It was a crisp fall day nearly 20 years ago that I was frantically driving a carpool of girls to their mandatory dance class for all company performers four days a week right after school. Among them was my daughter, Brooke who was in the fourth grade and was a talented dancer. We were stopped at a neighborhood stoplight, when I heard quiet sniffles from the back seat. I looked in the rear view mirror to see tears streaming down Brooke’s cheeks as she gazed longingly out the window at a group of her friends who were out roller blading and giggling together.
A lead balloon of reality hit me in the head. “What am I doing? This poor kid is being subjected to this dance commitment at what price?” I felt horrible. Later that night I discussed it with my husband who never really understood the whole dance thing anyway. This is a man with four daughters who graduated in P.E. and is to this day, super competitive in any sport. “So what’s the goal here? What’s she going to do with this? Run off to Vegas and be a show girl?” Dramatic? Yes. But it got me thinking. “Is this for her or for me?”
Given the choice, Brooke finished the year in dance and then quit. She became a kid again and rollerbladed with her friends. She later became a pretty good volleyball player and played in college. It turns out that dance wasn’t really her thing either. Dance lessons as well as volleyball, football, soccer, tennis, all great activities. My point? As families, we need to determine what qualifies as good, better, or best that will promote and strengthen our individual families.
Organized sports and dance classes were rare when I was a kid. There just wasn’t the demand for them. As children of the ’70’s and ’80’s, we would leave home for hours to drum up our own games or to play and use our imagination building forts out of weeds as tall as us, wading through irrigation ditches, or raking fall leaves into houses with rooms that could only be entered through the imaginary door. Taboo to step over the imaginary walls! Times have changed though and there is hardly a parent who dares let their child out of their sight for a second; even in their own front yard. Most parents must now pay for their children to participate in team sports and/or extracurricular activities.
Dallin H. Oakes, a great leader and former member of the Utah Supreme Court, gave a great speech titled, “Good, Better, Best”1 in which he stated that just because something is good doesn’t mean we should do it or that it will be good for our families. There are so many good things to take advantage of today, but never enough time to accomplish them all. So how do we choose? Don’t we all want what is “best” for our families? In my own family of my husband, our four girls, and me, we had to make a concerted effort to determine what was best.
Often nowadays, we pride ourselves on being busy. We over schedule the children with activities and wear that with a badge of honor as if that is somehow the outward symbol of successful parenting. “We’re SO busy! My life is crazy! I’m swamped. I’m just a taxi for the kids.” That somehow makes us a good parent? We find ourselves grabbing fast food on the way to soccer practice as the kids finish their homework in the car. When is the last time your entire family had a nice dinner at home together? Want some incentive? Listen to this:
“The number of those who report that their “whole family usually eats dinner together” has declined 33 percent. This is most concerning because the time a family spends together “eating meals at home [is] the strongest predictor of children’s academic achievement and psychological adjustment.” Family mealtimes have also been shown to be a strong bulwark against children’s smoking, drinking, or using drugs.”2
How about those stats? That your child’s success in school and in life could be determined largely by the time you spend together as a family! Who knew that what your child really wants for dinner is you?
A good friend of mine recently lost a crucial election to the state senate because of some political dirty tricks. He was positioned to be a new up and comer and was being groomed by all the party bigwigs. He was temporarily devastated by the loss. He asked his eight- year-old son what he thought about his dad losing. “But dad! Now you can coach my baseball team! This is awesome!” Perspective.
He told us how this past summer they took their kids on many trips to cram it all in before dad won this election and would be away a lot. They saw many historical sights, river rafted down the Colorado, went to Disneyland, etc. When asking this same son what his favorite moment was, the son replied without hesitation, “That night that you and I laid in the grass at grandma’s and counted the stars and talked. Just me and you.”
Why do we think it always has to be elaborate to be enough for our kids? Are we over stimulating our children for them or for us? Oakes actually warned about over scheduling of kids.
“Family experts have warned against what they call “the over-scheduling of children.” In the last generation children are far busier and families spend far less time together. Among many measures of this disturbing trend are the reports that structured sports’ time has doubled, but children’s free time has declined by 12 hours per week. And unstructured outdoor activities have fallen by 50 percent.”3
We have so many opportunities to expose our children to the good, better, and best. How do we determine what those are? This depends on the principles and values held dear by each family. No one can make that determination for you. Could it be that the activities we have them in now are not really the best for them? Every family is different and will have a different definition. We should decide together, as a family, what things bring the “best” love and harmony into the home. Let’s do those first, then schedule the “good” and “better” things after that.
No sport, lesson or activity can take the place of parents and children engaging in family time together, especially when children are young. Teaching and rearing children while instilling your core values and principles is crucial to their well-being, security, and growing to be a productive member of society. I can promise they’re not getting that at school…far from it. We still live in the “best” country on the planet that affords us untold opportunity. America! Let’s put “good” on the back burner and fill our lives with the very “best”.
1. Dallin H. Oakes “Good, Better, Best” Ensign, November 2007
2. Anderson and Doherty, Family Relations, 54:655.
3. Dallin H. Oakes “Good, Better, Best” Ensign, November 2007