I told you I'd talk more about, To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, by Caitlin Flanagan. This woman is so spot on.
In this chapter, Executive Child, Flanagan is talking about how our kids' schedules have come to run our lives. We go overboard on "activities" (music lessons, gymboree, ballet, soccer, etc.) for several reasons:
1. In order to give structure to our time with the kids, especially during their younger years so that those endless afternoons with the toddlers don't seem quite so endless.
2. In order to make us feel good as parents. If we stay at home it's so we can feel good about getting our kids out of the house into organized situations with their peers. If we work, it shows others that we put a priority on our children's development, even if we're not with them all day.
3. To give them that all-important edge on college applications. Yep. Let's be truthful now. We all know little Billy ain't getting into Harvard without the kind of curriculum vitae that used to land you an executive job at GE.
Is it possible to change things? Can we possibly go back to a situation in which children have...gasp...long afternoons with nothing other than playing to do? Can we possibly go back to the time when children ran around the neighborhoods playing kick the can or ghost in the graveyard over the span of seven or eight backyards? Current how-to books stress the importance of having at least ONE family dinner per week. How about a family dinner every night?
Here's what Flanagan has to say:
"What they are loath to admit is that the great missing element of that kind of existence is not dinner gongs or lists of conversation starters. It's a kind of family life in which expectations have not been raised, but radically lowered (my emphasis!).
"It requires a mother who considers putting dinner on the table neither an exalted nor a menial task, and also a collection of family memebers whose worldly ambitions are low enough that they all happen to be hanging around the house at six-thirty. For family life to mimic the postwar ideal that is our current fixation, we would need to revive the cultural traditions that created it: the one-income family, the middle-class tendency toward frugality, and the understanding that one's children's prospects won't include elite private colleges and stratospheric professional success, both of which may hinge on tremendous achievements in the world of extracurricular activities." (P. 158-9)
Hallelujah! Can I get an A-men?! Not for that last line, mind you, the first part of which might be right, but the second is dead wrong; but for the rest of that paragraph. That is the definition of sanity, folks. We do not need to run around like chickens with our heads cut off. We do not need to schedule our children's every waking hour! Let them be bored!!!!!
As for college - here's the truth. What every eastern prep-school and Ivy League college does NOT want you to know is that they are NOT necessary. You know who ends up being successful? Not Ivy-League aces. It's the people that go to state schools and graduate with a solid C average. Face it; a kid whose gone through what it takes to get into an Ivy these days is about five years away from a major mid-life crisis. They're already burnt out! And if extra-curricular activity burn-out doesn't get them, their debts will.
Here's the rest of what Flanagan has to say about kids:
"If children are to have unstructured time, they need a mother at home; no one would advocate a new generation of latchkey children. But she must be a certain kind of mother - one willing to divest her sense of purpose from her children's achievement (Hallelujah, again!). She must be a woman willing to forgo the prestige of professional life in order to sit home while her kids dream up new games out in the tree house and wait for her to call them in for a nourishing dinner. She must be willing to endure the humiliation of forgoing a career and of raising tots bound for state college." (P. 159)
I am that kind of mother. Send your kids on over to play and stop by for a cup of tea, will ya?