Why Do Some People Deliberately Have No Life?

'SAM_0783a_0801' photo (c) 2010, Peter Vanderheyden - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

My 12-year-old daughter has recently started intense figure skating lessons. She’s never taken lessons before, but she’s entered at quite a high level because she’s been practising on her own for quite a while and is actually quite good. But she decided it was finally time for lessons, so we signed her up for one night a week.

It was then that I felt like I had entered the twilight zone. When we show up for lessons, there are about 25 other children there, with various coaches. The first thing said to me was, “why only one night a week”, in a rather judgmental tone. Turns out everyone else is there for at least two nights a week, if not more.

Now these lessons are two hours long. They interrupt the dinner hour. But I felt that it was okay to do once a week, since we’re together most other nights. It was important to Katie.

But she’s starting to question it. She said to me this week that nobody there actually smiles. They take it SO seriously. They’re not practising so that they can have fun and learn a skill; they’re practising to be the best. Watching them this week I felt like standing up and yelling, “Take a chill pill, everyone! Nobody here is going to the Olympics. So just have fun!”. But I didn’t. I didn’t want the other mothers attacking me.

And the other mothers are strange, too. They seem nice enough, but get this: everyone I’ve talked to has multiple children in stuff like this. I talked to one this week whose daughter is in this particular sport two nights a week, but her other daughter is, too, but she’s more advanced. So for four nights a week they do this. I gasped and said, “when do you eat dinner”? She laughed and said, “we don’t! We just grab it on the run, or eat in shifts.

What kind of a life is that? Everyone there is judging me and my daughter because she hasn’t been in lessons before (we never really had the time, and Katie didn’t particularly want to do it). Everybody else has been doing it since they were 2. They’re much better, and they snicker at Katie, even though Katie is only doing it because she sincerely loves it and wants to learn to be better. But she’s starting not to love it so much anymore. The lessons thing is just too weird for her, so I don’t know how long we’ll keep it up.

It got me thinking, though, about how hard it is to learn to do something when you’re a little bit older. You have to put kids in stuff when they’re 3 or 4 and keep at it. But at 3, what kid knows what they want to do? I did have the girls in lessons at 3 and 4, just for fun, but it was all in things they decided not to pursue. The thing Katie actually likes we never had her in.

I was in ballet from a very young age, and by 14 I was quite good. I was on pointe, and pirouetting, and all that sort of fun stuff. But I remember a 15-year-old who wanted to start lessons. She was a lovely girl, and just wanted to learn for fun. She didn’t fit in anywhere. She ended up going with an adult class, which was really slow and probably too easy for her.

Who knows what they want to do when they’re 3? I don’t think any kid does. I think it’s the parents that push them, and tell them this is what they’re going to do. Some kids, of course, do love it. I have a cousin who was in competitive gymnastics for years and did love it. But she never went to the provincials, let alone the nationals or the Olympics, even though she was good. It’s hard to get to that level, even if you practice all the time.

And besides that, it’s horrendously expensive. We’re shelling out I don’t know how much money for this one lesson a week. I could calculate if I wanted to, but suffice it to say it’s a lot. We’re always coming home with fundraising flyers. How do people put their kids in for four days a week when it’s that expensive? And a lot of these parents live half an hour to 45 minutes away, too.

On the surface everybody looks like nice, middle class families, but I really feel when I’m entering that place that the whole world has gone mad. No child should be away from their family that much. Families need to be together. And stressing sports over family life gives a mistaken idea of what’s really important. I have seen so many nice kids grow up in a particular sport, working like crazy at it, and not having a life. Or, when they’re older, not being particularly attached to their families. Even though they were good kids, they didn’t spend that much time with their families. They did school, did the sport, and did their homework. And that was it.

How can you raise a godly child like that? How can you influence a child for good like that? You need time to just sit around and do nothing. And you need to eat together.

This is a crazy world we live in, and I really don’t want to be a part of this mess. I don’t know how long Katie’s going to keep going, but one thing I’m proud of is that she sees how dysfunctional the whole situation was. I didn’t even need to tell her. That’s my girl. And I’ll take her, even though she may not be as skilled, over someone who has been practising their entire life any day of the week.

UPDATE:

ValleyGirl published this comment in the comments thread, but I just have to put it here, too. So don’t just comment on what I wrote; comment on what she wrote as well. And let’s get a discussion going on how we can change the trend! Here she is:

So why is it, if there are so many of us mothers who feel this way, that whenever we get into these situations, we still feel alone ~ like we’re the only ones who don’t want to constantly be shuttling our kids from one lesson or practise to another? Why are so many parents, Christians included, buying into this idea that our kids need to be so busy? We all look back on the simpler times of bygone eras and wish for the feeling it gives us and yet here we are, figuring that we must keep our kids busy rather than encouraging them to use their imaginations and invite their friends over.

I am trying to rebel against this trend, but it’s hard. It’s hard to hear my girls feeling left out because they’re the only ones in their class who aren’t in skating lessons or dance classes. It’s hard to tell them we’re not renting the school gym and inviting the whole grade to a birthday party that’s going to cost me hundreds of dollars just because some other people do it that way.

One thing I think is a problem is our society’s “one man really is an island” philosophy. We don’t live relational lives anymore. We don’t know our neighbours and all the people on our street and we certainly don’t show hospitality to them. I know I’m guilty of this.

But maybe, if I was a little more willing to open my home to my girls’ friends and their parents, and if hospitality would become fashionable again with families desiring to spend time together and actually get to know each other, our children could still become well-rounded, well-behaved adult citizens without the necessity of hours and hours of childhood lost to lessons. (emphasis mine)

Comments

  1. LoveFeast Table says:

    >I can totally sympathize with your experience. We have five children. If we were to allow all of them a sport each season we would not have a family life. However, as a momma of 4 boys, I have to say, for a couple of them (just the way they are wired) they must be active…for the family's sake! We live in the city. Life is not like it used to be. It's not as safe to let our kids run the neighborhood unsupervised. My daughter is in gymnastics three days a week…9 hrs. total. She loves it! She told me the other day she wishes she could do it 4 days a week. I think we all have to be careful about judging one another's lives. As everyone's circumstances are not created equal.

  2. >Amen and Amen Sheila! My son is not sports oriented and in certain circles, people seem to think there is something wrong with him. He just wants to play non-competitive sports at recess and that's it. We like Upward for whenever he gets a sports hankering. It never lasts long, thank the good Lord!

  3. >LoveFeast — I understand what you're saying about your daughter. And perhaps I'd feel differently if the kids looked like they were having a good time. But I swear, no one smiles! Not the coaches, not the kids. Only the parents, as they're watching their kids. I'm not saying the kids don't enjoy it, but eight year olds should be smiling. They should be laughing. Shouldn't they? And I still believe that if you don't have time to have dinner together as a family, there is something wrong. Nothing is worth giving up family time. That's just something I'm really passionate about. If you work really hard you can overcome it, but it isn't easy, and I'm not sure it's worth the sacrifice. We need a way where we can do sports for fun without it getting so serious at such a young age.

  4. Allyson Kellner says:

    >Yes! Thanks for writing down what many have felt for so long!

  5. ValleyGirl says:

    >So why is it, if there are so many of us mothers who feel this way, that whenever we get into these situations, we still feel alone ~ like we're the only ones who don't want to constantly be shuttling our kids from one lesson or practise to another? Why are so many parents, Christians included, buying into this idea that our kids need to be so busy? We all look back on the simpler times of bygone eras and wish for the feeling it gives us and yet here we are, figuring that we must keep our kids busy rather than encouraging them to use their imaginations and invite their friends over.

    I am trying to rebel against this trend, but it's hard. It's hard to hear my girls feeling left out because they're the only ones in their class who aren't in skating lessons or dance classes. It's hard to tell them we're not renting the school gym and inviting the whole grade to a birthday party that's going to cost me hundreds of dollars just because some other people do it that way.

    One thing I think is a problem is our society's "one man really is an island" philosophy. We don't live relational lives anymore. We don't know our neighbours and all the people on our street and we certainly don't show hospitality to them. I know I'm guilty of this.

    But maybe, if I was a little more willing to open my home to my girls' friends and their parents, and if hospitality would become fashionable again with families desiring to spend time together and actually get to know each other, our children could still become well-rounded, well-behaved adult citizens without the necessity of hours and hours of childhood lost to lessons.

  6. >Valleygirl… you do what you feel is right for your family. Even if it seems to be different than what others are doing. Even if your kids don't really understand it all right now. I didn't always understand the decisions my parents made when I was growing up… we were a different kind of family than all the others I knew. But today I thank them for it and as I raise my kids I find myself thinking quite like my parents did. :)

    Good post Sheila. Families that actually spend time together is a rare thing these days. My oldest is only three and I can't believe how many things there are that I could already sign her up for. And all at dinner time! It's insane.

  7. Fruitful Vine2 says:

    >Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It got me thinking as to how I would handle it in the future when my boys are older. Right now they are in a sports program that is only on Thursday afternoons for about 1 1/2 hrs and is a less than 5 minute walk from our home. We have not had to spend for anything so far. With all those factors I think it's a good deal because we still end up eating our supper together and there is no cost so far and its close to home.

    I don't know what kind of activity they will want to do when they are older but reading this has starting me thinking and praying. Thanks Sheila.

  8. >Hi all! Good to see some regulars here today!

    I think I'm going to do a follow-up post looking at how much time the average family with school aged kids actually does have together a week, and then look at how we actually spend that time. It would be interesting!

    And ValleyGirl, I hope you don't mind, but I put your comment in the main post. Great points (especially the last paragraph) and I'd love to explore it more!

  9. ValleyGirl says:

    >Oh my goodness. Wow, I certainly never anticipated being added to your post. This humbles and honours me ~ and totally freaks me out!! I am interested to hear what others have to say, though. And I do love a good, lively discussion.

    Sheila, I burned all my old Readers' Digests because the piles were taking over my office, but somewhere several years ago, there was an article about this very thing, arguing in favour of NOT structuring our kids' lives as much as what seems to be the cultural norm. I wish I still had it because I'd love to refer to it now.

    Laura, I agree that we need to do what's right, but I think we need to remember that it's not "what's right for me or what's right for you," but WHAT IS RIGHT, period. I don't know if you're a woman of faith or if you have no particular religious leaning, but for those who do and who wish to live biblically sound lives, this has huge implications.

    I'm not saying that having our kids in extracurricular activities or lessons is bad, but I think it's good to look at exactly WHY we do it and what we're sacrificing in order to make it happen. It so often seems, especially with younger kids, that this has far more to do with the parents' desires, feelings, and fears, than it does on what the children themselves actually want or need.

  10. >We signed our son up for a Little Gym Karate class one afternoon a week, simply to help him learn to focus and to get some of his energy out, and I know exactly how you feel. I am always the odd ball mother of the group. I am the only one who is not working, my kids are the only ones who are home schooled, and like you said they can't understand why I only bring him one day a week. When my daughter turns three she is dying to sign up for dance class. We looked into a couple of toddler/preschool dance lessons and they were outrageous. One place was close to $500 (U.S.) for the year and that didn't include ballet shoes, tap shoes, dance uniform, or the cost of a costume for the end of the year recital, and we still have to pay $15 a head to actually watch her in the recital. It is crazy. So far both my kids love the one activity each they are involved in, or they wouldn't be doing it. I am not sure why people feel the need to keep kids out of the house all the time if they are not happy. If they enjoy it and it works for your family than that is great, but kids need some down time as well.

  11. Terry @ Breathing Grace says:

    >I was JUST discussing this a bt with a friend. We have a 3 year old who is not involved in anything extracurricular. And it will remain that way for at least the next 2 years. Her big sister plays the piano so she is already asking for lessons. When she's five, we'll see.

    With my big kids, they are allowed ONE activity per season at ony given time. Period.

    As much as I appreciate the first commenter's perspective (we live in the city, too), I believe that families need time together. It's the only way to really get know one another.

    There is a bigger issue here for me as well: I refuse to spend my life shuttling my children from place to place everyday, no matter how much they LOVE something. Is it healthy to teach our children that life (even mom's life) is all about THEIR interests, THEIR schedules, and what THEY love?

    Take 'em to the homeless shelter or soup kitchen once a week if you just HAVE to take them somewhere so that built into their busy schedule is time serving someone other than themselves. At least that would be kingdom work and worth missing a sit down family dinner.

  12. >Hi ValleyGirl… I absolutely agree with you that there are things we need to do simply because they are RIGHT and not just because it is what is right for me or you. But I was referring to this paragraph you wrote…

    "I am trying to rebel against this trend, but it's hard. It's hard to hear my girls feeling left out because they're the only ones in their class who aren't in skating lessons or dance classes. It's hard to tell them we're not renting the school gym and inviting the whole grade to a birthday party that's going to cost me hundreds of dollars just because some other people do it that way."

    I don't believe that those things necessarily have a RIGHT or WRONG. I was just trying to encourage you to not let your kids lack of understanding persuade you to do things differently than you have decided. My parents let my youngest sibling's lack of understanding finally convince them to change things up. It was a bad idea. The first five of us are very successful in life. My youngest sibling is 18 years old and a high school drop out. (Hopefully he will sort things out and become successful as well.) Some of the things my parents changed definitely had a right or wrong stamp on them… some of the things they just needed to look at what would be best for the individual child.

    I hope that explains my thoughts a little better. I'm definitely not a do what feels good and right is relative kind of person. There are definitely a lot of absolutes.

  13. >Laura–I know you're an absolutes kind of gal! Thanks for commenting again, though! That is sad about your younger brother. I have something similar in my family. I think the parents thought they were doing the right thing at the time, but it isn't always about making our kids happy, or letting them explore what they want. Like Terry said, like isn't always about THEIR interests; we need a say, too, and we're people, too!

    Jr-Miss: cost is really good point. I wonder how much people spend on these activities? We've put a lot of money into music lessons, I'll admit, but I fully expect my kids to play in church as adults, so I see that as kind of putting money towards missions! But all that money on all those sports lessons can really add up, can't it?

  14. >It all comes down to what do we do about it? We know what's right as homeschooling moms who want to invest in our children, but it's always about living up to society's standards. My aunt is from Mexico and is a speech pathologist for the public schools here in the U.S. and she has two girls. She always asks them each year what THEY want to do…painting, karate, ballet, soccer, piano lessons. They switch on and off to get a broad variety of exposure. Some lessons are more expensive than others, but it's the variety that I think is so great.

    My daughter is 4 and just started ballet classes. While she loves it, it's hard getting three little ones to wake up from naps and shuttle them to her class. She's already involved in AWANA and other church activities, so I feel as though she's getting enough socialization. Maybe too much and she doesn't even go to daycare!! None of my children have (ages 4,2 and 4 mos.) praise the Lord. God has blessed our family enough for me to stay at home and raise them.

    The hardest thing to realize is that it's only going to get tougher, but our children can read our hearts and they know we love them and want what's best for them. Just like you said, your daughter could already "read" the people at her lessons. That means you're doing your job as a parent.

    Great discussion!!!

  15. >The only extracurricular activity my kids are in is swim lessons at the YMCA we belong to. No extra charge for them, which is great. One night a week, which is even better. They love it! They will come home from school with papers inviting them to dance, baseball, basketball, etc. and they usually just toss them into the recycle bin. Not interested.

    The one time my daughter and I did look into another activity, we both realized how seriously competitive everyone was and decided not to join. Plus the practices were 3 nights per week. No thank you.

    My reasons may be more selfish than others … I have a life too! I like being at home with my husband and kids. Not running from activity to activity all the time. I see others doing that and it doesn't look fun.

    We eat dinner together most nights (with the exception of my husband who works shifts – so he eats with us when he can). My kids talk about their day and things that are coming up. It is good to slow down and just be together.

    Thanks for a great subject today! I'm glad to know I am not alone in my thinking!
    ~Kimberly

  16. ValleyGirl says:

    >Kimberley, I like that there are other mothers out there willing to admit it's partially because they themselves simply don't want to be driving their kids around! That's my biggest reason right now, too. I'm a total homebody and I try to make as few trips into town a week as I can. I start gettin' downright cranky if it's more than two!!!

    I like the idea of letting kids choose ONE activity, but how do you convince them it's okay if they don't get the same lessons? This is probably the biggest reason we haven't put either of our girls in anything yet. (they're aged 5 and almost-8) The older one is gifted in the fine-motor skills area and is extremely dedicated and disciplined. We'd love for her to take piano lessons (I did for 10 years growing up) because she's interested in music. Her younger sister, however, though she sings a lot more, is loud, active, and would absolutely HATE having to sit and practise piano for half an hour every day. I guarantee you, she'd hate piano lessons. For her, something like karate would be ideal ~ something physical (that incorporates yelling!) that would also help her develop self-discipline.

    But then the older daughter wants to take karate, too because it seems cooler than piano lessons. And they'd both prefer dance classes, but they wish they could play hockey as well as their school friends… and well, you know how it goes!

    How do you convince your kids they'd probably prefer learning or doing something that suits their natural abilities and interests even if it isn't necessarily as "cool" as something a sibling is doing based on their unique talents?

    Or should I recommend my girls decide together what they BOTH want to take and they can try a few different things over the next few years, but always doing the same thing?

    Or do my kids need any extracurricular activities at all??!! Where does this idea come from anyway? I really struggle with this!

  17. Anonymous says:

    >Here is what our week looks like:
    Monday: nothing :)
    Tuesday: Older teen has band practice after school and then in the eve,hubby and I have a meeting,
    Wednesday: Older teen has youth group,
    Thursday: younger teen has dance and hubby has Band practice.
    Friday: both kids have Youth
    Thankfully, we are able to have supper together every night of the week except on Thursdays.But it is still very busy and we only have 2 kids!!!
    H.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >I'm in agreement with you here — although I do have to argue myself out of lessons and classes that sound like SO MUCH FUN! Even too much of a good thing is not so good. I've been reading Kevin Leman lately too, and his first advice to many parents having problems with their kids' behaviour is to drop the lessons/sports/classes in favour of family time.
    One other perspective: my SIL is having a really rough year — her oldest has gone to University this year and her youngest has dropped a very demanding dance schedule to focus on her studies in high school. SIL has nothing to do now that she doesn't have to be madly running her kids around all day long. So an additional benefit of keeping a sane schedule, is that it allows us as parents time to develop our own talents, interests and ministries. more food for thought…

  19. Jen @ After The alter says:

    >It looks like a slippery slope there. I don't have children but I do remember taking almost every lesson in the book because it was what I wanted…I enjoyed having activities…that being said I never truly excelled at any of them..lol…and when it comes to sports it's even more crazy. I've recently learned from friends that the reason is scholarships! That if you put your kid in those lessons at a young age they have a better chance of going to a good college on schalrships and with the price of college sky rocketing its worht a shot!! I guess we'll see what happens when I get there, but I can bet that it's hard to say no when your child really wants to try something….again that being said parents need to relax! It's not them in the sport so they should support eachother!

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] why I’m adamant about family time. It is more important than sports lessons. It is more important than music lessons. You can never get that time back. And the more time your [...]

  2. […] school year starting up again, I started thinking about something I’m very passionate about: some families are just too busy. A few years ago, before my blog really took off, I wrote a three part series on creating a […]

  3. […] okay to keep control of your schedule. It’s okay to say no to hockey, even if everybody else is in hockey. It’s okay to say “we don’t have the money for that right now”, or “I […]

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