I was spoiled this summer, when my boys were with me all day, and they had no agenda or “to-do” list. We did some math in the morning and practiced the piano for 15 minutes each, but then we headed to the pool, where we played for the rest of the day. I read them stories before bed. We went to the mountains and the beach. With school in full swing, however, my role as parent is feeling less loving mom and more multi-tasking taskmistress.
It begins as soon as we walk in the door after school.
Daily homework. Check.
Practice for spelling test. Check
Timed math drills while mom cooks dinner. Check.
Piano practice. Check.
Tae kwan do. Check.
Read out loud for 15 minutes (per child). Check.
Eat your vegetables. Check.
…and then, it ends only when I kiss them goodnight.
With such a busy afternoon, we fit in a few cuddles or extra mom reading after 9:00 bedtime. Or I skip the reading. And then I sit in bed trying to fall asleep while going through the checklist to make sure we hit everything.
Is that good parenting? Do they feel loved as they move from math drills to piano, just because I am drilling, then listening to them play? Are they learning discipline? Or are they merely in a forced march to bedtime?
I believe in pushing your children to reach beyond their perceived skill level, to try new things, to strive to be great at what they love. But I also believe in snuggles and playing outside and reading quietly before bed just because we want to.
I have made decisions so that every single day is not fraught with the stress of finishing homework quickly so we can speed across town to some after-school class or sports practice. We currently have after-school activities three out of five days, plus a basketball game on Saturday mornings. Isn’t that plenty? Yet, I worry that one day, I will regret those decisions. Everyone else, whose parents pushed harder than I did, will be better at art, soccer, skiing and playing in the school jazz band. How muh does that matter if I did not also give them peace?
I know that our educational system is failing most children, and that students in other countries work more hours. Homework helps some kids get the extra practice they need to learn the facts. But in my heart, I’d prefer to sit with them and write stories or read quietly from great children’s books. And part of me believes that spending our after-school hours in these pursuits would make them more innovative, spirited, smarter, more appreciative of the world around them, and more understanding of humanity. Wouldn’t they also feel more love from mom?
So, what do you do? Stop checking the boxes?
I do not accept checking out. So I keep checking the boxes….and squeezing in some snuggles and time of my own, hoping that I am striking the right balance.