We let our kids play sports - soccer, basketball, track, lacrosse, and swimming. We let our kids get involved in drama. We let Maggie take Irish Step-dancing lessons. We let our boys serve Mass. We let our middle schooler belong to the youth group at our parish.
Phew. I said it. Feel free to pass judgement.
On the one side we have a certain culture in which we live, that seems to push kids into many activities. Kids are constantly scheduled from one thing to another, and parents become the chauffeurs, willing to do what it takes in order to give their kids the edge. How will they succeed in high school if they haven't been playing soccer for the ten years prior? How will we afford college unless they win the 4-H scholarship?
On the opposing side, we have those who seem to think that kids are over scheduled and not allowed to play creatively. Family time is the utmost importance, and extracurriculars interrupt that time. Besides everything costs too much money and is too competitive!
We are definitely somewhere in the middle, but lean more to the side of "the world". As a child, I played all sorts of sports and took ice skating lessons, ballet lessons, and violin lessons. Some stuck, and many did not. Actually the sports I ended up playing in high school were volleyball and track - two sports I never had the opportunity to play until I reached high school age. So did all those years of soccer and swimming and skating and music go to waste? Not at all. I learned so much from being involved in each of these activities.
I learned social skills - even coming from a big family, peer socialization is very different that sibling socialization. I learned to look outside my own successes and failures and cheer for my teammates.
I learned dedication and effort - you don't quit partway through something, and you keep trying when you don't want to.
I learned time-management - school, sport, dinner, homework, bed...wake up and repeat, and I thrived on that schedule.
I learned how to be active and healthy - how to train, what to eat, and when to rest. Coordination and self-control. The thrill of a hard game or practice when it's finished.
And I want the same for my own kids. We're not trying to set out to raise a bunch of future college scholarship winners. Our kids are definitely not that blessed (at least not that we can tell)! But we want them to know how to play sports, know how to swim in the ocean, know how to speak in front of an audience. We also want them to be involved in their parish life - as altar servers and sacristans and youth group members. We want them to be able to experience a little of everything and then figure out where their talents lie.
And does that mean that it's easy to have six active and involved kids? Heck no! It's hard to juggle them from here to there and remember everyone's schedules. I'm often found complaining how busy we are when times get tough! But allowing the kids to participate n the extracurriculars they want also helps us as a family. It may take away from family time once in a while, but it allows one-on-one time with each of our kids, it allows for siblings to cheer on one another, it gives us family time together when we watch a game or recital. It keeps our kids healthy and active when they are prone to video games and tv.
Sometimes I read blogs from moms who have beautifully raised their children to adulthood, and they warn young parents to just say no to all the things that distract from home life. Just focus on your family, they say, that is your vocation. Yes, I understand the intentions behind these words, but I also can see that the world needs us to participate!
What if all the best Catholic families holed up at home and didn't get involved in society? How would that change the world? Parishes and schools and teams and organizations need us! I know from working at a Catholic school that we need volunteers to make anything happen. If everyone says no to focus on their home life, then how will anything good get done in the world? There can be a danger in committing to too many things outside the home, but the pendulum can swing too far the opposite way as well. Finding a balance is key.
It's not that hard to say yes and help out even if you don't have much time to give. Phil helps coach track at the kid's school, runs the summer camp there, is on the Vocations Board in our Diocese, and gives an Adult Education talk to our parish. I'm on the Finance Council at our parish, a member of the meal ministry, and on the Events Committee at my kid's school. It's not much, because of work and sports and time demands, but we try not to let that be an excuse to not volunteer in our other family communities. I've been guilty of that in the past. I've thought I just couldn't help out here or there because we have too many children or not enough time or money or talent to make a difference. It's not always true. There are some seasons when I literally couldn't do one more thing or it would negatively affect my family life. But most of the time, I can look outside my home to help. So can my husband. So can our children.
If you have a God given talent, let it shine for all to see. So many blessings can come out of a simple yes to serve outside your home. Your family needs you first, but your community needs you also. I try to say yes as my first response unless there is a good reason why I have to say no, and not the other way around. Know yourself, but let others know you as well :)