by Susanne Maynes, guest contributor
“Hey, do you guys want to have burgers with us?” The spontaneous invitation came from our next-door neighbors one evening after their boys and ours finished a Little League game.
We gladly joined them for the impromptu meal, but went home feeling troubled about the ongoing pattern we observed with this family.
While we limited our children to one sport each per schoolyear, our neighbors spent evening after evening on the bleachers, cheering on one or more of their five sons on the field or court. Sports changed with the seasons, but the family schedule stayed jam-packed. At best, dinner together was a quick bite late in the evening or in the van on the way to practice.
None of those boys became famous sports personalities, but what did happen is the husband and wife eventually divorced. Evidently, the family’s non-stop activity was symptomatic of deeper issues.
Fast-forward twenty years. Now parents face even more pressure to live a perpetually over-busy life.
Which leads me to:
Myth #1: I must make sure my child is well-rounded.
Somehow, we’ve come to believe children need lots of structured, competitive and/or performance-type activities. We want them to demonstrate a high degree of competence in areas like sports, music and dance—therefore, we can’t just allow them to enjoy these activities as play, even at a very young age.
The unfortunate result of this parenting myth is needless stress for both children and parents. Children feel pressured to perform well at countless extracurricular activities, and parents feel anxious about being judged by other parents if their children don’t perform well.
Truth is, it’s not performance that kids need—it’s play. They need unstructured time in which to explore and develop their abilities without pressure. They even need to be bored sometimes, because boredom stimulates creativity.
Instead of aiming for well-rounded children, parents can look for ways to help each child specialize in what he or she is wired for—without all the pressure of a packed schedule that leaves no time for carefree play.
Myth #2: I must nurture my child’s self-esteem.
Pop psychology pressures parents to make sure their children attain high self-esteem, as though this is the all-important goal of child-rearing. This misguided notion leads parents to believe they should constantly praise their children and shield them from all negative feelings.
Let’s examine this.
How will children learn to handle the disappointments, frustrations, and failures which are an unavoidable part of the human experience if their slightest efforts are met with lavish compliments from their parents?
How will they gain a realistic sense of their own strengths and weaknesses if Mom and Dad praise them for everything they do, regardless of how hard they tried or what talent they possess?
Every child is good at certain things, but not everything. It’s okay for children to realize this. In fact, it’s vital.
Parents, allow me to encourage you—swim upstream against culture. Don’t flatter and coddle your children for fear of damaging them. Don’t cram yet another activity onto your family’s calendar to prove your children are awesome.
Reject the lie that perpetually happy, super-star children are the goal of child-rearing. Such an image is a mirage—and mirages can prove deadly.
Instead, let your kids play just for play’s sake. Help them discover their strengths and accept their weaknesses. And if you really want to be radically counter-cultural, go old-school and have dinner together as a family. Regularly.
As my neighbors learned the hard way, cheers from the bleachers won’t do nearly as much for your children as conversations around the table.
Susanne Maynes is an author, speaker and biblical counselor who blogs about parenting and spiritual growth at SusanneMaynes.com. Her newest book, Releasing Your Brave Love: Helping Kids to Change Their World, helps 8-12 year-olds receive God’s love and extend it to others, especially the marginalized. Her online course, Passionate Parenting, offers parents insightful strategies for raising Christ-followers. Susanne and her husband Scott have three married sons and four grandchildren (with more on the way).