On Friday, my kids were with their mom. I had planned on them being with me – but lines were crossed and the change was made; no big deal. If you are a single parent you understand what this means. I had a Friday night with nothing planned. I thought, “This is great… a night where there is nothing to do is perfect!” That is a great thought, but it isn’t real. We live in a culture where there is never “nothing to do”. The options for what I could do with my night, that was left unplanned, were overwhelming. I could read, binge Netflix, catch up on ironing, hit up the local spot for beer and hummus, go to a movie (which I never get to do), build that table… so many options. I know what most of you are thinking, “there were too many options so you just laid on the couch and watched Netflix.” Actually, I didn’t. I caught up on some reading, did a bit of writing, ironed my clothes for the next week and then went to bed early. I had plenty to do; more to do than I had time for.
That is TRUTH when it comes to our culture and kids. There is more to do than you have time for. As parents we need to be focused and plan ahead for our children. If we don’t, they will stay plenty busy with things – they just might not be the best things. Also, our kids are doing SO MUCH – they may be more active with their minds than they should be. We need to be careful not to overload them.
Here are a few concerns when we look at children and activities:
- Is this activity beneficial to them? What “need” are we meeting with it and is that a need that is a value for our family?
- How big is the commitment when participating in this? Are we signing our kids up for commitments that are too big for them?
- Is this an activity that has long-term wins for our child?
- Do I have the time and capacity to support this activity in a way that makes my child successful?
There are more concerns than these we need to think through, but all of these should be at the top of the decision-making list. Let’s walk through a simple one that I have considered: Andrew (8 year old son) and football.
- Physical movement is super important for an 8 year old boy. It causes them to move and stretch muscles and helps to develop motor skills. Also, as a practical reason, focused movement helps to burn off energy in a productive way that isn’t frustrating to his sister. Football specifically ISN’T a family thing. We play fantasy football and watch games – but Ramey’s aren’t competitive football people. My knowledge is low in this area. Also, Andrew is small and gentle (like me) and the likelihood of future years and seasons of football is low.
- Football commitment is generally multi-practices weekly followed by weekend games. Although this varies, you are looking at a 3 or 4 to 1 practice to game commitment. Lots of work with a small window to see success. Andrew, as an individual, doesn’t tend to engage when he can’t see small wins and payoff from commitments. Football would be a difficult thing for him to stay engaged in while maintaining a positive attitude.
- As stated before – football isn’t likely a big part of Andrew’s future. He is an intelligent kid and tends to gravitate to more “brainy” activity and interest. Maybe he has a future being a mathematician working for in the gambling industry predicting outcomes and performance based on solid player data?
- Multiple practices a week and games on weekends is a big commitment for a single dad. Not outside the normal, but I enjoy other activities with Andrew much more than sports-related ones. Also, since football would be in addition to a school schedule (that involves early bedtimes) this would likely cause us to lose things that we consider valuable as a family. I don’t have the capacity to support football like I do these other values.
Andrew doesn’t play football. He does play soccer which has a 1 to 1 practice to game ratio. It also allows for his smaller size to flourish at this young age. He can be passionate and engaged in soccer. It gives him physical activity. Although soccer isn’t likely a long-term commitment for him, it also isn’t a heavy short-term commitment – so it will be easy to say goodbye to it when/if he finds a different physical activity he has more interest in later.
I want to encourage you a bit here, because I know it is hard. When do you say “no” and when do you say “yes”? It is okay that your child doesn’t play basketball, the violin, attend 2 church functions a week, go to math club, take private gymnastics lessons and take karate. I get it – we don’t want our kids to miss out. God gave you to your child as much as he gave your child to you. Neither of you should want to miss out on that gift. Don’t trade significant time with your child for church functions – study the Bible together. Don’t trade significant time with your child for dance classes – dance with your child. Don’t trade significant time with your child for football teams – sign up to coach and assist.
Andrew loves studying the Bible and learning about what it means to follow Christ because I am passionate about those things. He clearly picked up my interest. I watch videos about soccer and volunteer to help with his team because HE is interested in soccer. I care nothing about soccer, but I care MUCH about him. I don’t think you have to abandon your own interests to engage in your child’s interests and I don’t think your kids have to abandon their interests to engage with you! There needs to be a middle ground where you guys figure out what builds the individual AND supports the family relationships.
A couple additional notes for single parents:
- Activity selection is hard on kids with two single parent households they are a part of. YOU need to work to create as much continuity of activities as possible with your child’s other parent.
- Activity selection goes BANANAS when your child has a blended family (whether with you or their other parent). The playing field has changed; accept it and focus on working together and shared values. This will absolutely be difficult – but you have to compromise on what are important activities. Be ready to sacrifice some.
- Your schedule may limit your child’s ability to do all they want to do. Please accept that truth. Much like your budget, area of the world you live in, embraced morality… limits are not evil. You aren’t a bad parent when you make a responsible decision based on your own self-imposed and natural limits. Responsible decisions make you an adult and an excellent parent. Own that and tell anyone who questions that YOU are making decisions for YOUR family and you will let them know if you are ever looking for their counsel.
One piece of information for married parents: YOU need to be engaged in your kid’s activities. DO NOT rely on your spouse to be the only one engaged. Make your child’s activities a family activity – especially in the younger years. Don’t push off an activity that consumes a good chunk of your child’s focus and passion as “something he does with his dad”. Learn about it. Engage in it.
Spend some effort thinking through all the things your child could be doing with their time and help them choose the ones that are BEST. You don’t have to do everything. Freedom in America does not depend on you letting your child do whatever they want – direct them towards the good decisions and away from the bad ones.