Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 12, 2001

Please tell me ­ what are we doing to our children?


Let's talk stress. We all have it, and have our own ways of trying to deal with it. No matter what we do, it never disappears for long.

It seems when stress is at its highest, that's when you are hit with the really tough stuff. It just isn't fair.

But hey, that's life. At least we are all in the same boat, although I have to wonder if some are sailing in a paddleboat and some in a yacht.

What I find so strange is that not only are adults dealing with stress these days, but kids are under so much from the schedules they keep that they are like little adults with their own cell phones and e-mail addresses.

Many children today have a schedule that would make adults cry. I know children who deal with this type of schedule:

They get up at the crack of dawn to get dressed and ready to head out to daycare before the sun rises.

Then they do their thing until it's time to go to school, which they do. During school they learn about everything from spelling to advanced math. (For the record, I'm talking about elementary school)

After school, back to daycare they go until Mom or Dad can get home from work. They have had a hectic day themselves, are tired, and a bit on the crabby side.

The after-work/school rush begins ­ homework (for both kids and parents), dinner, clean-up, laundry, etc. On some nights, there is activities to go to, and the laundry will pile up for the next day, and dinner consists of a trip through McDonalds drive-through.

After the rush, there is just a small amount of time to enjoy each others company before bedtime. Bedtime, is of course, essential, because of the early wake-up time.

Everyone falls into bed, or onto the couch, and gets up the next morning to do it all over again.

Is it just me, or has our way of life changed dramatically? I see myself in some ways in the description above, and it makes my stomach spin from guilt.

When I was a kid, every day was pretty predictable. My typical weekday consisted of school, playing outside, eating dinner at exactly six o'clock, watching TV with the family, and eating a bowl of ice cream before bed. Mom was home with us for the most part, and did daycare for that very reason.

On the weekends, we went to Dad's house, where we usually were treated to dinner at Burger King (our favorite). The weekends contained our many different activities to keep our little minds happy.

The way I look at it, my brother and I had the best of both worlds. I was fine with the fact that we came from divorced parents, because they both loved us and wanted to spend time with us. The ultimate gift for a child is time.

We had a scheduled, easy going, and comfortable week, and plenty of fun recreation on the weekends.

It seems that kids these days are running constantly. With activities from an early age, I can't help but wonder if some parents know when to say when.

I firmly believe children need down-time to do what children do best ­ use their imagination in play. They need to be allowed to have fun without too many time restrictions.

My childhood was pretty low-key as I look back now, and I liked it that way. Especially now that I am an adult with a family, job, and lots of places to go, I can truly say that I am happy to have had the lazy, hazy days of childhood.

I am trying to figure out how best to give my children the down-time that they need. What guilt I feel when we run nonstop. And it's tough to feel. How I long for a time that was simpler.

I realized I felt this way when I was watching a cable nature program that followed an African tribe. What a shock to realize that the thought "Wouldn't that be so nice and peaceful!" crossed through my mind.

I always considered myself a person who preferred to be busy. As I age, I find that my mind requires more and more quiet time.

My co-workers didn't know if I was serious or not when I announced one day in the office that I would love to go to a hotel all by myself with a good book for an evening. No kids, no hubby, no football, and no diapers. It still sounds like heaven.

I chalk it up to aging. After years of running, even the most active person gets tired eventually.

I have a solution that works for me, albeit a very small one ­ reading. An hour of reading a night gives me the relaxation and stress relief that I need. When I read to my kids, they seem to get that same relaxation. What a simple way to make life feel less hectic.

If you don't want to relax yourself, do it for your kids. They have plenty of years ahead of them to feel pressure and stress. While they are young, it is our responsibility as parents to make childhood as stress-free as possible.

And make life on them as easy as possible. If they want to join an activity, by all means, encourage them to do things that they enjoy. They will be better people for it.

But if they aren't interested, don't push it. They may be more interested later in life, but if they don't want to, and you "encourage them strongly," they may end up hating whatever it is you want them to do.

Allow them time to stop and smell the roses, and hopefully, by the time they are adults with their own children, times will have changed back again to be more family-friendly.

I hope that is the case. For their sake, as well as their children's sake.

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