I wrote the column below three years ago. While time has passed, my thoughts are the same today.
My daughter Casey has loved books since she was a baby. We began to read to her lying on our backs holding the book above our heads when she was just three months old. She would sit forever if we kept reading. We even fought with our first babysitter who thought it was a strange idea to bring a baby to the library. Casey is now six years old, and she still loves to read.
Last year in Kindergarten she figured out that she could actually read herself. It was so exciting. My excitement came to a halt when she would still choose to thumb through a book just looking at the pictures. I got put further in my place when a mother of another child in the class told me her child was reading Harry Potter. . . in Kindergarten. Now, Casey is no slouch in school. In fact, she prefers it to summer camp. But apparently she was falling behind the “A” kids. I just couldn’t believe that a 5 year old was reading and comprehending Harry Potter. One day I took Casey and her genius, Harry Potter-reading, little friend to the library. I sat down with both girls and we all took turns reading Curious George. Turns out this Harry Potter-reading child reads no better than Casey. I was relieved then perplexed. Why would parents brag about their child reading a book that is clearly meant for an older audience? Furthermore, why would a mom brag when her child couldn’t possibly be reading books at that level? Lastly, why would I care if she was reading Harry Potter but Casey wasn’t?
This last question is the one that still plagues me. Now in first grade, Casey is a confident reader. She still absolutely loves books and magazines. Yet, she isn’t interested in the beginning chapter books like many of her friends. She mostly wants to read picture books of any kind. She will happily read about whales, space, olden times, Martin Luther King Jr. and Helen Keller as long as there are colorful pictures, but nothing that has real looking chapters. Casey’s reading choices bring up an ugly inner struggle that I have tried to but just can’t shake.
Why do I care what other children are doing? Why does my child have to be one of the smartest? Prettiest? Best at ballet and swimming? Do I really want all of that? I don’t think so. What I really want is for her to be kind, loving, a good friend, and to have a happy life. Yet, I feel this tug every time my child isn’t measuring up. There is an unspoken competition that goes a good distance past being able to brag about your child’s college or chosen career.
When I grew up I took piano lessons once a week and then went to Hebrew School once a week. That was it until I started middle school sports. There was no little league for girls or soccer or gymnastics or ballet. Maybe some kids did other activities, but it wasn’t the constant “lessons” we are currently living through. After school I rode my bicycle outside and played football in the yard with neighbors. I made my own snack and watched some General Hospital until dinner. On any given day I could find 10 people on my street to play with. Now it is virtually impossible to match schedules with one of Casey’s friends for a play date. Every kid has somewhere between 3 and 5 after school activities not including weekend activities.
Last summer when my son was almost three years old, I was asked by a few parents if I was going to sign him up for soccer. Another parent wanted to know if Emmett wanted to take Tai Kwon Do with her son. Some other parents were signing up their kids for swim lessons. While there is nothing wrong with any of these activities, why does a three year old need lessons in anything?
As a family coach I am often counseling parents to schedule less for their children. I believe over-scheduling reduces a child’s ability to self entertain, reduces the amount of quality family time, and can create a stressful life trying to make all of the activities and schedules work out. I firmly believe less is more. Yet, I still struggle to keep my kids activities to a minimum. Since all of the other kids are taking soccer and swimming are my kids doomed always to be the worst at sports because I have a philosophy? Will kids who have been skiing or skating or playing the violin always be better than my kids? Will this affect their self esteem in some negative way?
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions and I guess time will tell. But, my discomfort in the current state of affairs in early childhood activities is only the tip of the iceberg. The problem really is how I cannot stop comparing my child’s progress to the other children around them. It used to be we wanted to keep up with the Jones’s. Now we have to keep up with their kids too.
As a kid I hated to read. I literally made it until 10th grade before I read a book. Now I am a voracious reader. I have come to realize that Casey has the rest of her life to read books without pictures. What’s the rush? I hope I can keep my own pressures out of my children’s lives so that I can make the best choices for them without worrying about what the Jones’s kids are doing. Wish me luck.