Scan the top parenting blogs any given day and you will spot several essays penned by wistful moms yearning for their children to “stop growing so fast” – the mom lamenting yesterday’s infant who is now walking, the mom of a tween who has somehow blinked and found herself delivering him to his last middle school dance, and those of us staring down the barrel of dropping our “babies” off at college.
Though eminently sympathetic to the notion that time flies way too fast when it comes to our children, I do have a suggestion for all of us. Instead of cajoling children and pleading with Father Time to suspend the laws by which the earth spins on its axis, PUMP THE FREAKING BRAKES! Specifically, consider how we might unwittingly have our pretty little stilettos pressed on the gas pedal at the various stages of our children’s development.
Infants and Toddlers: In the infant/toddler stage, we often fixate on things our future selves will deem ridiculous. We schedule our babies for Gymboree class (marketed to help you and your child “build lifelong friendships”) so they start “socializing” early on, while simultaneously ensuring the requisite tummy time. We register 3-year-olds for organized soccer lessons so they’ll be “ready” when the league starts at age 5, or pre-ballet classes to get the jump on formal studio instruction.
Elementary School Aged Kids: Elementary school presents more forks in the road, with today’s parent inclined to err on the side of tapping the accelerator. Switch to travel soccer in second grade? Awesome, because playing against house league stiffs from the neighborhood is a waste of time for our aspiring Division I athletes. “Gifted and talented” testing in school at age 7? Bring it on. Get a private evaluation when he doesn’t meet the bar in the school-administered test? Whom do we write the check to?
Tweens and Teens: By middle school, this cumulative acceleration is like compound interest gone wild. Your kid is taking Algebra in 8th, not waiting until 9th, right? What travel tournament are you headed to this weekend? Next comes the academic crucible that is high school, and that compound interest loan now contains a balloon clause. Is your kid enrolling for her first AP sophomore year? By senior year, the question “is” he taking APs has morphed into “how many?” All while you traverse the country attending showcase sports tournaments and dance competitions.
Let me be clear — I’m not calling anyone out here. I see you, Overeager T-Ball Parent, because I was and am you. Hell, I slept in a car overnight to score a preschool slot, convinced my three-year-old needed the program that prioritized pre-reading and the best “manipulatives” (really, the sand table was pivotal to my son’s development?) over unstructured play. When the kindergarten decision came for my July babies — both 60-days-shy of the cutoff age – with little deliberation, I pinned their colorful name tags to their chests and sent them both on time, tearfully lamenting them growing up too fast. By fourth grade, I bought into the “compacted” math ruse — every other year in math is concept reinforcement, so just “skip” those wasted repeat years and jump a math grade level. And, I signed off when my daughter took AP World History as a sophomore – a college level course spanning the history of all countries, for all of time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that advanced math, travel teams, and multiple APs aren’t entirely appropriate for some kids; they absolutely are. What I am urging is that we pause a moment to consider whether we are speeding our kids’ development through one-size-fits-all decision making, instead of reflecting on our own values, our children’s unique strengths/needs, and our best assessment as to the circumstances that help them thrive.
The truth, is that there is no “convection oven” for raising children that allows us to accelerate the process. Nor should there be. Despite what our 4G, multitasking society screams at us every day, faster isn’t always better. Sure, throwing my frozen pizza in the convection oven lets me have it done faster, but it tastes so much better when I allow the regular oven to preheat and then bake at the recommended pace. For other families, the softer, faster crust may be perfect – but that doesn’t make it right for mine.
So let’s stop watching the pace car and slow down enough to ask the right questions for our own kids. If I send my active son to kindergarten now, will he be ready to forfeit elementary school recess when he has only just turned 12? Does my skilled soccer player need more time on practice fields or around the dinner table? Is my 15 year-old ready for 40 pages of college textbook reading per night?
There are no universal answers. Perhaps the mission is to learn to breath in the moment and beauty that is each stage of our children’s development instead of endeavoring to expedite it. It’s not easy to run your own race, trust your own gut. Even if you succeed, you may still find yourself at the end of the road wishing time could have stood still. But, there will be comfort in the knowledge that you savored it all.
About the Author
Christine Bachman is an attorney and mother of three, who serves as a pro bono legal advocate, advises high school students and their families on college admissions, and enjoys writing in her spare time. Although not actively practicing law at this time, she credits her children with finding ways on a daily basis to help keep her litigation skills sharp. She can be reached on Twitter or Facebook.