The Overscheduled Child – Seeing Our Kids for Who They Really Are

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In their chapter, Custom Kids, Rosenfeld and Wise explore how we strive to make our children into who we want them to be or think they should be rather than trying to get to know who they really are. As a result, instead of becoming well-rounded and self-confident individuals, according to The Overscheduled Child, “they end up insecure, feeling inept and devoid of real value.”

The authors argue childhood is no longer “preparation for adulthood but a performance in its right.” What has this happened? “The purpose of our children has become to make us proud and happy.” As parents, we no longer “need” them to help out on our land or in our house. Dual-income and affluent families can hire others to do whatever they don’t enjoy doing themselves. Therefore, Rosenfeld and Wise claim, when “we work so hard for them we want concrete evidence it is worth the effort.”

“Intellectually, we may understand that perfection is not possible, but when it comes to helping our children, we are not all that sure we see the harm in trying to get as close as we humanly can.” As a result, we feel we must fix every deficiency. But The Overscheduled Child argues while we see ourselves as simply trying to do what is best for them, from their angle, they feel criticized all the time, as if nothing they do is good enough. “This emphasis on perfection and perpetual motion is destroying family life.”

According to Rosenfeld and Wise, “Our intensity tells them that everything they do matters, really counts for something. With the lessons we sign them up for, the leagues they play on, the competitions they enter, the attention we pay to every aspect of their performance in life – academic, athletic, social, physical – we are always and eternally telling them that they can, and should, do better.” Ultimately, our behavior demonstrates that “what is important is how you look and perform, not who you are.”

While my eight year old is a voracious reader, her spelling has a lot of room for improvement because she favors speed over correctness. I suspect family and friends, upon receiving thank you notes for example, find her inventive spelling of often commonly spelled words baffling, especially when you consider I’m an English teacher. But eighteen years in education has taught me that confidence and initiative, two things my daughter has a lot of when it comes to writing, are more important qualities to nurture than perfection so I avoid correcting her mistakes whenever possible. This is an easy decision for me because I’ve seen the positive impact this approach has in my classrooms. The hard part about parenting is that we’re not experts in all aspects of it, which is why, as Rosenfeld and Wise point out, we’re often in a “rat race for what might happen a decade or two from now.”

The Overscheduled Child reasons we need to stop “turning ourselves inside out to get for our kids the things they want, or that we want for them, (as) we are actually damaging their inner sense of security and well-being and giving them access to exactly the sort of tools we don’t want them using as they go on to build their own lives.” So what do Rosenfeld and Wise suggest we do to avoid customizing our kids? We can start by learning the wisdom of 12-step groups: “God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”