Being a Weirdo Family – Is It Worth It?

Is our 'Playborhood philosophy' setting us up to be outcasts like the Munsters?

Some family friends who are also neighbors came to our house last night for dinner. We had a great time, but I had a slightly sad feeling at the end when they left. You see, I think I alienated them a bit.

At some point in our conversation, I expressed my desire that our young kids – 3-1/2 and 4 months – spend a lot of time playing in their neighborhoods when they grow up, rather than having scheduled activities every day. My friends’ son, an 11-year-old boy who I’ll call ‘Billy,’ replied, “But that’s me!” It certainly is. Billy has at least one sports team practice or game every day, so that the family rarely has dinner together at what one would normally consider dinner time. “I never hang out with anyone in our neighborhood. I’m either at practices, games, or play dates all the time.”

Don’t get me wrong: Billy’s a great kid – as smart and polite as could be – but I don’t want his life for my kids. In fact, I don’t want the life I see 90%+ of kids having. Articulating that was a bit uncomfortable for me. Billy’s father, ‘Rick,’ has told me before how he feels about parents who raise their kids differently than others in a community. Rick’s mother was ahead of her time forty or so years ago, raising Rick to eat organic foods and to not follow a Judeo-Christian religion. Rick told me he always felt embarrassed by his mom, and longed to just have ‘normal’ parents.

Rick’s message is simple: kids just want to be like everyone else at school. Parents who try to swim against the tide are, for the most part, satisfying their own egos. They’re not doing what their kids would like them to do.

My wife and I wonder if we will, in fact, follow through on childrearing principles we have which are quite different from those of other parents around here. Basically, we believe kids should have lots of free time outside of organized activities, and we believe kids should spend most of that free time outside with other kids, not inside in front of screens (videogames, computers, and television). If we follow those well, we believe our kids will be happier and will have no lesser chance to succeed in school and later in life.

Will our kids feel like weirdos? How will they feel if they’re the only kids at school who have never watched American Idol, played a Wii, or played on a traveling soccer team?

In a way, this is like religion. Orthodox Jewish kids can’t play sporting events on Saturdays and have restricted Kosher diets. Religious Catholic kids are in church every Sunday morning. Mormon kids have their own rules (e.g. caffeine and special undergarments).

However, there is a key difference between those religions and our philosophy – let’s call it “the Playborhood philosophy.” In order for the Playborhood philosophy to be successful, we need other families to believe in it and adopt it. In other words, we need to proselytize, or else our kids will have very little to do when they go outside to play.

This concerns me. What if the Orthodox Jewish family down the block decided that they wanted all kids, not just theirs, to avoid playing sporting events on Saturday? That might turn from just weird to downright annoying to the non-Jewish families on the block.

So, we risk being both weird and annoying, and we therefore risk that our kids will be singled out as weird and annoying (or at least as having weird and annoying parents).

Of course, if we’re right about the Playborhood philosophy, in that it does increase kids’ quality of life and does not sacrifice achievement later in life, maybe we’ll be heroes. Maybe our kids will have great childhoods, better than most others around here, and maybe we’ll convince a few other families that we’re right, making the Playborhood philosophy more viable for everyone.

But what if we’re wrong? What if we just end up being a bunch of annoying weirdos?

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4 Responses to Being a Weirdo Family – Is It Worth It?

  1. Barbara Saunders says:

    My family was a weirdo family. We were extended not nuclear. One set of grandparents lived with us, including my paralyzed grandfather. The other set lived 5 blocks away. We also had thirty cats and no car. This was a blessing in disguise. As an adult, I rarely experience internal pressure to conform, and I usually feel free to make life decisions based on factors other than the approval of people who, in the end, don’t care about me!

  2. megan_hoppes says:

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with having family standards and teaching your children what you believe. They often will not understand and want to ‘fit in’ with the group but in the end they will value the time and energy spent on their behalf. Our children will bring home party invitations that are on Sundays, which is our Sabbath, so they cannot attend. They are often sad to miss the event. We will make a special play date with the birthday child and all is well. I think we are teaching a larger lession that we do not conform to what others think and/or believe. I hope to have stong children who value who they are.
    by Megan Hoppes

  3. Meagan Francis says:

    I think it’s very possible to stick to your family philosophy without your kids winding up feeling like outsiders, if you can manage to find some other like-minded families to hang out with. As an example, my older sons are eight and ten and, beyond a laid-back sports camp or workshop here or there, have not yet participated in team sports. They don’t feel out of place among their friends because we don’t hang out with a lot of other families that place a high value on organized sports. We didn’t set out to exclude those families from our social circle, but I think we just naturally sort of gravitated toward families who like to do the same kinds of things that we do.

    I think you keeping your young kids away from screens is admirable, but as they grow older and become more aware of what their peers are doing, it’s also possible to allow small amounts of those cultural things you aren’t thrilled about into your lives so that your kids are at least conscious of them and know something about them, WITHOUT allowing it to take over their lives. After all, with hundreds of channels on the television and dozens of popular video games, it’s not likely that most kids are conversant in all of them anyway. But a half-hour of TV a day, or the occasional chance to play a video game, can go a long way in keeping kids from feeling like they’re being DEPRIVED of it. You just have to figure out a way of allowing it in small amounts without letting it take over your life (for example we’ve found that in our house it’s best to deem one day a week “video game day” and not let the games go on at all on the other days, otherwise all I do is fight with the kids about how long they’ve been on, etc. On the other six days each week, it doesn’t even occur to them to turn it on–I was really amazed at how quickly they just adjusted to and accepted that. And when they don’t have video games or TV to turn to…their interests seem to turn more easily to the outdoors.

  4. mwbfirecracker says:

    Mike, first of all, you are weird and annoying, so I wouldn’t worry about risking it – just kidding! Being friends with you all these years, your uniqueness is what I value in a friend. I probably wouldn’t like you if you’d grown up like everyone else.

    I grew up with no TV – the only lasting effect is that I still can’t answer entertainment questions in trivial pursuit. I am one of <2% of kids my age who grew up on a farm, I also can't see any lasting negative effects. I think it mostly depends on the kid and how important it is for the kid to "belong". One of my guys really doesn't care (really, really doesn't care), the other feels somewhat deprived that we only allow 1 hour of screen time a day.

    At the end of the day, we all feel out of place from time to time and from place to place. The key is to have a home base where you're loved and accepted and the self-confidence to know that it's OK if you don't fit in everywhere.