I know that I am far from being the Best Parent in the World and I will be the first one to admit that I make plenty of mistakes. However, when it comes to five- or even six-year-olds, there are a few things that I'm pretty sure about:
- Sometimes kids need to run around a couch and play tag instead of sitting on the couch, practicing multiplication problems. Especially on the weekends.
- When at a pool and swimming with a friend it's much more fun, and sometimes just as productive, to see who can do the biggest cannonball and swim back to the wall first, instead of always having to practice a back float/front crawl/back stroke.
- There are times when it's perfectly acceptable for kids to sing and dance around a room together, instead of sitting quietly and reading books.
- An hour or two of video game time, even daily, doesn't cause a kid's brain to fall out of their head.
- A kid's body is not designed to play one sport five days a week, three hours a day, 52 weeks a year, no matter how much "they love the sport and want to be there."
- During a one-hour lesson of any kind, a six-year-old does not pay attention all the time and may even laugh really loud once in a while. If they don't laugh, then that means they're not having fun, and that's kind of a problem.
A current thorn in my side right now that seems to be gouging deeper and deeper each week is a family that has taken competitive parenting to an entirely new level. Their son is never in the pool to have fun, he's only there to become a better and stronger swimmer. He's never allowed to laugh and make up funny songs with his friends because that is time that could be spent doing something educational. Since he has shown an interest in playing tennis, and they insist that he will be the best at everything, he is on the court four or five days a week, taking private lessons and hitting ball after ball. After ball.
In tennis -- like most other sports -- there is only so much, physically and mentally, that you can expect from a child. You can't teach a five-year-old the same way you teach a 12-year-old, so why would you expect the younger kid to hit with the same technique, the same power, or on the same size court as the older kid? You wouldn't put a kindergardener on an adult-size bike, or make tee-ballers run major league base paths, right?
Unfortunately, these parents have decided that their way is the best, and most impressive way, even though their way is insane and more harmful to their son's development than helpful. They have went so far as to tell the coach that he is doing things wrong: using the wrong balls, the wrong size court, that he should be having their son serve the ball from the baseline because, after all, "he can, so he should."
Now, maybe I'm way off on this, but I always thought that the reason you hire and pay someone else to do a job is because that person knows more about the sport/subject/hobby than you do. I don't drop my minivan off for service so that I can hover over the mechanic and tell him how to change the oil. When I was at the dentist getting a crown, I didn't tell him that I wanted him to try a different, less-sucky technique (Well, actually I did, but my suggestion was just "you should provide margaritas before procedures like this). And even though I play piano, I don't even tell my kids' piano teacher what to do at the lessons, because I'm paying her to give the lessons the way she thinks is best, not to give the lessons the way I told her to.
Being around these particular parents always reminds me of the movie "Parenthood," where there is one family that has a kid who wears a bucket on his head and another family that has a little girl that speaks three languages and does complicated math problems in her head. Take for example, a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon when I'm swimming with Zoe and this family is in the pool with us. They have their son refining his swimming strokes while they yell "Kick! Kick! Use your arms more!" I, on the other hand, am sending Zoe soaring through the air with her limbs flailing, no fewer than 28 times in a row, and between launches she is singing "The Diarrhea Song" at the top of her lungs. Does this scenario make me uncomfortable? Definitely, but only because I know that Zoe is having fun discovering that she can make great poop sounds using her mouth and a wet arm and this poor kid is watching her out the corner of his eye while he kicks, kicks and uses his arms more.
The sad thing for me is the fact that Zoe and this boy get along really well and have become great friends. When I pointed this fact out to the mom, her response was "Well, yeah, there are times when I think they get along too well. I wish they would pay attention more often and take all these lessons a little more seriously. Oh, and by the way, are you guys swimming after tennis?"
Gosh, let me think. Maybe, umm, no. I think that there will be no swimming this afternoon. I think that we will go do something else where Zoe doesn't have to worry about being a distraction, impressing anyone, or grossest of all, stepping over a puddle of pee because someone's kid didn't make it to the bathroom on time and peed on the floor. Yes, hyper-competitive lady, we all know that it was your over-achieving kid that peed on the floor. And that day, at least for me, was pretty fun.