It’s true, what everybody says: When you’re pregnant, people tell you their pregnancy stories. And when you are a parent, you get to hear about other peoples’ child raising methods and parental ambitions.
My mom, for example, keeps encouraging me to check out the Baby Einstein television show with JC. She is a big proponent of a lot of the more educational children’s television, and when my niece is over at her house, the tv is generally on. I don’t have a lot of super lofty ambitions about keeping my child away from television, but I like my sister-in-law’s approach better: her daughter (my other niece) is only allowed half an hour of television during the day. Will I change my own stance on this as JC gets older? Maybe. But we aren’t much of a television household here, and I actually enjoy that. Surely our kid can still learn his numbers and letters without so much screen time… right?
My uncle from ‘across the pond’ is in town right now, getting ready to go on a pack trip with my dad and their other brother. My uncle has one son himself, a pre-teen who I’ve only met a few times. By all accounts, M is, for a pre-teen, very accomplished, and last night my uncle launched into a description of M’s various classes and activities with a gleam of enthusiasm in his eyes. Violin lessons, Chinese, martial arts. There might have been something else I’ve forgotten. All activities were chosen by my aunt and uncle.
“I want him to be able to do all the things I would have liked my parents to put me in,” said my uncle. “Kids don’t know what they want. I want my son to look at all the things he is able to do, when he is twenty, and I want him to know that he has a competitive edge, to know that, because of his skills, the world is his oyster.”
There’s a lot of sense in what my uncle says. I know I as a child could be rather lazy. And yet, I also remember the frustration of being forced to participate in activities I had no interest in. I remember very clearly fighting back by not practicing my baton twirling, because I was angry about being stuck in this stupid activity nobody had asked me my opinion about. I remember spacing out in Sunday School and not completing the homework assignments because I wasn’t being graded and I didn’t particularly care about being there.
Competitiveness and ambition are great. My uncle is one of those people who probably does really useful things in the world. He has an advanced degree in geology as well a degree in law, and his work has to do with environmental remediation. When he talks about getting on in the world, he speaks from a position of knowledge. But, but, but. Part of me is also tired and a little wary of our culture of accomplishment when it comes to our kids. I do believe in organized activities, but when my uncle talks about my cousin and his schedule, I wonder how much free time M has to just enjoy life. Despite the occasional forced activity, my parents actually allowed me a lot of freedom to play and be bored when I was young. I really love my memories of running around in the fields behind our house with my friends, building ‘gardens’ out of old chicken wire and pretending we were on a deserted island. I was a good student in school and made the gifted program and all that, but it wasn’t my whole life. As an adult I see the way the working world can suck you in, how a lot of jobs can take what you give and keep asking for more. That can be really unhealthy after a while.
I don’t mind my mom’s advice, or my uncle’s. But I think I want to take a slightly different approach with my own little guy.