When my husband was interviewing for his medical fellowship, he came to a fork in the road. He could continue at the hospital where he was a resident, and at the end of four years, he would be on his way to being a world expert on a very specific area of cardiology, or he could go to a different hospital, where he would get good basic training in lots of different aspects of cardiology. “I don’t know if I’m ready to narrow it down yet,” he said as he signed the contract with hospital #2.
When I was a high school sophomore, my school day often looked something like this:
1:00-3:00- Regional Dance Ensemble
3:00-5:00- Swim practice (or work, when swim season was over)
6:00-9:00 Play practice (or not, if the play was over)
I was also an editor for the school paper, a youth council rep, and a member of a whole bunch of school clubs.
Was I stupid busy? Yes. Was it worth it? Of course. Was I an expert at any of these things? Not really. I was a generalist.
I loved being a generalist.
I’m now the parent of high school students, and there’s just about nothing I hate more than the way that my kids feel pressured to specialize. My son didn’t want to be the world’s greatest clarinet player; he just wanted to be a member of the band who practiced when he felt like it and had fun in pep band, but he got so much shade from the band teacher that he eventually quit clarinet. He goes to swim practice even when he’s sick or injured because swim team isn’t just an extracurricular activity, it’s also a graded school class.
My daughter is a dancer, and she gets fabulous technical training from studio dance and loves the social benefits and choreography experience she gets from her high school dance team. She really feels that both of them are important aspects in making her the best dancer she can be while giving her an identity within her high school. But both insist that “our activity comes first” and there are the occasions when they conflict. The anxiety she feels because she can’t please both masters 100% of the time has her up in the night with worry, especially since her participation on the high school team is tied to a grade that affects her GPA. For several years, she had (required) dance rehearsals on Tuesday night, which meant that she couldn’t go to Mutual, and she felt that our YW leaders judged her for her choice to prioritize dance over her weekday church activities.
If I had been a teenager in my kids’ day and age, I doubt I would have had the chance to edit the school paper, captain the swim team, star in the school play and dance in The Nutcracker. I did the best I could. If I had to miss a play practice for a swim meet, the director made it work. If I missed a month of Mutual activities for play practice, the YW leaders weren’t passive aggressive about my values and commitment. I learned, in the words of Aspiring Mormon Women to “embrace your ‘and'” and I think we are doing our children a disservice by requiring them to pick and choose activities and fit themselves into only one box. By demanding so much out of extracurricular activities, we force some kids who should be exploring lots of different things to become specialists, and we force others out of activities altogether.
What is it with the whole “my activity comes first” mentality? When did this become part of the way we raise our kids? How do you all manage it? Does anyone else resent the fact that your kids’ extracurricular activities try to tell you what your priorities are?