In this first-person piece, we will hear from one of our Kidspot mums about how different the pressure is now to fill your child's day with exciting activities compared to when she was growing up. Perhaps she was lucky enough to have some lessons in her favourite hobby, like horse riding or dance, but not the extent at which she pushes her own kids. We will learn along with her as she tries to figure what is actually best, for both her and her kids.
Horse riding on a soggy Sunday morning was my childhood ritual. It sounds quite fancy I know, but my family didn’t own the pony and certainly not the stable, but from the age of seven, I could be found trotting around in a circle in a damp field in the south of England.
It was the one, yep one, activity I took part in as a kid. My brothers went off to Sunday soccer and I sat nervously on Jasmine, the slightly overweight Shetland pony, praying that the instructor wouldn’t include jumping as part of the lesson that day.
I was incredibly proud to have a hobby and while I wasn’t keen on getting heavily involved with the saddling and grooming, I liked to talk to my friends about my weekend pony rides. My parents were always very clear about ‘seeing things through’, so once I’d settled on riding Jasmine there was no going back.
Now that I’m a mum I inevitably compare my childhood to that of my own kids. “What did you do on the weekend when you were a kid mum?” they ask and when I rattle off the types of activities I did they glaze over - it all sounds so foreign to them.
I regale them with stories of playing for hours out on the street with the neighbour’s kids, how we used to play with marbles or simply just do handstands until we were called in for dinner. Trips out included the supermarket and if we were really lucky, lunch at a burger place, but never the crazy packed schedule they adhere to over an average week.
We’ve tried the lot. We’ve flapped and flounced at ballet class, invested in outrageously expensive tap-dancing shoes, followed a passion for musical theatre, cheered on backhands and forehands, applauded goals (soccer and AFL no less), endured/enjoyed endless flute recitals, learnt the rules of Teeball, encouraged coding and winced during complicated cheerleading routines.
Of the activities mentioned, the only one we are hugely strict about is swimming, I mean it’s literally a life-saver and it also completely tires them out, two immensely positive outcomes.
But the others have all fallen by the wayside.
It usually began with the subtle hint dropping, “Evie has started Musical Theatre class on the Thursday after school, they sing all the songs from Frozen and get to wear high heels for the performance” or “Everyone in Year Two does AFL after school on a Wednesday, it’s just so unfair”.
They knew this tactic worked, they dropped hints like breadcrumbs and sure enough, I caved. I would enquire, deliberate with my partner, and eventually book them in. We would go through the logistics of adding a new activity to the schedule and then purchase the necessary equipment. It’s almost like both parties got an equal rush of pleasure; parents, because the kids were beaming and the kids because they got exactly what they wanted.
But, here’s the thing, constantly basing your child’s happiness on how much they’re enjoying the new shiny activity is not sustainable. More often than not, the magic wears off and they lose focus because they’ve got their eye on the next exciting thing. It’s exhausting!
I think we need to let go of the idea that our children need to be constantly entertained, stop seeking the Pinterest-inspired world and take the pressure off. Try taking inspiration from your own childhood, let them be bored and if they say those wince-inducing words give them a chore to do, in my experience that soon makes them stop.
I don’t remember crafting with either of my parents, there wasn’t the extensive art box to dive into like the one we have - honed over years of watching YouTube tutorials. Birthday parties never involved a uni student dressed up as a princess or superhero, but I do remember pass-the-parcel followed by a cake that vaguely resembled Mickey Mouse.
Holidays. We were lucky if we went on one every two years and it never involved an aircraft, but nowadays we feel awful if we haven’t booked a luxurious stay each year at a resort with a kid’s club to keep them busy. Surely the magic is just being together, being silly and playing card games. I know the only joy I needed was watching my dad try to stay in a blow-up boat while us kids rocked it from side-to-side. Hours of entertainment.
Our household now is purely a one-activity-per-kid environment, we nurture that special interest and encourage all the bells and whistles that go along with it. We try our best to make a big deal of things like movie nights, although my kids will never feel that unbridled joy of browsing Blockbuster and fighting with your siblings about which VHS to rent on a Saturday night.
The other day I asked my eldest if she remembered doing that ballet class she begged to do when she was five, she thought about it for a while and then confidently said: “nope, not at all”. But what she will talk about for hours on end are the letters she receives from her cousins and the pretend shop she set up in the garden to sell leaves and rocks. Organising beautiful big gestures for your children won’t do them any harm and what our family attempts to do is really appreciate and saviour those special occasions but place more importance on the small, simple things. It’s not perfect, but it takes the pressure off.