I’ve always been determined that my children will have every cultural advantage I had as a child, which means that they will know how to swim competitively, to read music, to play at least one instrument, and have an additional sport of their choice. It seemed a matter of course that they would also go to the Symphony (ballet, opera and theatre) and have cultivated a great love of reading from an early age.
But I’m starting to realize that I’m setting an unfair expectation. First of all, they do benefit from many of these things. My 8-year old daughter takes classical ballet twice a week, and has solfège (music theory) along with her piano lessons. My 7-year old son has soccer once a week, introduction to solfège and instrument discovery, which will help him choose what he will want to play in the future. My youngest son, who is only four, is taking multi-sports – his own particular activity that he takes very seriously as a participating member of the under-ten set in the family.
But Symphony and theatre? It’s too far, too expensive, too inconvenient. Swimming lessons? We can’t fit them into our already packed schedule. And reading? I’m not inspired to go to the library each week like I did as a child, because it means that they will be reading even more French, and they already get plenty of that in school. What about that love of literature they were supposed to have cultivated in English – in my native tongue? For heaven’s sake, they don’t even know they’re half-American, and keep asking when we’re going to go visit their grandparents in England again!
You see, things were different when I was a kid. My father was a symphony musician, so we attended the Symphony all the time for free. And it was not difficult to go to it, or find parking nearby.
And we benefited from free music lessons, which occurred right during school hours, with the band or orchestra practice happening directly after school. And the city lent the instruments to the pupils so they wouldn’t have to purchase them. And they paid for symphony musicians to come and give us weekly lessons right during classes. (Not everyone benefited from that, but we oboe players had no competition).
And the sports! I was on the swim team right after school, right in the school. And my brother did the same thing for soccer. That was all free too, of course. And we didn’t have those mandatory vacation months of July and August where the entire country left the country, so that’s when we did our swimming lessons. Again, for free, of course. And that’s when I was scouted for swim team and eventually became a lifeguard in the same pool I swam in as a kid.
It was all so much simpler then – everything free and organized by the school or the city – and it does not bear up under scrutiny to count how many euros I’ve spent on these rushed, stressful activities I enroll my kids in on Wednesdays, Saturdays and after school, which already finishes as late as 4:30.
What I have to remember is that I may not benefit from the advantages I had as a kid, but my children are naturally bilingual. And they know more about two different cultures, and jet-lag, and long-distance travel than I ever could have fathomed as a kid. And that really counts for a lot.
And I suppose if we’re making comparisons, we will also need to compare the school lunches – just so that every factor is taken into consideration, if you know what I mean. Yesterday, I looked up my old school district’s lunch menu and found that it boasted of popcorn chicken with dipping sauce, barbecue-baked beans, potato “gems” assorted fruit and milk “choice.”
Then I looked up my own children’s lunch menu for the same day here in France. They had sliced cucumbers in yogurt sauce, sauté of pork with mixed spring vegetables, coulommier cheese (it’s a different variety every day) with organic bread, and an apple. They drank water out of real glasses, and used real silverware, just as they do every day.
You know … as long as we’re comparing …
How does your own childhood compare to that our your children? Which things are easier, harder, more/less enriching? Is there anything from y our own childhood you wish you could give your children?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by A Lady in France. Photo credit to the author.
Jennie, This is so eye-opening! Although my boys are still quite young I’m already cramming them with a super busy schedule and sometimes I feel like you do. I feel like I need them to have as many activities as I did, or even more! You are right, the opportunities when you are not back “home” are different but enriching nonetheless… BTW, I love the menu du jour at your kid’s school and I find it funny that they want to go to England…
I know. The England bit makes me want to groan in frustration! 😉
My philosophy when raising my kids was different. We encouraged them to pursue extra-mural activities, but did not insist that they do any particular activity because WE thought it was “good” for them or because we did it (or wished we’d done it) as kids. The only “rule” was that if they registered for something, they’d have to keep at it for at least one term.
This is the result – my son discovered his passion for computers at age 3 when we enrolled him in Click-A-Mouse (a mobile computer training class which visited his preschool once a week) and is now (age 20) making a living as a Web Developer. He stopped doing karate when he finished Primary School and still plays chess “for fun” now & again (he was on the school chess team). Despite my father-in-law being a violinist, my son has NO musical talent and was not interested in learning to play any instrument.
My daughter on the other hand is musically talented and can play both the guitar and piano – even though she only had 1 year of lessons for each instrument. She’s now 17 and was on the school hockey team since grade 2. Last year she had to quit the hockey team due to a knee injury. She also did karate and Drama in Primary School. She is a Level 3 First Aider, an Editor of the school paper and takes Italian lessons after school. Her main focus, though, is Art and Design (including photography) and most of her “spare” time is devoted to that.
Their childhood has been WAY better and richer than mine ever was, so the answer is a definite NO – there’s nothing from my childhood that I wish I could have given my kids!
Our kids are happy to go to the activities for now, but the day they are not, we’ll take them out. It’s not a forced schedule.
I’m glad your kids had such a rich childhood.
Love looking at childhood from this perspective Jennie!
My boys are still very young, but I suspect their childhood will be very different from mine, which will be awesome!
I want them to play outdoors, to play sports, to enjoy nature, to be able to go to the beach as much as possible – all things I never did much or at all, growing up. I missed out on a lot. I want to make sure they don’t.
I know. We want the best for our kids as long as it doesn’t involve burnout. I was really grateful to be well-rounded and I know my kids will too.
Jennie, I think about this all the time! My own childhood was spent all over the world…two years here, three years there. Asia, Africa, the Middle East. We were given the opportunity to see and do so much simply because we lived close by…when you live in the UAE, it’s easy to get to Egypt. When you live in Hong Kong, it’s easy to get to Xi’an. My children, growing up in a non-diverse small town in the US, are missing out on so much of that! But unlike me, they will have roots, which I wanted so desperately as a kid, and we do our best to get them involved in every activity we can. We do need to travel more with them, though. Always a balancing act!!
What an exciting childhood. I’m torn. In some ways I would want that for my kids (we almost moved to Japan), but it’s true that having roots is very powerful. We live in such a peaceful neighborhood surrounded by kids. I know that counts a lot.
My childhood has been boring & academically competitive (among siblings). I definitely wouldn’t want them to have any part of my childhood (except for ability to clean own room). I want my kids childhood to be more memorable than mine. Now they are 12 & 13 years old, both are addicted to reading (which I’m glad about), elder sister is into swimming while younger brother is into badminton. Maybe in another year they’ll be able to join the school team, since junior high are not given the priority (no pressure, just hoping).
I wish your kids would come teach my kids how to clean their room! The problem is that even their mother does not know how. 😉
It sounds like your kids have a really balanced schedule.
I got through the same thing — and actually, we just added chess club to my daughter’s schedule because my husband did it as a child, and he thought it was a good idea for her, too.
This weekend I took my daughter down to my old neighborhood to visit my grandmother. I took her to the bay beaches nearby and told her stories about my friends and I canoeing to playgrounds that were accessible by boat, and fishing with my friend and her dad for hours. I was feeling sad that we are not as close to the water as when I grew up and that she won’t have that serendipitous childhood at the waters edge. But, she will have other fun stuff that I didn’t have, and it will all be good. And, I will do my best not to overload her with all the things that I can’t wait for her to experience! lol
Great post, Jennie!
I think chess is the most boring thing in the world, but ironically I completely agree with your husband. Same thing with Math. I know someone who put their son in extra-curricular Math and I always think what I treat to have that extra help. I’m so not worried in the logical chess-math way.
I would feel the same way about the water. It’s like we want everything for our kids we had, plus all we didn’t. And there’s not enough time!
I have not had the patience to sit down and learn chess. I guess that makes me a checkers kind of girl! lol
She seems to like it when they play, so I’ll keep you posted how it goes!
I’ve thought about the comparison a lot as I try to emulate my childhood for my kids… but our life is so much different! We had no money to spare when I was growing up. I so wanted to take piano, but couldn’t. Ditto to ice skating lessons and horeseback riding! My kids, are in too many activities and always can get whatever they need (though we don’t give in to many of the wants!). And we had TIME. I remember long lazy summer days. Afternoons out in the yard. Playing. Now I have made a conscious effort to guard some time… to not go to as many festivals and parties and “events” to help give them some of that time. And they LOVE it! And I love watching their creative, imaginative, PLAY. And we had more freedom. By 5th grade I was walking to friends’ houses and walking to the library and the pool… I’ll barely let my 5th grader walk home from the bus stop! Because as a whole, people in my corner of the world have so much more than we did back in the 70s, I think we try to do too much and give too much to our kids… all the things we did, plus all the things we couldn’t do or that didn’t exist yet. And it’s just too much! So I’m trying. Really trying to find ways to simplify and scale back. The fact that both my kids and I are happy when a game or a class is cancelled really tells you something… it gives us a little more time to just live.
Heidi, this was such an insightful, relatable comment! I have no idea why things would change so much between our childhood (where we walked everywhere alone) and now. The world hasn’t gotten any worse, but perhaps our imagination is allowed to with everything we see and read.
And then the time down – it’s so precious!!! The days when things get canceled are just heavenly. Thank goodness we have so much vacation time in France so we can really get the down time we need to recover.
It has taken me a while to realize exactly what you are saying here: we are living in a different time than when we were kids, so we can’t always give our children the same opportunities that we had.
I also realized over time that my children are completely different than who I was as a child. I started wanting my children to participate in the same, enriching activities that I had when I was young, but also different ones that I wished my parents would have provided me.
What I found is that my children don’t thrive doing those activities, and their talents and predilections are different than mine. When I gave up trying to duplicate my happy childhood for my kids, I discovered what they really excel at.
Exactly right, Andrea. I believe that, as parents, we need to support our children’s choices as much as possible. For example, I’ve never been (nor am I now) talented in Art. My daughter is awesome at it! I’m so glad I let her choose what she wanted to do rather than what I thought would be good for her. 🙂