2024 group cohort and workshop sche

And not just because none of my kids is a competitive swimmer. Hear me out.

There’s a rush in childhood to involve kids in activities of all sorts. They can’t even be called extracurriculars, because the pressure starts in infancy, well before there’s any curriculum outside of which to operate: baby gym, music appreciation, creative movement, swimming and water safety classes, instrument lessons, rec soccer – the options are endless. The pressure is real: after all, what else are you going to do with your toddler? Just stare at them all day? And anyway, how are they going to get into college if they don’t start soccer before their first loose tooth?

Leaving aside the dubious value of lessons of any kind for kids younger than seven or so, there’s a sneakier threat lurking behind these nascent parent-sponsored interests: parental overidentification. Before you pay that registration fee or go out shopping for tiny shiny tap shoes, a moment of self-reflection can help save some pain and upheaval down the line.

Whose idea was this?

This is the first question to ask, and since it’s just you talking with yourself, there’s no reason not to be honest in your answers. Has your kiddo shown any interest or inclination toward this new activity? Have they asked for formal instruction? Is it something you could encourage more free exploration of at home first?

What are you hoping to accomplish with these lessons or this activity?

Aside from the presumed benefit of growth in specific skills, common answers include wanting kids to make friends, wanting to expose them to new things, or wanting to just ‘give them something to do’. Are these really good goals? Have your children indicated to you that they feel shortchanged in any of these areas?

What’s it going to cost?

Not in money, necessarily, but in intangibles: how many family dinners are you giving up? How much time will you spend in traffic? How many afternoons of freedom will your kids have left to use as they wish? How much relationship and connection are you willing to sacrifice in the name of ‘getting to practice’?

How willing are you to be the one to make this happen?

Often, when parents sign up their kids for t-ball, they’re making a season-long commitment to the team. Dance classes often end in a recital performance where everyone has to show up. Appreciable progress with a musical instrument requires hours of focused practice. Are you committing to this on your child’s behalf? Are you going to ‘make’ them practice, or insist they stick it out through the recital? How reasonable do you think it is to ask a 7-year-old to commit to studying or participating in something brand new to them for an entire year? Are you prepared to eat the cost of lessons that go unused?

Let’s say you go through all of these thought exercises and reach the conclusion that it’s definitely worth the money and effort, and you feel confident in managing the work required to manifest your kid’s attendance. In many families, a few years down the line is where the trouble starts: they’re ten, and they don’t want to do soccer anymore. At eleven, they’re no longer practicing their instrument. At thirteen, a mysterious crop of ever-changing injuries persist in preventing them from participating in dance classes.

This is your test: you are a Dance Mom. You are a Swim Family. Swimming is What You Do. Are you ready to divest yourself from this adopted identity in order to really hear your child and their priorities? Have you co-opted their activity to help fill in the edges of your adulthood?

Families tell me that they value perseverance – that a commitment ought to mean something, and that it’s important to stick it out when things get hard. This is only true if it was an important, meaningful commitment to begin with. This disambiguation is key to modeling for children how to spend their precious life: don’t get caught up in doing something because inertia is driving you forward. Re-examining your priorities is never the wrong move.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t take into consideration the potential impact on your teammates if you quit the night before a relay race, or how your classmates will be affected if they have to re-stage the recital dance without you. It means that it’s time to reorder your thinking and clarify for yourself why you plan to keep going. The only way kids can do this is if they’re not also burdened by the tremendous weight of parental expectations. Kids need to now that you’re a fan of them first, and a fan of their tae kwon do a distant second. Demonstrate that you’ll stand by their side as they figure out who they are and how they want to spend their lives.

If reading this makes you think, “If I don’t teach them now, they’ll never learn to commit to anything! They’ll never follow through!”, it’s important to remember that a) there will never be a lower-stakes time for them to quit something and experience the consequences, and b) hopefully you’re raising a kid who, as an adult, will be much better at measuring the extent of a commitment than they were in the second grade. Don’t project your grade schooler into their first desk job without giving them a little credit for growth and development.

I’m not a Robotics Mom, or a Percussion Mom, and I try not to even primarily identify as a Homeschool Mom – because all of those identities are reflections of my children, and I want them to be able to confidently, independently change. My pride in them isn’t in their accomplishments; it’s in their humanity. Resist the urge to live in the declarative, and leave the ending open for continuous rewrites.