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May 28, 2009

Parenting Routines and Letting Go

Gym_generic It seems like everyone is writing books these days with parenting advice. I might do that too, if I felt qualified to tell others how to raise their families. But after thirteen years of motherhood, I freely admit that I'm just as clueless now as I was when I brought my swaddled infant home from the hospital.

But if I was really pressed to offer a pearl of parenting wisdom, it would be this: Find a routine that works for you and your family... but Don't Get Too Used To It -- because as soon as you think you've got this mom thing down pat, it's all going to change.

For example: You finally get to the point where your baby sleeps through the night. You've figured out how to squeeze in time for your own tasks while the child is napping. You are even at the point where you can take a shower without interruption. You've got it all figured out.

Then, something awful happens: Your kid outgrows her afternoon nap, which throws your routine all out of whack. You need to figure it out ALL OVER AGAIN.

As the years go by, the same scenario plays out time and again. Your child starts pre-school, then kindergarten and on through grade school. You adapt, you become adept... and then he tries out for a sport.

Six years ago, my daughter became enamored with gymnastics. She started with a recreational class, one hour a week -- which gradually increased to two 90 minute classes per week (no big deal)... and then, acceptance on a competitive team, until her commitment ballooned to 20 hours weekly (in addition to school).

In the beginning, I worried about this. How would she keep up with her homework? Could she do this sport without incurring a major injury? How long will she be willing to give up having a social life with friends outside the gym?

My kid managed to surprise me at every turn. She not only kept up with her homework but pulled in terrific grades. She has managed to stay healthy, and while she did have to miss a lot of parties and outings because of her training, she was totally committed to gymnastics. On top of that, the other girls on the team were delightful companions and she forged some wonderful friendships.

I started to relax. Eventually, I realized that I could get a lot of stuff done during the four hours per night she was training. I even began having a social life of my own again, scheduling girls' nights near the gym during my daughter's workout. I no longer had to scramble to set up activities over the summer or enroll her in camp; those decisions were made for me by the gym. This lifestyle was good.

As we headed towards adolescence, I became smug. While my friends began to worry about their daughters' burgeoning interest in boys, I was happy in the knowledge that my kid's athletic training left her little opportunity for that. Yes, there is a boys' team at our gym, but they are in the same boat as the girls; working out 20-25 hours per week doesn't give them many opportunities to get into trouble.

Six weeks ago, my daughter turned 13...and I'm suddenly reminded of the day she gave up her afternoon nap.

"I want to give up gym," she told me.

"I don't love it any more," she said.

"I want to try another sport," she pleaded.

You can't make a kid train 20 hours a week at a sport if she's not passionate about it, and I certainly don't want to do that.

 Is this just the folly of a young adolescent pushing for independence? Is it a mistake for her to quit a sport she's worked so hard at, especially when she's at the age and level where college scouts might take notice? Will she have regrets?

Maybe... but most of us don't learn anything without making a few mistakes, and as a parent, I need to allow her the freedom to do that. Besides, who is to say that this decision is wrong?

I've enrolled her in a tennis camp for the summer. She also wants to try track and field and has mentioned taking art classes.

I'm already missing my comfortable routine. I know it will take me a while to settle into a new one. I hope I remember it isn't going to last.

Original post for Los Angeles Moms Blog and 50-Something Moms Blog by Donna Schwartz Mills. Read more musings on parenting a teen at her personal blog, SoCal Mom.

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