Q. I read the recent column in which you called on parents to take their kids out of all after-school activities. I couldn't help but wonder whether your children participated in anything except family activities.
A. As a matter of fact, family was their No. 1 after-school activity. Eric, now 30, played pee-wee football until the coach decided to make him starting quarterback. Eric promptly asked us if he could quit, explaining, "Everyone's out to get the quarterback, and I'm scared I'll get hurt."
We let him quit, but he had to inform the coach himself. He then played soccer for a half-season and again asked us if he could quit. He was having no fun, he said, because the coach took winning too seriously. So did the other kids' parents. We agreed with his analysis, so he quit, again informing the coach himself.
That is the total history of Eric and after-school activities.
Amy, now 27, wanted piano lessons. We bought her a piano with the understanding that because of the investment required, she had to take piano lessons as long as she lived in our home. But, we added, she didn't have to practice unless she wanted to. Practice was between her and her teacher. Amy took her last piano lesson her last semester in high school. She also landed roles in a handful of community theater productions during her pre- and early teen years.
My wife, Willie, and I witnessed what happened to families when children's after-school activities dominated a family's discretionary time. The parents never seemed to have time for themselves or their marriages, they frequently complained of exhaustion and stress (as if the exhaustion and stress were not the result of choices they had made), and everyone in the family always seemed to be in a constant state of hurry.
Our children, we decided, were going to look back, as adults, on a family life that had been relaxed and relatively carefree. We were going to put family first, second and third.
As a consequence, we were marriage-centered, not child-centered. Eric and Amy did chores (most of the housework, in fact, from ages 9 and 6), did their own homework, and developed hobbies with which to occupy their spare time. We watched little television. In fact, for much of their childhoods, we didn't even have a television. The things we did together were active things, things that make for good childhood memories.
Eric is now married with two children. He flies corporate jets for a major corporation. He spends his time off with his family. They live two doors down from us. There's nothing more important to Eric than his marriage and the family he and Nancy are creating.
Willie and I couldn't be more proud of his values. He quit pee-wee football and he quit soccer, but Eric is anything but a quitter. He paid for most of his flight training himself and was flying jets at age 25.
Amy is a homemaker and a new mother. She does some part-time work for me out of her home, and although she's well-educated, intelligent and has very marketable skills, she would rather be at home building a family than doing anything else. Willie and I couldn't be more proud of her values.
The ultimate joy of parenthood is watching a child grow into an adult with good, solid, traditional values. A good citizen, in other words. And, as Grandma said, "Good citizenship begins at home." Not the soccer field, mind you. At home.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.