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Balancing Sports With Family: A High Wire Act For Many

Parenting shouldn't be a competitive sport

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Unfortunately, the balance that I was able to find for my family is all too often lacking in the lives of many parents and their children. Parents are under increasing pressure in 21st century America to help their kids succeed and to keep up with other parents (It is ironic that parents worry about the effect of peer pressure on their kids but fail to appreciate the effect peer pressure is having on them). We have become a nation of "helicopter" parents, hovering over our kids, trying to "enrich" every second of their lives with activities and feeling guilty if we don't.

Too many parents these days seem to take pride in how busy, how stressed, their lives and the lives of their kids, are, as if that is a measure of how successful they are, and how successful they must be in raising their kids. On the one hand, a recent Self magazine survey reported that women, while they "see their lives as very full and busy," don't see their lives as "disjointed or unmanageable," that they "move easily among their roles," and that they say they "don't feel exceptionally stressed out ... and are pleased with how well they are coping."

On the other, as my friend and parenting guru Mimi Doe observes, "It's almost a badge of achievement for some parents to breathlessly describe their ‘on the run' lives - as if they're giving their kids a leg up by being on two travel sports teams, the school's team and a little strength training on the side. Describing their busy schedules seems to validate parent's efforts and suggest that they are giving their children stellar advantages."


The over scheduling of children mirrors their parents' lives: what one expert called "hyper-parents" raising kids stuck in a "rug-rat race." A spate of recent books, like Judith Warner's Perfect Madness, address the stressed-out lives of today's mothers and describe lives completely out of balance; what one reviewer described as an "endless sea of child-enriching activities, a soul-sucking swirl that leads many mothers into a well of despair," and another termed the "modern American mommy rat race."

Not surprisingly, studies show that the time families spend together has declined in direct proportion to the increased time children are playing organized sports. A study by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research found that between 1981 and 1997:

  • structured sports time doubled;

  • kids lost 12 hours a week of free time, from 40% of the day in 1981 to 25% two decades later,

  • unstructured outdoor activities declined 50%;

  • household conversations became far less frequent;

  • family dinners declined by one third; and

  • family vacations went down by 28%.

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