CRASH! Screams and shattering glass filled the sudden darkness. The large stage light had crashed onto the bleachers amid dress rehearsal, mere hours before my three children were to perform Rumplestiltskin for the school. Rising from the piano bench I herded the group to the “backstage” area of the gym, while the janitor cleaned the broken glass. Within minutes the heartbeats slowed and the tears dried, and everyone was chattering happily about this hilarious little upset. The rest of the evening went off smoothly, but the real memory of the event was undoubtedly the falling light.
I suffer from chronic volunteerism. That means I am probably the person you know who is at everything (or so it seems). Much work in our communities is done by volunteers. From emergency responders to church outreaches, to parents and teachers in the schools. When my oldest started school I made a conscious decision not to be on the PTA at that time. At the time I still had two small children at home. It was overwhelming and I was just starting on the journey of recovering from postpartum depression. I decided to finally join the PTA this year, with two in elementary and one in middle school, it made sense. Now that I work from home I can do more.
I have three elementary-aged children with a variety of interests. I could easily be shuffling them from place to place every single day if I had the finances and inclination to do so. The myriad of extracurricular choices for children to participate in is overwhelming.
Some of the choices I make are driven by financial limitations. As a working parent, I can’t afford to involve them in everything. Other choices are based on travel requirements. Some are based on what options the school has to offer. At times it’s based on my commitments. I want to be part of my community and be a present parent.
This past school year my kids also started to be more involved in school sports, specifically basketball and cross country. I helped with concessions and some transportation. I refuse to coach. (My childhood sport was ballet so I was never into team sports, so have little understanding of the game.) It is natural to let my volunteering tendencies overlap with my kid’s activities. Then I can be a more present parent.
The Rumpelstiltskin Play
In March we had the most overlap yet. Our small rural school does not have a drama program. Instead, a group comes in from elsewhere to help the kids put on a play. From auditions on a Monday to the performance on Friday, it was an intense week. All three of my children received roles, and I (because I am on the PTA) was the accompanist.
I enjoyed dusting off my piano skills after years of just dinking around occasionally. Seeing my children learn their lines and engage with their friends was a delight. The performance of Rumplestilskin was far from perfect, but the chance to do it with my kids was fun. They listened to me practice at home and felt like they had an edge on their friends. My daughter received the role of the young girl tasked with spinning straw into gold. (Given her love of performing, it was no surprise that she received the part.) The boys were happy with their parts as well and performed with gusto.
I recently wrote a whole series on finding the fruit of the spirit in different fairy tales. It was fun to explore the ways that fairy tales could be lessons in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Even doing the play was a way to practice these traits. The kindness we can show supporting each other. The joy of singing and dancing. The self-control to learn lines and perform them. The Holy Spirit is often at work when we are in a community working together.
Glenn Cook has some great articles on being a stage parent that really helped me out.
Sometimes parenting can feel like a sideline activity.
You take the kid to their practices and games. Or you drop them off at rehearsals or music lessons. You sit in waiting rooms alongside other parents and runny-nose toddlers with iPads to entertain them. Occasionally you sign up to bring snacks for the team or help out backstage with makeup and other things. Then you sit on the bleachers and cheer for the team. You show up to the performances and shower them with compliments after it’s all over.
Encouraging your children to try things, helping them find their interests, and sticking to commitments even when discouraged and tired. These are all things that we are trying to do when we are soccer moms, stage dads, and goodness know what else.
There is a lot of research about the good lessons to be learned from team sports, drama clubs, and art or music lessons. Most of them have little to do with the actual activity. Lessons in patience, teamwork, faithfulness, diligence, and even failure, are part of being human.
It’s the Parent’s Choice
When I am feeling overwhelmed by my full schedule I evaluate what activities are serving us and which ones have become a drain. I need to evaluate what is beneficial both in the long run and in my daily life. I choose how much stress works for me and for the kids.
- Has my child lost their joy in something or are they just going through a discouraging learning curve?
- Is this something that I have the margin to support?
- Do my finances have a margin for this activity?
- How can I participate? Snacks, coaching, driving?
I like giving my children organized activities, but I also know that there is a lot of value in giving children the space to play free from the rules. Letting their imaginations run wild in the Lego bins, or swinging from the branches of a tree is as valuable to them as team sports and lessons on instruments.
Learning to listen to the needs of my kids is about considering both what they need to learn and what gives them joy. The overlap is where I become more than the taxi driver for their social lives. I am cultivating relationships and rest. Listening to them share stories, sometimes being part of the stories is creating a life as a parent who is present in their daily lives.