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Ask today's parents how they spend their time, and they're likely to say, “Working and driving the kids to their activities.” The modern reality is that well-meaning parents are working long hours and then signing their kids up for every available activity: music lessons, ballet, choir, one or two sports a season, and academic enrichment programs. The result is that kids spend the majority of their time with—and consequently being raised by—teachers, day care providers, coaches, and peers. Home Court Advantage ...
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Ask today's parents how they spend their time, and they're likely to say, “Working and driving the kids to their activities.” The modern reality is that well-meaning parents are working long hours and then signing their kids up for every available activity: music lessons, ballet, choir, one or two sports a season, and academic enrichment programs. The result is that kids spend the majority of their time with—and consequently being raised by—teachers, day care providers, coaches, and peers. Home Court Advantage points to a richer philosophy of parenting and gives practical pointers on how to achieve it. Tyndale House Publishers
Defining the Problem
If Kevin Leman is in the air, two things are probably true. First, he's sitting in the front row. I get a bit claustrophobic, and after flying over three million miles, it's the least my airline can do to allow me a little extra space.
Second, the words "American Airlines" are painted on the tin can I'm flying on. I've been a frequent flyer with American since 1988. Early on, I flew other airlines as well, but now, as long as American can accommodate me, I'm pretty loyal to this one airline.
It's all about the "home court advantage." Irregular flyers can sign up for the frequent flyer program, but they get credited with their actual miles. Me? I get double miles wherever I go, which adds up pretty fast. Plus, on occasion I get free upgrades-even free tickets!
And when my schedule changes, American goes out of its way to please me. You might get to the airport three hours before I do to get your name on the standby list in hopes of catching an earlier flight. I might show up just 30 minutes before the plane pushes back, but I'm the one who gets the seat. Why? With over 3,000,000 miles in my account, I'm what they call a "Lifetime Platinum" member, which is airline-speak for "Please this sucker at all costs, because he's spent enough on plane tickets over the years to buy the plane he's flying on."
In short, when I'm flying American, I have a distinct advantage. If I step onto a United flight, or a Northwest flight, or a Southwest flight, I'm Joe Schmo. I'll get the same packet of peanuts as everyone else. Some other lug will get the good seat up front. And I might even be stuck in a middle seat, which at my age and size feels like a rhinoceros being crammed into Tweety Bird's cage.
It's a nice feeling, living life on American Airlines as a Lifetime Platinum member.
Wouldn't you like to give your kids the same sense of security and joy and even happiness? Wouldn't you like them to feel that being born into your family has given them something special? Wouldn't you like them to be as loyal to you as I am to American?
Well, that can happen if you'll learn the magic of creating the "home court advantage."
A sports team gains significant advantage while playing on the home court, where its greatest fans cheer it on and create an energy that can mean the difference between loss and victory. It's the same with your family. A home court advantage comes from seeing home as a place of security, joy, and memories. It means the best part of a kid's life will come from what happens within the four walls of that blessed place spelled H-O-M-E. It means his or her parents won't let the outside world with all its enticements and opportunities take that child away from the place that matters more than anyplace else.
This book is all about giving your child the home court advantage.
Besting Your Best
Charlie's mother wanted the best for her 12-year-old son. He already took piano lessons, but Mom wanted to broaden his experience. When she found a wonderful instructor to train him on the violin-a man who would nurture her son's love of the instrument and encourage his gifts-she was ecstatic.
But music wasn't all that occupied Charlie's time. Every Saturday he attended enrichment classes to supplement his Monday through Friday schooling. During the summer he took an S.A.T. prep class at the university to give him an extra edge for the college placement test four years down the road.
Charlie loved the violin, but hated his mother's expectations. "Mom," he would complain when his mother criticized his technique, "I just want to play!"
Charlie wasn't the only one in his class who felt the pressure to perform. Another student's mother was so critical during lessons that the instructor had to ask the woman to remain outside so the young musician could concentrate. Still another student, only nine years old, was performing three times a week with the metropolitan ballet company's production of "The Nutcracker," training for gymnastics twice a week, and attending a Brownie meeting every other week. Her mother had bought the girl a Day-Timer to juggle homework and activities.
After a month, however, Charlie finally got a break-in a manner of speaking. Despite the boy's love for the violin, his mother pulled him out of lessons.
The reason? Her son didn't bring home enough homework, she said. The instructor just wasn't pushing him hard enough.
You may think Charlie's mother crossed the line. But if you're like most parents, you want the best for your child, too-the best schools, teachers, and neighborhood. You want your son to succeed in his second grade reading class, and your daughter to excel in after-school gymnastics. This desire is as natural as the wonder you felt when she first entered the world, and as common as the apprehension you sometimes feel about doing your best as a parent. Any dad or mom with an ounce of love wants the best for his or her child.
But if you're also like many parents today, in spite of your intentions, you may not be giving your children what is best for them.
What's best, you ask? A steady diet of Mozart in the womb? Harvard-educated English tutors? One-on-one pointers from a Russian gymnastics coach?
No. I'm talking about the best thing, the most important thing, the thing that trumps placement on the state champion traveling soccer team or a full-ride scholarship to summer tuba camp. I'm talking about the foundation upon which security and stability are built in your children: Time together. At home. As a family.
Oh, come on, Dr. Leman, you may think, get with the program.
The program today, fellow parent, is the problem. In a society frenzied with activity, time together at home is more important than ever. In our efforts to help children "get ahead," we're bypassing the most important factor of their development-leisurely love and gracious attention at home in a hurried and harried world.
Please think about that phrase, "leisurely love." I've talked to thousands of children, and one thing has come through crystal clear in our conversations: "Rushed" love doesn't feel like love to a child. If your child feels like he's "on the clock," or if she thinks she's always interrupting you, love won't be the first word that comes to her mind when she thinks back on her childhood.
So much competes with time together at home as a family. The Baskin Robbins of Life doesn't just offer activities in 31 flavors-it offers 31,000, and parents drool over the options like kids at an ice cream counter. You can shell out hundreds of dollars for your seven-year-old daughter to perfect her tee-ball swing with a former major league coach. You can arrange for your three-year-old son to begin working aggressively toward his judo black belt so he can shoulder-throw bullies in the preschool lunch line. You can hire a Metropolitan Opera star to give voice lessons to your kindergartner.
Activities, however, really are like ice cream: They may suffice for an occasional treat, but they don't make for a healthy diet. Those standing behind the counter might have you believe that all your little Einstein needs is the right combination of flavors to help him construct a unified quantum theory by the time he hits puberty. If you're like many parents, you may end up ordering a cone of activities piled so high you can't possibly handle all those scoops. When that happens, you've fallen victim to the lure of overparenting.
Overparenting: Don't Push It
A mother called an Atlanta physical therapy clinic, anxious to squeeze in an appointment. Her nine-year-old daughter had injured her arm swimming six times a week for two swim clubs. Now she was having trouble even lifting that arm.
The physical therapist made room for her in his schedule that afternoon. He grew concerned when a quick examination revealed that the girl, who was also involved in competitive soccer, couldn't raise her arm without significant pain.
"She really needs to rest this arm," the therapist advised.
"But the district championships are in 10 days!" Mom said.
"That may be so, but she needs to take at least one week off-a full seven days, and then we can reevaluate her. She's overworked this arm and needs to lay off."
"You don't understand," the mother argued. "It's the district championship. She's a great swimmer. She has such potential!"
Everywhere I go, parents like that mom want their kids to win. They want them to rise above the competition, finish first, and stand out.
Winning isn't bad. I don't go to the University of Arizona Wildcats basketball games to admire the team logo painted at center court. I love it when my team wins. But if it loses in the final 1.3 seconds on a brilliant three-point play by the opposing team, I won't turn to my youngest daughter and say, "Lauren, let's go tip and burn a police car, and maybe finish the evening throwing a few garbage cans through local business windows. What do you think?" Winning is good-in proper perspective.
But what difference is missing a couple weeks of swimming practice and a district meet going to make in the "swimming career" of a nine-year-old girl? Is she really going to miss the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship ten years down the road because she didn't compete for four days in July? More to the point, why is this mother concerned about swimming stardom for her nine-year-old in the first place? When Proverbs, that age-old book of wisdom, says, "Train a child in the way he should go," it isn't talking about daily 5 A.M. laps in the pool.
High parental expectations are nothing new, but greater disposable time and income now allow us to pursue pie-in-the-sky dreams to a degree perhaps never seen before. Parents are throwing time and money at their kids' future "success" as if parenting were career coaching and family life were training for the Olympics.
I realize that most of you aren't packing your bags for the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs. But if you step back and evaluate your expectations, you'll probably find that in some ways you are packing your child's emotional bags for that destination the world calls success.
Who knows? you think as your 18-month-old son picks up his little plastic golf putter and swings aimlessly at his little plastic golf ball. He could be the next Tiger Woods.
He may-though the odds are about a billion to one against it. But stare at that tiny glimmer of a thought too intently and it can slowly pollute your priorities. The PGA Tour is among the furthest things from your toddler's mind. That fantasy belongs to someone else-you, the parent, who may be trying to live out your dreams through your children.
These dreams need not be grandiose; often those that work their way most insidiously into a family's daily activities are the subtle assumptions. For example, you and your spouse, both teachers, may not expect your child to follow your career path; you may even be careful to let him choose his own vocation. But because both of you were once straight-A students, you may expect the same from your child whether he's going into theater management or biophysics research. What happens when you discover that your little Norbert is not an Albright scholar-that in fact, he's neither a scholar nor all that bright?
Or perhaps your high school plastered the gym wall with plaques of your all-star record-breaking feats. Your competitive streak may show from the soccer field sidelines as you yell for your elementary school daughter to "Go for the ball!" when all she wants to do is stand at midfield and talk with friends about the new student in class.
Such underlying expectations are hard to recognize in ourselves; it's easy to assume that what came naturally to us will come naturally to our own flesh and blood. And it's easy to push kids into all sorts of activities to get ahead.
The activity trap, I call it. It's not easy to escape, because you don't feel steel jaws biting into your leg when you're in it. More likely, your entrapment will be applauded. You may receive the praise of parents in your neighborhood carpool and believe you're helping your child advance. But if your family relationships and your child's character development are more important to you than whether he makes a career of hitting a little white ball long distances or is admitted to East Coast schools that are overgrown with ivy, then you need to examine how these misconceptions subtly affect you.
Conflict of Interest
"My daughter has such potential."
"We want to help our son get ahead."
"We're giving our kids the opportunities we never had."
These statements sound self-sacrificing, noble-even loving. If you've been saying them, no doubt you're doing so with good intentions. But examine your motives closely, for you may be pushing your child for your own good rather than hers.
Many parents today are like mountain climbing guides who drive their little clients to summits rising in their own imaginations. These moms and dads expose their kids to the fierce winds of competition and exhaust them in the process.
Ironically, many parents contend that such help benefits the child, enabling him to succeed and bolstering confidence. After all, the child is the one who'll apply for college six years down the road; better beef up that sixth grade résumé. The child is the one who'll face a fiercely competitive job market; better develop a track record starting with impeccable second grade 4-H club projects.
But is the child really the one who benefits?
"That's Wilhelmina's painting?" you hear during open house, "Oh, you must be so proud!" The praise feels so good you don't mention that you helped Wilhelmina choose her subject matter, mix the colors, and add a few, key touch-ups to bring the composition together.
"Your boy sure can throw a football!" a fellow dad confides to you along the sidelines at Saturday morning's game. In reality your son hates football and the father-son practices you've come to make him do.
Your daughter's report card reads, "Beatrice is a pleasure to have in class." The teacher doesn't know about the exhausting hours you and little Beatrice spend turning the family room into night school. Keep that up and soon Beatrice won't be a pleasure to have at school, home, or anywhere else!
Eventually, these kids may quit developing their own strengths to overcome obstacles and simply let their parents drag them along until they turn 18-and give up on themselves altogether.
I sometimes joke about visiting a school's science fair to search for a project that was done by the child himself.
Excerpted from HOME COURT ADVANTAGE by Kevin Leman Copyright © 2005 by Dr. Kevin Leman. Excerpted by permission.
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