It's Time for American Parents to Redefine "Fun"

The New York Times’ parenting blogger had it right when she wrote that, in order for American parents to have “fun” during their non-working hours, they need to redefine the word as we’re seeing large hunks of our time commandeered by our children’s extracurricular activities.


Naming travel hockey tournaments, “Family Art Night” at school and team parties as activities in which her family partakes, KJ Dell’Antonia wrote, “This is what we signed up for, with our big, boisterous family.”


She pointed to a recent essay by a mother who started raising her children in Europe but, upon moving to the United States, was gob-smacked to discover that the contemporary American parenting culture is completely child-centered. (The writer, Jennifer Conlin, was commenting on the “French parents are better” conversation we’ve been having lately in the wake of the pro-Parisian parenting book Bringing up Bebe.


“Now our entire adult life revolves around the children’s activities,” Conlin wrote in the New York Times. As she detailed a crazy-busy set of weekends when her children were participating in musicals, softball, ensemble competitions, a forensics tournament (?!), baseball and a Science Olympiad, Conlin said, “It’s easier to preach benign parenting from one’s pretty perch in Paris than it is to import those traits to the trenches of America.”


However Dell’Antonia said this all-in brand of contemporary parenting is “as fun as we make it” and again reminds us -- chastises us actually -- that “this . . . is what we have signed up for.” I, respectfully, disagree. I didn’t sign up for having my weekends sucked up in the vortex of children’s activities. I didn’t dictate (a la the Tiger Mom) what activities my children should or shouldn’t do other than to limit them to one sport per season. I’ve allowed them to choose their activities and then tried to shoehorn those activities into a family life with two working parents, two 13-year-olds, a 10-year-old and a dog. But the shoehorning can be messy business.


My life is currently one big logistical nightmare as all three of my children play sports (soccer, hockey, basketball, lacrosse), two are in bands (one plays in three bands), one is on the Student Council, one belongs to a monthly book club, two take additional once-weekly math classes and one is going to start reffing soccer this spring. And that doesn’t include the events they have at school like Colonial Days, talent shows, Art Nights, etc.