Friday, April 13, 2012

Overinvolved Parents Falling in the Forest

Lately I have been getting increasingly annoyed at the pressure and expectation for me to be an overinvolved parent. It makes me think of the old philosophical question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a child participates in an activity and there are no parents hovering nearby, does the child still get the physical, teamwork, educational, performance (etc.) benefits the activity was designed for? I say yes.

Think about the Peanuts kids. When I watched those holiday specials as a child, the fact that their teacher sounded like she was singing into a French horn was funny. Now when I watch with my own kids I find myself thinking about how children aren't allowed to solve their own problems anymore.

What's a kid to do if their tomboy friend Priscilla calls and invites herself to Thanksgiving dinner. Would any kid these days even dream of throwing open the ping pong table and putting on some toast? That's a fanciful example (of course you wouldn't let the dog cook!) but when DO kids get to solve their own problems? When do they get to think through solutions and deal with the interpersonal issues of working with other people. God forbid if something isn't FAIR.

Can you imagine how those Peanuts kids:

  • Directed their own Christmas play
  • Organized their own baseball team
  • Trick-or-treated alone--after creating their own costumes
  • Dealt with school-girl crushes
My sons are on a traveling soccer team with great coaches and supportive parents--the kind that let the coaches do their jobs. Some of the other teams' parents had a tradition of standing on the sideline and giving high-fives to all the players after they do their good game pass with the other team. Some parents on our team wanted to start that for this season.

And for some reason it annoys me immensely. I have been trying to put my finger on why this bothers me so much and I guess it has to do with (over)involving ourselves in the game. The players like to give us high fives after the game but let's not kid ourselves--this is for the parents.

We are transportation to the game, we are clean uniforms, we are a snack to share with the team once in a while, we are to clap when they score and encourage when they don't, we are a hug after the game and rush home/McD's for some dinner. But are we high five? We have enough roles to play. Why do we want to interject ourselves in the post-game festivities that are for players and coaches. Why does every parent need to make contact with every kid on the team?Are we that worried that our kids are going to forget we're there?

Against my better judgement I just finished writing my son a note of encouragement that will be part of his packet for an upcoming standardized test. I have to send in two notes--since there are two days of testing. Really? I thought my job was to make sure he got a good night's sleep and a proper breakfast that day. I have to worry about his self-esteem now too?

I'm angry that I feel bullied into doing it. The note from the school basically said they want them turned in early--so they can see which kids don't have one. There's no way I'm going to have some counselor whispering in the corner about how I'm not involved enough in my child's education to even care how he does on the test. I believe the message and format of communication I have with my son about the importance of this test is something private to our family--not something for a test prep checklist.

We have been told over and over by the schools, by our peers, by society and by our own parents that being involved on our children's schoolwork and activities is how we show we care and how we can help them be successful. But good intentions (it's just a high five) and pressure (we want every kid to have a note so no one feels left out) are causing mission creep. 

If a child participates in an activity and there are no parents hovering nearby, does the child still get the physical, teamwork, educational, performance (etc.) benefits the activity was designed for?

In many ways, the less we're involved, the better.

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