For a while now, I've been thinking about the idea of keeping kids busy - I've heard the phrase as synonymous with "keep 'em out of trouble". I'm all for keeping 'em out of trouble, my own kids especially, but there was something that kept my brain tinkering with the subject. After all, we've all heard that "idle hands are the devil's toys", and boredom can quickly lead to bickering and trouble. But I've also heard that one of the greatest gifts you can give a child is the opportunity to be bored, for "poverty is the mother of invention". How am I to reconcile these two apparently opposite concepts?
It wasn't so very long ago that this problem wasn't actually a problem at all. There was always something to keep kids of all ages busy. Kids worked with their families, caring for the home, farm, other children or the family business. There wasn't a lot of time for play, but most kids learned what it took to make a home and provide for a family. They learned interpersonal skills by dealing with family members and how to serve in their own family and in the wider community.
Times, as they say, have changed. Nowadays, we sign them up for classes, sports, lessons, enrichment groups and field trips. We buy more toys, more games and more entertainment to fill up more free time. Not to say that I am necessarily against all these opportunities. Not only did I do just about every activity I could, my own children are involved in a fair few, as well. My growing concern, however, is what this constantly busy schedule is teaching my children. Are they learning that their social calendar is more important than our time together as a family? Are they learning that opportunities and things are more important than people? Are they learning that they have to be busy to be valuable?
I'm also concerned about the long term impact of this "training" on their character. It may be easier to allow my kids to retreat behind closed doors and headphones when they don't get along, rather than wade into the mess of teaching them how to love and care for each other, but is that going to serve them when they get into conflict with their spouse? Or I may not feel like schleping them to a service opportunity because I've already run them hither and yon all week and would kind of like a break, but is my desire for comfort and ease communicating that serving isn't really as important as I tell them it is?
Frankly, I would kind of like to go back to the old days. I'd miss my iPhone, but it would be rather simpler. That's not much of an option, though - this is the world we live in, so we'd better figure out how to do it well. And I am grateful for all the opportunities for skills, growth and relationships - they are fun and important!
So, what to do? Here are some ideas:
- Make 'em choose. No one can do everything they'd like - I can't and neither can my children. They can grow in prioritization skills my choosing what they give their "extra" time to: ballet or soccer? Drama or scouts? Obviously, we as parents need to guide them as they make these choices; they need our help in weighing the long-term benefit of a skill over the short-term fun of doing what their friends are doing. It would be a great opportunity, though, to see how they enjoy spending their time, see where their interests, gifts, and abilities are - you may be surprised what you learn about them.
- Say no. It's hard, really hard, to say no to your children sometimes. After a couple of years of going to gymnastics and being told by the instructor that she could go somewhere with it, we decided to pull Abigail out of gymnastics. It wasn't easy, especially since she's good at it and enjoyed it, but we knew that it was not going to fit into the overall family schedule well, and we felt that trying to make it fit was going to be detrimental to the other kids. None of our children exists in a vacuum, and they need to be aware that there are times we need to put the needs of the whole family ahead of one person's personal desires.
- Think it through. What will happen if they do/don't do this activity? Will they experience a long-term lack? Will it communicate your love and care for them in a special way if you say yes? What are you choosing not to do if you do x? Are you saying no to make your life more comfortable? What else is going to fill that time? Don't put off something for you child so that you don't miss your shows, but don't make unwise financial/time management decisions, either.
My oldest child is not yet 11 years old, so our family hasn't been at this gig as long as many. Any other more experienced mamas out there have any helpful insights to contribute? You are very welcome to the conversation!