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?