When I was a twenty-something mom with my older children, I was the ubermom I've referred to in earlier posts. My kids not only took music lessons starting at three or four years old at Vanderbilt, but they were the top students. They practiced a couple of hours each day, showed up for every group class, every orchestra rehearsal, and every performance. They were the perfect music students, and I agreed to every request, even if it meant blowing a day of homeschooling just so the kids could perform at the luncheon of some minor fundraiser. In the summers I took the kids to music camps from Chicago to Memphis to New York. My older kids grew up to be principal cellists of our city youth orchestras, won regional competitions, and received substantial college scholarships for both music and academics to top private universities and Ivy League colleges.
Besides music, they played soccer, which involved practices and games up to five times a week.
They never missed a game or a practice. In addition the boys were super involved in Boy Scouts. They earned the rank of Eagle by the age of thirteen, and our oldest was one of only a handful of boys in the nation who earned every single merit badge.
Our homeschooling went the same way. I was teaching the kids phonics at the same time I was potty training them, so they were reading and wearing big kid panties by the time they were two years old. I used every available moment as a teachable moment. The kids did hours of hardcore school each day. They worked several years above grade level, and we spent all our vacation time visiting museums and taking advantage of educational opportunities.
I was very vigilant. No junk food or sugar, no TV, and no videos other than G or the occasional PG movie. I pre-read all the books before the kids read them. I censored all their music.
On the downside, the kids were overly scheduled, we spent all our days commuting to Nashville and hanging out in the van while waiting through lesson times and rehearsals, and I was a pretty stressed-out and not-too-fun mother. I used every available moment to teach the kids rather than ever simply enjoying them. There was no downtime.
Our older kids are now adults, and I think they are pretty well adjusted. They still enjoy their music, they were successful college students, and they are successful adults. We have a good relationship, and I talk with them several times a week.
Now I'm a forty-something mom. None of the kids are taking music lessons because I'm totally burnt out driving to Nashville, fighting the traffic and fighting for a parking space, much less practicing with them several hours a day. I no longer jump when someone wants me to volunteer for something. None of the kids are involved in sports. The kids' sports program includes a swing set, a basketball goal and a trampoline, (which the older children weren't allowed to own). The kids participate in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but Ben is no longer an assistant scoutmaster. We drop everyone off now and grocery shop during our free evening.
We now potty train our kids as late as three years old rather than at eighteen months. Ephraim is twenty months old and is walking around sucking on a bottle. I would never have allowed our older kids to do that. Our older kids had scheduled meal, nap and bedtimes. Ephraim takes his nap on my shoulder, thinks his crib is poison before nine o'clock at night and grazes for meals. He starts out the night in his own bed but ends up between Ben and me before morning.
We now start homeschooling the kids in kindergarten, not at preschool age, and those first years involve shorter hours and are more laid back and child led than in the past. We now have school four mornings a week instead of all day for as much as six days a week. If we get engrossed in a really good novel, we read it non-stop for a couple of days, and that's the extent of our school for those days. We count science projects, storytime at the library, and the time we spend studying a really cool bug for school days. When we reach the mandated 180 days for the year, we stop. The kids are at or above grade level, but they definitely aren't going to be going to college at sixteen like the older kids.
Nowadays we have three-day weekends every week, and we party! The younger kids know who Ronald McDonald is, and they've had banana splits for supper too many times to count. The older kids didn't own a video game, but the little guys are pros on our Wii. Our six and seven year olds can sing all the words to Guitar Hero and Rock Band songs; our older guys were only allowed to listen to the Christian or the classical station. We still don't watch network or cable TV, but we subscribe to Netflix, and we've been known to hit up a Redbox. We spend our weekends swimming in the river and fishing rather than providing non-stop educational moments at cultural events. As a family we now enjoy an Adam Sandler flick instead of a nature or travel film. I am no longer the uptight b*tch I used to be.
What's the perfect parenting technique? I've been a mom for twenty-six years, and I don't have a clue. I've seen the results of the ubermom days, and that produced some well-balanced, talented and successful adults but a stressed-out and unhappy mom. Now I'm the burnt-out-shell-geriatric mom who is simply ready to enjoy her children's fleeting childhoods. I'm having fun, but how will these late-in-life kids turn out? I wish I had the answers.