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overscheduling, outliers, and the Olympics: are parents “pushing” kids to be great?

by Meagan Francis on February 11, 2014

My friend Jill's daughter, Jordan. She does the pushing herself.

My friend Jill’s daughter, Jordan. She does her own pushing.

I’ve shared before that we are protective of our family time, and that we have intentionally created a home-based life rather than spending every evening carting kids around from activity to activity.

But if I’m really honest, my children have made that easy. So far my kids have had, at most, an average interest in athletics and the arts, which makes it easy to limit the time and effort we put into chauffeuring them around or sitting on the bleachers.

Among parents I know – particularly those who, like me, are interested in pursuing a simpler life – there’s a lot of talk these days about “overscheduled” kids. And for the most part, I do believe that kids these days have far less slowed-down, laid-back time than they did a generation ago, mostly to their detriment.

But I’ve been watching the Olympics this week with my children, and wondering what I’d really do if I had one of those kids. A child who had an obvious talent, a gift – plus the desire and drive to pursue it beyond all else?

At what point would the gift an individual child – whether she’s a natural-born leader or athlete, inventor or artist – has to offer the world overshadow my desire to have a quiet dinner at home most nights of the week?

The answer is that I don’t know, and I can’t know, because I haven’t faced it. So while I feel confident that for now, my kids are active and busy enough, and that more would feel like too much for us at this point of our lives, I can’t say with any kind of certainty what “enough” or “too much” looks like for any other family. Or whether any other child is under-scheduled, over-scheduled, or just-enough-scheduled.

When I talk about over-scheduled children, I think what I’m really talking about is the world we live in – a world that’s raised the stakes on what it means to be a kid; a world in which you have to choose your sport by the age of 6 to have a chance of playing in high school; a world in which teenagers stress out over cramming their schedules full of activities in the hopes of being seen worthy for their college of choice.

I wish my kids lived in a slower world. But even in a slower world, there would always be outliers – the child prodigies, the star athletes. And I can’t fault their parents for supporting a drive I don’t, and likely they don’t, fully understand. 

We often accuse parents of elite athletes of pushing their children. But from what I’ve seen in the families who actually have these kids, more often it’s actually that the parents are running along behind, trying to keep up.

The fact is that I want my kids to pursue their own personal definition of greatness. Maybe that’s a slow simple life. Maybe it’s a push toward stardom. It’s not my decision to make, and it has to be their dream and not my idea of what a successful childhood should look like. And, within my abilities and taking the needs of the whole family into account, it’ll always be my place to support them…even if that support sometimes winding up looking different than I would have imagined.

Danielle Smith and I talked about overscheduling, activities, and finding the balance between supporting our kids and keeping a reasonable pace of family life on our last episode of The New Having It All Show. You can watch last week’s episode below:

As a reminder, a new episode of The New Having It All Show airs live every Wednesday afternoon at 1 PM. Tomorrow we’ll be talking about keeping the romance alive – please join us!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Olympics, child athletes, and overscheduling – please leave a comment!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Powers February 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I was (am?) highly independent and naturally driven as a kid. Academics and dance (ballet) were the two places where I excelled and loved to be, and I had the total opposite of a pushy stage mom. If anything, my mom wanted me home more, and would have preferred a slower pace (especially since I was the oldest and she had younger kids at home). I feel lucky that my natural drive was actually counterbalanced by a very grounded family, a low-pressure big public high school, and a very small dance studio that focused on quality instruction not fancy competitions or recitals. It was actually a perfect combination for me.

I loved listening to you and Danielle in the video, and in particular the thoughtful discussion of knowing what pace is appropriate for individual children and individual families. Up until this point in my mothering, I’ve gotten to mostly choose our pace (slower, fewer activities), but I know it becomes more of a dance as kids grow and find their own interests.

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Natalia February 11, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I love this post. I think it was very well written and understanding that all families and kids are different. I saw people post on Facebook about that P&G commercial. I thought the commercial was adorable and showed moms being so supportive to what could only be the kids wanting to do those things! Like you said, it’s mostly them running trying to keep up. Anyway, it was nice to hear a positive prospective on this! Thanks for sharing!

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Asha Dornfest February 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

aaaaaaaaand we continue to share a brain (actually, I should be so lucky). My point: as my kids get older I’m noticing that they could benefit from some boundary pushing. Me, the Minimalist Parent, is thinking it’s time to sign my two very different kids up for a couple experiences/events about which both are on the fence (due to minor anxiety, not lack of interest). (And that’s normal anxiety, not Anxiety with a capital A.) Their comfort zones are beginning to limit them and they need a little push to see that, or, rather, experience that. To your point: there’s no set rule about when or how (or even if) this should happen. But it’s happening now in my family and I’m having to open my mind yet again.

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Jennifer L.W. Fink (@jlwf) February 11, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Great post! You’re right: keeping up with a driven child is not easy. And it’s not easy to balance the needs of a family when some in the family (whether adults or kids) are driven while others would prefer a more laid-back existence.

One of the things I love about your site: You don’t judge. You get that each parent, each child and each family is unique.

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