Nothing compares to the feeling of joy and optimism I feel when I hold a newborn baby. Looking down at the baby, I marvel at the promise new life brings and I get lost in wondering who this child will become as he unfolds with time. I know I’m not alone in this feeling – it’s probably fairly universal. Equally universal is the sentiment we utter countless times during our period of waiting for our baby – whether that be through biological birth, adoption, or surrogacy: “Please, God, let my baby be born healthy.” And when the miracle of nature happens, as it does in the vast majority of cases, and we hold that newborn in our arms, it’s as though our very soul exhales and rejoices, and we give thanks at the deepest level of our being for the gift we have been given. We wonder who this baby will become, and we are humbled enough by the miracle of birth to know that they do come to us as distinct individuals, as people already largely “formed,” and we know on some instinctive level that it is our job to nurture them and to love them so that the person they are to become can flourish without interference. But as parents we have to interfere – that is, after all, our job. This interference is natural and necessary; without it, our children would perish. But knowing how and when to “interfere” is something of an art form. In situation A or B, do we provide more, or less, assistance? Might we be able to spark our child’s interests and passions by exposing them to art and culture, music and sports? But how much, and how often? To ensure our children’s future success, we provide them with the most challenging academic program we can find, for how else will they fare against peers whose parents are dong more than we are? And then, of course, whether we’re ready or not, the trap door opens and the race begins…
Child psychologists are now concerned that a frightening percentage of children are overscheduled, and their parents, too, are over-stressed and over-taxed as a result of managing their children’s busy after-school lives. An article I read recently stated that as many as 41% of children ages 9-13 say they feel stressed “all or most of the time,” and 78% reported a desire for more free time. These numbers make sense to me. In the nearly 30 years I’ve been involved in education, I have seen anxiety levels among children and parents rise significantly. Overscheduling and its counter-part, stress, have been correlated with socio-economic status. This, too, makes sense. We all want to provide our children with opportunities, and some of us can afford more than others.
As you put together your child’s calendar, I urge you to make sure you build in some down time to spend together as a family. Maybe that means staying in pj’s on Saturday morning and making pancakes together rather than running out to a museum. Or maybe it means one less enrichment activity and one more old-fashioned tea party at home instead. Whatever form this down time takes, such uncommitted, unscheduled time is vital to your child’s wellbeing.
Check in from time to time and ask yourself these questions to see if you’ve struck the right balance with regards to scheduling:
• Is my child looking tired, or dragging her feet from one activity to another? • Does my child seem bored or unexcited about an activity that used to bring joy and excitement? • Is my child asking for more free time? • Does my child have less energy for homework? • Is my child showing any signs of anxiety or depression? • Ask yourself, “Is this something my child is asking to do, or is this something I want him to do?” Or worse, are we doing this because “everyone else is doing it?
Making these choices is a challenging and difficult task, but it’s one that can provide your child with the time and space needed to truly blossom. Just think about a flower and what it needs. Any gardener will tell you – too much sun or water is not a good thing, and controlling the exact color or shape of the bloom is just not possible. Some of these things are just out of our hands – and that, I believe, it the true miracle of life.
Reactions? Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them – email me: firstname.lastname@example.org