Inevitably, when my boys have a friend over, their guest walks over to our piano and plays a song. It is always more advanced than what my guys are playing, though they take lessons and practice more than their instructor requires.
When we sign them up for a six-week, Saturday ski program so they will enjoy skiing as much as their Dad does and keep up on the slopes with their friends when they are teenagers, their friends sign up for 14-week, Saturday and Sunday racing programs.
When my son says he loves basketball, he plays on a Y league for a few weeks each winter. His friends play on his team, then they play in other leagues and week-long summer camp sessions.
My guys are in elementary school. My fourth grader has about an hour of homework a night. With that much homework this young, how much should he then be pushed to excel at everything else? Not something else. Everything.
If they do well in school and remain genuinely good guys, why can’t they just ski for fun? Or be amazed that by touching the piano keys, they can create beautiful sounds? Are we teaching our kids that they cannot enjoy anything unless they are the best at it? Unless they can beat their friends?
And when we do, is it for them? Or is it so we can know, “my kid is better than yours.”
As a parent, I bounce back and forth between worrying that I am not pushing them enough to excel and suffering from the guilt that I push them too much.
“Mom,” my fourth grader cried the other day when I asked if he wanted to start a new book I picked up at the book store, “all I ever do is work!”
But what if being a smart, nice guy ends up not being enough to have friends, start a successful career, and win the heart of the nice girl? What if they are the only ones of their compatriots who are not stellar at anything because I did not force it on them? Can they be happy then?
Still, sometimes I wonder if I should be focusing each child on one activity, so they have time to get good at it. So the other night, I asked all three boys, “If you could choose only one thing to be really good at, what would it be? You could quit everything else, but you’d have to practice that one thing a lot.”
My fourth grader said he would want his own workshop where he could invent things. (We just went to the DaVinci exhibit).
My third grader could not decide between basketball, football (which he won’t even play at recess) and guitar (he knows a few chords).
My preschooler – in big trouble with mom the last few days – smiled, “I want to be the best at helping you with laundry.”
So maybe I am over-thinking this parenting thing. They are in elementary school, with good grades and sweet friends, and they are doing things they like to do with only occasional complaints that “you are the meanest mom ever!”
I guess I’ll go with that. At least until the next guilt trip.