The idea for this post came to me while sitting in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge taking my son Nick to gymnastics.
More than anything, our kids need time with their dads. Even more than that, they need time with us when we are truly present- not surreptitiously texting, not stressing out about what we need to do at work tomorrow, but truly focused on our kids and making the time we have (limited as it sometimes is) really enjoyable. We all know this, but it is often hard to carve out the time (see my previous post about family dinners for more on this topic).
Most dads I know feel incredible pressure to schedule their kids in activities (especially when we dream of Olympics or college athletic scholarships!). Often without realizing it, we end up over-scheduling them, which is good for no one. Especially because over-scheduling cuts into the very limited time we can carve out for incredibly valuable unstructured time.
Instead of quality time with their dads, our kids get to see the backs of our heads in the car as we shuttle them from thing to thing. We’re focusing on the traffic, thinking about the uncompleted tasks on our to-do list (or calculating future college tuition payments in our heads), and, while we’re in the same car, we’re probably not interacting as much or as well with our kids as we’d like (especially if Radio Disney is on or we’ve broken down and bought them a Sony PSP).
Then, when we do get to the activity- art, music, dance, sports, what have you- we’re often dropping the kid off to go have quality time with peers, a coach or a teacher. Unless we are directly involved in coaching or volunteering to help, we’re often just standing on the sidelines, sucking down coffee and checking in on work (I’m one out of two on this myself- at baseball, I’m actively involved with the kids and coaches. At Nick’s competitive gymnastics class- they trained John Orozco, 2012 Olympian, I sit in the “viewing lounge” responding to email or watching my son and the other gymnasts do amazing things I didn’t think kids of that age could do). While it is great to attend our kids’ activities, as it is a meaningful show of support, these structured activities usually do not represent quality dad-and-kid time. (It may represent an excellent opportunity to “network for fatherhood” as discussed in a previous post, however).
I don’t mean to harsh on scheduled activities for kids. After all, part of our responsibility as good dads is to provide our kids with opportunities to try out lots of different things, discover their interests and talents, and encourage them to develop their abilities. Signing the kids up for sports, music, etc. represents an effective way to achieve these goals (not to mention, college tuition is expensive these days…).
But, these activities have a way of becoming too much of a good thing. There’s a lot of subtle pressure out there in the culture to sign kids up for more and more (and, as guest blogger Neil Cohen wrote, there’s a lot of pressure parents put on their kids to be “perfect” rather than being happy).
I say enough! One activity, maybe two. Two, three hours a week, tops. That’s all I’m willing to do with my seven year old (Nick’s gymnastics coaches are grooming him for the competitive travel team, so I’ll have to put these principles to the test soon). I don’t know how families with multiple kids juggle it all.
Because, in the end, what your kid needs more than time with a piano teacher or a soccer coach (or even a college scholarship or his face on a Wheaties box) is time with you. Kids will do better with one or two activities and enough unstructured time with you than they will with three or four activities and not enough of you.
We all know this, but sometimes it feels like limiting structured activities requires an awful lot of swimming against the tide and the Tappan Zee traffic.
How do you deal with kids activities? With unstructured time? Let’s discuss in the comments section.