"Raising children today is like competing in a
triathlon with no finish line in sight. Days are
filled with a mad scramble of sports, music
lessons, prep courses and battles over homework. We
only want what's best for them, but our kids may
not be better off.
"These days, raising kids is like competing in a
triathlon with no finish line in sight. Millions of
parents around the country say their lives have
become a daily frantic rush in the minivan from
school to soccer to piano lessons and then hours of
homework. But they're trapped, afraid to slow down
because any blank space in the family calendar
could mean their offspring won't have the resumes
to earn thick letters from Harvard - and big bucks
forever after. And a busy schedule at the office
only adds to the pressure. Parents believe they
have to do it all - or they're toast (and so are
their kids). Middle-class parents are under
continuous pressure to plan, enrich and do this
important job the one, precisely right way.
"Although the current generation of parents is
the richest and best educated in history, they are
particularly apprehensive because they're raising
their kids in an uncertain time. In a world where a
high divorce rate and job hopping are the norm.
Rapid technological change has contributed to that
sense of instability. Today's middle-class parents
are reacting to the aftershocks of the seismic
shift to the digital economy, just as blacksmiths
and farmers in the 1920s worried that their kids
wouldn't make it through the Industrial
"Parents sacrifice their dwindling free time
(and their own social lives) to make sure
their kids are safe and want for nothing. It starts
off innocently enough, with play dates for their
toddlers set up weeks in advance. Then it snowballs
to the point where everyone is overwhelmed - and
bragging about it. In elementary school, many
youngsters attend activities every afternoon
because their parents are afraid to let them ride
bikes down the street. Workdays end with frenzied
trips to pick up the kids; no one wants to leave a
6-year-old alone on a soccer field in the dark.
"As the activities multiply, psychologists say,
parents often forget that sports and music are
supposed to be fun experiences for their children.
They get overly involved in the minutiae of their
kids' lives, stage managing successes and robbing
kids of the opportunity to learn from their
"For many parents, activities that used to be
just for fun now seem to have lifelong
consequences. Sports are particularly fraught; no
one wants to raise a loser. Brad Bole, a
stockbroker who volunteers as the coach of his
sons' soccer and hockey teams in Marietta, Ohio,
says he's constantly trying to get the "really
intense" parents to calm down. But he's not always
successful. "I had a mother come over to me and
tell me she thought Brad really needed to push the
kids more," says his wife, Babette. "They want that
intensity. They want their children to be fighters.
They want them to be hustling."
"What families risk losing in this insane
frenzy, is the soul of childhood and the joy of
family life. These are supposed to be the years
that kids wander around and pal around, without
being faced with the pressures of the real world.
Instead, the parenting experience is being ruined
and parents' effectiveness is being diminished.
They're not giving the right kind of guidance,
dispensing wisdom about life. it's all about how to
get into Yale.
"Even as they struggle to get through the day,
many parents know that on some level all this over
scheduling could be harmful. They just aren't sure
how to cut back without depriving their kids.
"There's a significant minority of kids who have
shut down emotionally because they've tried to hard
"The best way to prevent that, child-rearing
experts say, is to pare down the family calendar
and remember that downtime can be the most
productive of all. Be sure to leave a little space
for just hanging out. And, try to give yourselves
the same gift of time every night. After the
homework is done and the kids are in bed, they make
it a priority to just be together. If there are
clothes that need to be put away, they just sit
there because I have to chill out. And, of course,
gather strength for another round in the
1/29/01. Also see Stop Stressing Me: How to
stop burnout, in the same issue.
* * *
To nourish children and raise them against odds
is in any time, any place, more valuable than to
fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons. -
* * *
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