prompted a wiffle ball revival but my backyard has become the neighborhood field and I can't tell you how much I love it. 

I've also observed something about myself. When life is less hurried, I'm more patient with everyone. I enjoy my children more and seem to have more emotional and conversational energy to go around. 

DeYoung cites a study that confirms this "nicer-mom phenomenon" I've experienced. The study interviewed more than a thousand children in grades three to twelve. One of the questions researchers asked kids was what one thing they would change about the way their parents' work was affecting them. The kids' response? Not more time or money or availability. They wished that their parents were less tired and less stressed

Furthermore, the kids were asked to grade their parents on everything from activity attendance to making kids feel important. Most parents scored well here. But guess where parents completely bombed? Anger management. Parents scored really badly on controlling their temper. The study argues that our kids are suffering from "secondhand stress." {Crazy Busy, pg. 70}

Secondhand stress. That's a powerful concept. And kind of disturbing.

DeYoung goes on to say this:
By trying to do so much for them, we are actually making our kids less happy. It would be better for us and for our kids if we planned fewer outings, got involved in fewer activities, took more breaks from the kids, did whatever we could to get more help around the house, and made parental sanity a higher priority.

Amen. And Amen. 

Life will be full and stressful soon enough. There will be mandatory obligation aplenty in a few short years. GPAs will "matter." Sort of. There will be legit pressure and even more running around. The budget will increase right along with their shoe sizes and appetites.

But now is not that time.

At least not for us.

Is it terribly crazy that I want my kids to have time to sell rocks and teach Barbie how to zip-line?





I know that some people thrive on busy and thrive on opportunity. They're energized by the coming and going and doing and cheering. Basketball games can be family entertainment and bonding. I get that. We love going to our kids' games and they love it too. We're simple, rec-league, sports-in-moderation kinds of people.

Perhaps "moderation" is the operative concept.  

But what about the prodigy? you may ask. What about college scholarship possibilities?

Those are fair questions. It's true that some kids are prodigies: Olympic athletes or Scripps Spelling Bee winners or high school graduates by the age of 11. And it's true that some kids earn generous college scholarships.

But what about the other ninety-something percent of us? What about regular families with regular budgets and wonderfully average kids with beautiful gifts and abilities but not exactly of the prodigy or full-ride variety?

Let's resolve to take deep breaths and calm down a bit. 

To quote Crazy Busy's Chapter 6 sub-title, "We Need to Stop Freaking Out about Our Kids."

Do we ever.

Kids can still make it in the world and make it well without us over-scheduling them in the hope that Division 1 or Harvard will come calling. Also? Division 1 and Harvard don't guarantee anything.

Times change. Cultures shift. We can't pretend that we can parent our kids exactly how our parents parented or how their parents parented. Though there is nothing new under the sun, there are particular challenges we face that they didn't.

It's easy to say, Well, we didn't do all of these things and we turned out okay.

Though that is true, we also need to understand that there haven't always been "all of these things." We have more decisions to make about 10,000 things before our kids are even teenagers. We have kids asking for cell phones and Instagram accounts. Thanks to social media, bullying happens in real life and also in virtual worlds that collide with real life. We have athletic teams and also academic teams. Gone are the democratic days of rec-league everything. We have club teams and travel teams, all starting in grade school. You can be in the school band and also play in the school band's specialty bands. They practice more. And cost more. And play more. You can be a cheerleader and also be a competition cheerleader who smiles and stunts on the weekends.

It all just seems a bit...unnecessary.

DeYoung says that "because we can do so much, we do do so much. Our lives have no limits." 

I worry that our kids will be burned out on life by age 18 or they'll be so accustomed to busy that they won't know any other gear than fifth. I'm concerned that they'll be so programmed to saying yes to every good thing and then not be available for the most important things God may have for them. I fret that they'll confuse efficiency with effectiveness and fruitfulness with productivity. 

Most of all, I'm afraid that they'll worship their own success because they saw us bow down to it first.

Activity and talent and opportunity are not the mandatory tools for building loved and loving children. And that's what we hope for: Kids who know they're wildly loved by God and by their family. Kids who will one day live in such a way that all of this love spills over into the world around them. 

I can only speak for myself but I have a feeling that I speak for some of you too. If you have a kid in school, you already know that these years are fleeting. And while we're supposed to get them ready for the "real world" and provide them with fruitful opportunities within our means to discover who they are, I want to have time together. Besides, time together helps us as parents "notice the becoming." And isn't that one of the best gifts we can give them toward discovery? Noticing.

Running around from one thing to the next is not really that fun or fruitful for us; it doesn't usually promote love and togetherness either. 

We long for our kids to enjoy time to just be kids. And I think most parents long to have time to enjoy their kids just being kids too. How can we do that when our calendars are bursting at the seams?  

My last post talked about finding wisdom for the many decisions we make regarding opportunities and commitments for ourselves and for our kids. I still believe we should seek guidance and that God meets us in the seeking. I'm not negating those places and processes of wisdom. Sometimes it's a journey. And sometimes it's merely asking ourselves a simple question when we're at a yes or no crossroads:

Is this really necessary?

{Why yes, I am a rocket scientist.} 

Perhaps we make things harder than they need to be. Perhaps we bow down at the altar of our kids' success and happiness and well-roundedness more than we care to admit. 

We need balance. We need perspective. We need older and wiser parents with perspective to say, He's only in fourth grade. We need to understand that there is a time for everything and every season under heaven but there is not room for everything all at one time. Nor should there be. We weren't created for that. And our kids definitely weren't created for that.





If you're afraid that you're not doing "enough" for your kids, examine what's driving that fear. Comparison? Approval? Idolizing your kids' happiness and success? 

If you're afraid that you're doing too much for your kids, it's not too late to get off the merry-go-round. But no one can do it for you. It's hard to say no. You may disappoint people and it may feel like loss. But think of what you might gain in the process.

If you love your kids unconditionally and they know it, I bet you're doing enough. And if all that's on your plate feels like too much, I'm willing to bet that it is. 

If you're weighing a decision this week and your spirit is anxious as you deliberate, ask yourself if this opportunity, no matter how wonderfully enriching, is really necessary. Consider what will actually be gained and lost by saying yes. And what will actually be gained and lost by saying no

These are the questions I'm asking myself this week. 

So with all of this in mind, let's resolve right now that we'll "stop freaking out about our kids." Let's remind ourselves and one another that wild love and protective boundaries and lavish grace and occasional popsicles are enough. 

And after you've given yourself and a friend this pep talk, go get yourselves a wiffle ball set and watch your kids play from the kitchen window. If your yard isn't big enough for that, no worries. Chances are you can make room for a rock sale on the front porch.


..........................

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7 comments:

  1. You have done it again. This blog entry is pure gold!

    ReplyDelete
  2. OK, first . . . "I fret that they'll worship their own success because they saw us bow down to it first." Is this yours? This is absolutely one of the most brilliant lines ever in relation to this whole matter you're blog-covering right now!!! I mean, brilliant.

    Secondly: in the fourth grade, I mastered, I mean absolutely "mastered" the pogo stick! Champion! Took my 70-something year-old grandfather to school and he demonstrated where I must have gotten my skills. I was on top of the "pogo stick" world. Jumped over 1200 times in one session! There were no rec league anythings, no social media (not even sure there were media yet!), and we played. Every. Afternoon. I mostly jumped.

    If I'd had a Barbie, I'd have had her jumping, too.

    Phenomenal post, dear.

    LYF,
    MOM

    ReplyDelete
  3. Once again, you HIT the nail on the head. I am so proud of you for saying all this OUT LOUD. We called it "sandbox time" but you have named it "whiffle ball in the back yard." Almost gone are the days when kids can play a game without a referee and have to work out the rules on their own. There are a LOT of life skills to be learned in such situations. People skills, problem solving and ability to think creatively will likely be more useful than soccer skills. Not to say that soccer skills are bad, but really, how useful in the grand scheme of life?
    How I would love to purchase a rock from your very creative salesman!

    ReplyDelete
  4. We too, have enjoyed a few days off from school. I drove out of the driveway yesterday and left 4 kids on the trampoline with the hose going full blast. They spent hours out there. And today after school they blew off homework and took 2 tarps outside and made a slip 'n slide in 70 degree (freezing) weather in my front yard. Used a whole bottle of shampoo too. Suave, the expensive stuff. And my oldest cleaned up both times. He might not be making all As but he's growing and maturing and taking more responsibility for his younger siblings. He's fighting less, unless I'm dumping my extra stress on him. So he does his homework too late and it stresses me out! Why? Because I THINK it should be done differently. That's all. It's the (Gary Smalley) LION in me. My way is the best way.

    And yes, I have a friend who needs to read this too.
    Why do we stress over our kids like we do? I can't imagine Laura Ingles parents sitting up at night wondering if she was milking the cow properly.

    Humpf!
    Julie
    www.julieworthyphotography.com
    www.raisingthreeknightsandaprincess.com
    LOVE YOU!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is so timely for me. You have managed to beautifully articulate a lot of what has been emerging in my heart and head for the last few years. I have a 3rd grader and 1st grader and whilst I already had put limits on extracurricular activities we do, I hadn't put limits on what I am trying to do for them. Through their personalities, and God pushing me to examine what was almost becoming my permanent state of frustration and irritation he has shown me that I need to back off - I am still learning what these limits look like as I am a slow learner, but your post has help me visualise this in a clearer way. Loving this series and also your Being Cool about school series. Thank you and God bless.

    ReplyDelete

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