This is a column I wrote several years ago, and thought was worth sharing again.
I guess it’s human nature for people to want their children to have the things they lacked as youngsters. Maybe it’s because we remember how badly we wanted the things our parents couldn’t afford or simply chose to deny us. Or maybe it’s because giving our kids abundance allows us to flaunt our own successes.
But as I get older (and presumably wiser – which my teenagers won’t confirm), I’m beginning to believe that the best way to give kids more is to give them less.
Those of us who grew up playing softball, football and the like in vacant lots and nearby fields didn’t get trophies or jerseys. But we dreamed of having those things and many more.
So when our own kids take the field, we give them all sorts of things to ensure they have more fun and are more successful. We make sure they have uniforms. We give them full rosters and professional officials to call strikes, balls and false starts. They have real bases, so they’ll never have to carve squares out of the dirt with their heels. Spikes mean no worries about sliding when they snag a sharp liner. Can’t hit a curve? Months of expensive off-season training is the ticket. Nobody needs to share a mitt, either.
We spare the kids a lot of the unpleasantness we endured. Sadly, we also spare them the accompanying lessons.
Such as? Well, there weren’t any umpires, so we had to learn how to resolve our own disputes. That was important, because if you couldn’t come to some kind of agreement with the other neighborhood kids, nobody got to play.
We had to be outgoing, because nobody arranged full lineups for us. If we needed an extra player or two, we’d invite a stranger from the next block or the playground.
We had to be creative. When there are only four kids on a side, right field or the pitcher’s hand becomes an automatic out. When you don’t have a crew with markers, three complete passes or getting past that shrub becomes a first down. With no offensive line, quarterbacks relied on a three-thousand-count rush.
Since we didn’t have to adapt to schedules or travel out of town, we played whenever we wanted, instead of following orders. On my block, that meant two games of softball a day in warm weather and an equal amount of football once fall breezes blew. If we played in another neighborhood, we had to walk or ride our bikes. We had neither trainers nor exercise regimens, but obesity didn’t seem to present a problem. Nor were we surrounded by parents who could alert us to our every shortcoming or curse our opponents for us.
Despite everything we lacked, we somehow managed to have a lot of fun.
So maybe creating the perfect childhood isn’t the best way to help our kids become successful, healthy adults. Maybe we should let them endure the same kind of crummy, deprived childhoods we survived.