Fear of scheduling

I had planned to write before now — really and truly I did — but it took me days to recover from the whirl-wind pace set by my sister and my mother on the East Coast. Before we ever set foot among the too-verdant greenery in the vicinity of the nation’s capital, a week-and-a-half-long itinerary had already been established. My son and I just hung on and hoped for the best. If I listen closely, I’m pretty certain I can hear Tony cry out from the depths of his nap: “No! Please! Not another museum …”

Which is as good a lead-in as any to some musing about parenting style. I’ve never really bothered too much with a formal parenting philosophy — oh sure, I know all about helicopter parenting and the reaction it has sparked in the form of free-range parenting — but I just raise my kid as best I can and don’t worry excessively about what I’m supposed to do.

And my sister is restrained as far as well-educated, urban eastern parents go. She and her husband are pretty laid-back and don’t push their kids to excel, excel, excel. They let them have a good time and do things they enjoy.

But there always seems to be something scheduled. Karate lessons, soccer practice, music lessons, nature camp … And that, of course, is the daily stuff, aside from the very full agenda presented to visiting relatives upon their arrival in the state.

Prodded by my son’s fatigue and growing resistance to planned activities, I was about to mutiny at the end of the week, until it was clear that one of my nephews would mutiny, too, if Tony and I skipped miniature golf in favor of gasping for breath for an hour or two. That ran the risk of ending the visit with a round of recriminations, which I preferred to skip. So off we went, and in fact we had a good time.

But what would we have done by choice …?

Some parents seem to think that an unscheduled afternoon is a lost opportunity, while others think an unscheduled afternoon is a blank slate that can become whatever a kid’s imagination wishes. There’s a certain amount of truth in both approaches, I’m sure. But where my sister prefers more formal activities, with a few hours for fun-with-Legos, I prefer to keep the calendar relatively uncluttered and let Tony fill more time with books and three-way battles among Spider Man, dinosaurs and Jedi Knights.

Part of the difference in styles, I think, has to do with our respective communities. Kids still roam free around me, while meet-ups with friends usually have to be scheduled in my sister’s town. My son and my younger nephew are still too young to be wandering the streets solo, anyway, but the different tones are already set by the culture around us. When kids are unlikely to bump into opportunities for play on their own, the calendar becomes a necessity; if kids wander of their own accord, there’s no reason to fret about playdates.

We talked about that difference in our communities, which led me to ask my mother when I first was trusted out on my own. After a little discussion, we realized that I was darting down the block from our apartment building in the small-ish city of White Plains, New York, crossing the street, and amusing myself with whatever friends I met by the time I was seven or so (my father, in his youth, was tossed out the door of his Bronx apartment at the same age and forbidden to return before dinner).

Oddly, my mother is the uber-scheduler these days.

So, if you live in a community of helicopter-style parents (to use modern terminology), or even just schedulers, you’re likely to become a bit of a scheduler yourself out of sheer necessity. A more free-range environment opens things up a bit.

With the exception of the extremes, I think any well-intentioned approach is likely to end up in a happy and positive childhood, so long as it takes any given child’s individual inclinations and needs into account. That is, there’s no one “right” approach to parenting, so long as you don’t go nuts and/or ignore what your own kids are telling you.

But adjusting to other approaches, however successful they are, can be … exhausting.

Please. No more goddamned museums.

1 Comment »

  • akaGaGa says:

    I think the difference is between parents who require their kids to make their own choices, and parents who determine what would be good for them to do.

    Myself? I was very laid-back, both as parent and child. My summers in rural upstate New York were spent swimming, hiking, and horseback-riding. Rainy days were for reading, and I always needed a block of “do-nothing” time, without the input of anything or anybody.

    I call it my hermit proclivity and require it to this day. I think most kids could do with a little less “doing” time and a little more “thinking” time.

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