This past week was a bit full for me. The beginning of the week had very important appointments for our Education Department at PUC, and then I headed out on the road on Thursday through Sabbath, visiting teachers in Santa Cruz and Mountain View and then preaching in Lodi for their Education Sabbath. Last weekend I worked on trying to improve the access to the blog through Google, but now I am wondering if I did more harm than good. Let me know if anything has changed for the worse as far as The Better Plan blog on your end. With that said, let’s move on to #3 on the 7 Worst Things Good Parents Do list – Push your child into too many activities.

The 7 Worst Things Good Parents Do

1. Baby your child.

2. Put your marriage last.

3. Push your child into too many activities.

For me, #3 and #7 are related, however there are differences between them, too. I will try to keep my comments separated for these two important areas and focus on the essence of each of them.

Much has been written on this phenomena, which is a more recent development in terms of sociology and culture, as those of us from the Boomer generation did not have to deal with this as kids. Maybe we had a parent who “forced” us to practice our piano lessons, but for the most part we were left to our devices to form friendships and engage in neighborhood play in all of its various forms. I am not sure of the official starting point when parents began to become so active in involving their children in so many planned activities, but at some point this shift occurred. At some point, too, maybe at the same time, we started assigning labels to the different parenting styles. We have come to view a tough, non-negotiating style as being a Tiger Mom; to a hovering, over-involved style as being a Helicopter parent; and to a more hands-off  approach as being a Free-Range parent. These are just a few of the labels. There are many more. Rather than dissect each of these approaches, which isn’t possible in my short comments here, I will try to focus on the essence of #3, the Agenda parent, through a choice theory lens. (I will use feminine pronouns exclusively to make the writing smoother, but masculine pronouns could be used just as easily.)

Like all human beings, an Agenda parent is urged by her basic needs to fulfill the quality world pictures she has identified and stored in her quality world mental scrapbook. I could see several basic need possibilities here. I could see the survival need, which has a lot to do with safety, urge a parent to be more vigilant in supervision. Rather than allowing a child to roam the neighborhood, like so many of us Boomers did, parents, still wanting a full life for their children, parents are willing to plan a full-plate of organized and supervised activities. I can see the power need (which we will talk about a lot more when we cover #7) urge a parent to place their children in what they think will be the best position for future success. And I can see the love and belonging need urge parents to get and keep their child involved with other children. It might be a way for parents to stay connected to other parents who are also bringing their students to soccer games and ballet practice and art class.

It would be instructive for an Agenda parent to honestly (maybe brutally honestly) reflect on whose quality world pictures are being targeted and pursued – the parent’s or the child’s? A parent might ask, “How does my child being in so many activities and having such a grueling schedule meet my needs?” The parent might respond with “It’s not about my needs! I am doing all this driving around and paying all the money for these activities for my child. It’s for her that I am doing this!” But choice theory would gently, but firmly, question that and suggest otherwise. Ultimately, it is highly, highly likely that an Agenda parent is creating full agendas for her child because of needs she has as a parent, rather than for the genuine needs of her child.

Are some activities good for our children to experience? Of course. Is it ever appropriate to push our children into things they don’t think they want to do? It might be, however I would be careful on this one. I think it is possible, even with young children, to begin to include their input when it comes to forming the agenda for their lives. The goal is to recognize that they are in the process of forming their own quality world picture books and to respect their individuality and uniqueness as they identify the things and skills they really want to embrace. As adults we just need to admit that our quality world pictures for our children are just that, OUR quality world pictures. It may be that we will influence them to embrace our quality world pictures – children often do follow in the footsteps of their parents – but it may be that they do not. Allowing them that freedom and supporting them in their discovery is such a huge gift!

I don’t know if this anecdote from my past will help clarify regarding the agenda issue, but we will end with this nonetheless –

When our children were younger we lived on the west coast, while my parents and sister’s family lived in the Orlando area. For a period of quite a few years my family would travel to Florida to spend time with loved ones and, well .  .  . play. There is so much to do in the Orlando area – Disney, Marineworld, Universal Studios, etc., etc. – which is great, however it all costs quite a bit. The Orlando part of the family all had season passes to the various attractions. We, on the other hand, had to come up admission fees. For several years, I took it upon myself, “knowing” that my family wanted to go these places, and knowing that I wanted to go to these places, to find the money to pay for the entrance passes. It was my kids and wife that eventually brought it to my attention that, if was up to them, they would just as soon spend more time at the (east coast) beaches (for free) than at the amusement parks. I had assumed they wanted to go the parks, when in fact that really wasn’t what they wanted. My agenda had ruled supreme, and cost me more money in the process. Our kids often want a simpler life than we assume. Mostly, they just want us.

4. Ignore your emotional or spiritual life.

5. Be your child’s best friend.

6. Fail to give your child structure.

7. Expect your child to fulfill your dreams.

Friel, J. and Friel, L. (1999). The 7 worst things good parents do. New York: Barnes & Noble.