As a law enforcement officer, John worked all different shifts...days, evenings and nights. There were both advantages and disadvantages to the different hours, but one disadvantage was that he sometimes had to miss the kids' evening activities. While it usually wasn't a problem for me to take them one evening in June of 1995, it was particularly chaotic and stressful. It was the evening of our monthly 4-H meeting, our family was responsible for snacks for the evening, Emma was a couple of months old and had gotten her first shots earlier in the afternoon and we'd had to stop at Wal-Mart to get drinks to go with the snacks we were taking to 4-H.
Because we were running so short on time, we ate supper at the McDonalds inside the store. I still remember telling my 12, 9 and 7 year old to 'hurry up and eat so we wouldn't be late'. And I still remember feeling bad about rushing them. It wasn't all that often that we ate out (yes, eating at the Wal-Mart McDonalds was eating out back then), so they were enjoying this special treat. After the third or fourth 'quit talking and eat', 12 year-old Zach asked with all the sincerity in the world, "Why do we have to go?" Well, it's 4-H and you're in the club and... "Do we have to be in 4-H," he asked.
Are you kidding, I thought? They loved 4-H...or at least I thought they did. "Don't you want to be in 4-H anymore," I asked. A resounding -'no' was the reply.
They liked the other kids and they liked what they did, but they didn't like being rushed and hurried. They were tired. Zach and Elizabeth rationalized that not being in 4-H wouldn't make them any less of a farmer. Who would have thought they'd be thinking more clearly than I was? I plead excess tiredness due to just having had baby number 4. But they were making perfect sense. So right then and there we decided they would quit 4-H until they decided they wanted to re-join (if they decided to re-join).
I explained that it would be rude to default on our responsibility to take the snacks that evening, however, so after smiles, sighs of relief and allowing the kids to finish without shoving their food down their throats, we went to our last meeting for many, many years.
To all you parents out there who are tempted to sign your children up for every possible sport and extra-curricular activity, I say DON'T!
Don't think you need to fill every hour of every day of their lives. You don't. Children need a good amount of time to just 'be' and to play like a kid (because that is what they are).
Don't try to live vicariously through your children; using the excuse that you want them to have the things you never did. Instead, let them be their own unique selves.
Don't press them to become skilled and devoted to a sport or activity in an attempt to put them at the head of the line and on the road to college scholarships. That's placing far too much pressure on a child and it's just not good parenting no matter how you try to justify it.
Children are going to get excited (initially) about anything that looks fun and they are going to ask you to sign them up. Don't cave. They don't know what they are asking. Instead, be the parent...the sensible kind of parent who limits their child to church and one additional activity. Trust me, that's all a child needs to be allowed to participate in. If you don't believe me, ask yourself this...when is the last time you had time to be silly with your kids, snuggle with your kids or just be with your kids...without saying, "We've got to hurry or we'll be late for..."?