It’s 6:30, and I’m out with the nutjob puppy. I usually try to get up before 5, but I slept late today because we were at a dance recital and didn’t get home until almost midnight.
Dance recitals. I never in a million years would have expected myself to take part, but when Sonya was little, I said “I will follow her lead, let her explore her own interests.” In this way, we have ended up with multiple sports, plus piano and school. For all the girls. I’m immensely proud of them, of what they can do but also of how they express themselves, how they work on teams, the confidence they feel in themselves and their bodies.
This summer, the older two will do a horse camp, because we can’t manage lessons through the year, and I think there is something affirming about relationships with horses. And they love it. We aren’t doing any other summer camps this year, although there was a myriad available, because I want my kids to spend long lazy hot days pretending they are movie stars (err…YouTube stars) and fighting with their sisters. Not to save money (okay maybe) but because I really think long stretches of free play are important for their development.
As the kids’ activities have grown and become more involved, I have had conversations with lots of other parents – mostly mothers – about what was enough, what was too much. We look at the older girls in the activities, see if they are growing and learning like we hope ours will. We think about the lessons the kids are learning about teamwork, perseverance, appreciation for the arts, setting goals. And then we build free time into the schedule, no screens, having a sleepover, changing plans when we hear the neighbors running through the sprinkler. Even non-scheduled time (for them) is scheduled (by us).
Boredom is important. Reading is important. Socialization is important. Balanced meals are important. Keeping an eye on milestones is important. Dentist appointments are important. Eating from your garden is important. Breastfeeding is important. Travel experiences are important. The perfect school (whether that be perfect in terms of best scores or balanced community or whatever) is important. Everything, everything, feels life-or-death.
I read this article, “The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting,” and felt dizzy. And it’s not because, as somebody said, I need to “take off my busy badge.” Activities play a part in the exhaustion, and we do a lot of activities, but it’s much more than that. It’s the fact that parenting has become a science. We are supposed to learn to fly the plane midair, but also pick up a doctorate in flying at the same time.
“Intensive parenting” is a term I hadn’t heard before, but it rings so impossibly true. Even parents who incorporate free-range parenting are doing so because they have weighed the options and have decided that this is the best way to raise thoughtful humans. They shoo their children out not because they have better things to do than deal with them, but because they believe it helps children to develop the most effectively.
I thought the pressure came from within, but it’s a sweeping cultural movement; many, many people are feeling this pressure. Speak to them in another language. Make sure they are on screens for less than two hours a day, or never. Get them into the best classes at school and if they aren’t, contact the principal. Fruits and vegetables every day. Puzzles on the floor. “No I won’t help you with this” not because I don’t want to help (well, I don’t), but because it matters for their development.
And it matters in tangible ways for their futures. You can’t pick their friends but you can choose who they are around when they are young, and the other parents who are putting their kids in soccer are carefully considering the same options as I am; I’m happy that those friendships naturally develop. I’ve seen it with Sonya – the kids with whom she played on the local soccer team at 4 are the ones whose parents have said “yes they can take the violin as part of their music class” in third grade and are making sure their homework gets done each day. Her best friends are built from that group of soccer kids, and I feel a little more secure moving into adolescence knowing that Reese’s mom and Olive’s mom are just as invested as I am in facilitating growth.
And beyond adolescence. I understand on a visceral level that what happens to you in your childhood is there, forever, waiting to pounce on you when you are 40 and just trying to sit through a movie or, okay, therapy session. If you learn to love your body at 4, you might still love it at 7, and 10, and god I hope at least still appreciate it at 14, and maybe not despise yourself by the time you are 20. If you learn a language when you are two, it changes your brain forever, even if you forget the language. If you engage in free play and boredom, as an adult you are more able to manage complex situations, which translates to more success in all sorts of ways. If you learn to work each day on a back handspring until you finally get it, that process is cemented in your brain: work hard, persevere, reap rewards.
The point of the FI movement is to be intentional with money, to be intentional with every dollar, to make each purchase count. Parenting is the same: be sure you have thought through what your kids need and then make it happen, because you can’t get that time back. You can’t re-do it. Smoke during pregnancy and you might as well just give up before you start.
I absolutely believe that the sacrifices we make for our kids are worth it – we chose to have kids, we should do all we can to give them the best start in every way we see possible.
I also can’t stop thinking about the article. Unlike helicopter parenting (I’m so non-helicopter-y as to be borderline neglectful at times), I don’t think the answer is “just stop parenting that way.” The point is that intensive parenting involves weighing the options and doing what’s best.
We aren’t our parents. We know too much about childhood now, as a collective, to simply let it go, leave the TV on all day while I run to get groceries, forget about dentistry until they are 12, buy myself a new car instead of taking them to see the Grand Canyon. We are screwing it up in all sorts of invisible-to-us ways. We are also getting it right in ways that were invisible to those before us.
But maaaaaaaan, is it a lot.