I love to research. When I am about ready to learn something new, I head to the library (now the internet) and research everything I can about that topic. In fifth grade I joined the basketball team, and I studied books, plays, and skills until I understood the game inside and out. In sixth grade it was gymnastics. I found books on Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, Phoebe Mills. I again looked for skills books that would take me step by step through a handspring, uneven bars, and balance beam.
I may not have been the best at these sports, but I knew a lot about them.
So, when I became a parent ten years ago, I read books. Books upon books upon books. They towered in my bedroom next to the bed. I was always telling my husband over a cup of coffee about some new technique I read. My firstborn was the guinea pig of every new parenting theory that I came across until what I ended up with is a mishmash of everything I liked rolled together into my theory of raising kids.
And now that I have three kids running laps around my legs, I think I stumbled on something pretty good. These ideas aren’t really my own, but a conglomeration of all the good ideas that seemed to be repeated amongst all the books I read.
In all the parenting books they make their plan seem like the best one. But as I have learned, no family, parent, or child is alike. What works for one family, doesn’t work for another. A tactic that motivates one child is ignored by the next one. Instead of forcing my kids to fit in a mold they don’t belong in, I focus on what I want the end result of their childhood to be.
And for me, that is an independent, joyful adult.
When I say joyful, I don’t mean happy. Joy can be happiness, or it can be peace, or it can be acceptance. As I have learned, life doesn’t like to be tied down. In my thirty six years I have had my share of hardship. I’ve faced cancer and chronic illness. And if those two things have taught me anything, is that I can still find joy even in the darkest days. It just takes a little more work to find it. But I can have joy, even when I’m unhappy.
Society likes to tell us our kids need certain things to be happy. They need the best education, the most recent technology, the latest toys. If you stand in line at Starbucks you will hear people grumbling about the five places they need to get their two kids to. After school there are no more cookies and milk with some free time, no after school is filled with activities. Multiple sports, multiple classes, and tired kids. On a recent Saturday I overheard a boy at basketball say, “I had two tennis tournament games before my game.”
He is only 10.
It’s Saturday. Shouldn’t he be enjoying life?
Rebecca likes to complain we don’t let her sign up for more. But our hard and fast rule is one extra curricular at a time. Even with 3 kids this sends our family running around more than I would like. But I don’t really see the benefit of all these activities. In fact I have seen the opposite. Over scheduled kids, over tired parents, and no one happy.
And not only that, kids can’t stand to be bored anymore. If a child whimpers a screen is shoved in their face. When any of my 3 say, “I’m bored.” My response is good. After they shuffle off, I will often find them doing something pretty cool. Rebecca sat yesterday and drew portraits. Isaac creates Lego buildings that hide people inside. Margo, I’m not sure what she does, but she’s having fun and it involves tiny tiny tiny pieces of paper she cuts up.
Let kids be kids. Let them find the joy in the everyday. Stop entertaining them, and let them figure out what they like. Stop signing them up for every lesson out there. Pick one at a time. And then let their free time be free time. They’ll annoy you until everyone gets used to the new routine, but no child has ever died from boredom.
Really, I promise. I grew up in Amish country, I understand about boredom.
My parenting theory isn’t popular. I get a lot of strange looks and shakes of the head. But when my kids reach adulthood I don’t want them to be the perfect college applicants, I want them to be joyful, creative, and independent kids.
And if I get out of the way I know that will happen.