Last September I wrote a list of 12 back to school resolutions. This year I have only one.
When they were younger I didn’t feel pressure to schedule the lives of our eight- and six-year-olds, but now that they’re getting older and have more interests I’m finding it hard to resist the call to program things.
Here’s a recent example. Lately, our kids have been obsessed with musicals and singing. After listening to them perform the West Side Story soundtrack endlessly, my reaction was to sign them up for a musical theatre class.
On a friend’s recommendation, we landed on one that seemed great. The kids would be able to be in the same class, and the focus was on developing skills (which I love). The woman on the phone sounded so sweet and enthusiastic. I was sold.
But for some reason I couldn’t pull the trigger and sign them up. I had every intention to, but something was stopping me and I told myself that right after our family holiday I would do it.
The break was much needed and as soon as I started to relax it became clear that it would be insane to add another thing to a schedule that already feels full to me (I realize that everyone has a different threshold for these things).
On our trip, I was chatting with my friend about it and she said, “keep things simple for yourself.” She pointed out that this class would take us out of our immediate hood and would be a trek in the winter, an issue when you’re relying on active and public transportation.
That’s when I remembered the CTFD parenting approach. That, my friends, is this year’s resolution: CTFD.
When the kids show an interest in something, I am going to try to resist the urge to program it for them.
When it comes to their love of musicals, they are already developing singing, dancing, and performing skills at home for nothing and without any coaching from me. If they stay this engaged for a long time and start begging for lessons then I’ll know it’s time to think about formalizing it for them. But it’s important to note that they have not asked.
The way I see it, our role is to keep exposing them to music, going to shows as a family, and being an appreciative audience when required. That feels doable.
I keep learning this lesson over and over but apparently it’s a hard one for me to absorb. A few weeks before the musical theatre decision, our younger son told me he wanted to play tennis. My response was, “Awesome, let’s sign you up for lessons!” and he immediately replied, “I don’t want lessons, I want to play with you.”
So instead of programming tennis, that night we went over to the playground with our second hand rackets to play against the school wall, which was a blast.
An added bonus is that he’s gotten his dad involved and it’s becoming a thing that they like to do together. That might never have happened if we had put him in lessons.
But when all the kids in the neighbourhood are signed up for tennis, soccer, tball, musical theatre, dance, gymnastics, hockey, etc., the pressure to have your kids keep up can be pretty intense.
So CTFD is the advice I’m going to keep going back to when I start to think they’re going to fall behind.
Over the years this advice has been the subtext of the occasional conversation with teachers, pediatricians, and instructors, so it’s nice to have it in black and white; a buoy to cling to when the waves of over-ambition send me Googling “programs for kids Toronto.”