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2016-04-01 / Family Matters

Balancing Act

David Rockower


We all hear about the importance of balance in our lives. I love to run, but it doesn’t mean I should be logging 50 miles per week. I know sugar is unhealthy, but I won’t abstain from chocolate cake for the rest of my life. It’s difficult enough to maintain balance in our own lives, but when we are responsible for facilitating the schedules and lifestyles of our children, the charge can be overwhelming. Achieving balance can seem impossible, especially when it can look different for every person.

Video games, sports, classes, clubs and friends: How much is too much? It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure to fill those after-school and weekend “free time” blocks with what we feel are productive activities. Failing to fill that time with structured activities often results in TV binging or video game marathons. When we limit screen time, it makes things even tougher. I know I’m quickly worn down by the painful droning of Nathan or Maddie’s “I’m bored...What should I do?” Bored children quickly become nit-picky instigators, which, in a flash, can lead to sibling throwdowns and all-out scream fests. So Michelle and I are constantly faced with the decision to enroll or not, to give the kids a break or keep them busy.

Like anything in life, the decision is not black and white. I’ve read articles defending both parental approaches: letting kids be kids vs. maintaining a robust schedule. Allow them to run with friends after school, to be explorers of the world. Or keep them busy, because engagement is key. These decisions require the consideration of many variables, and these variables are always in flux. Is child A independently active? Does he find productive ways to occupy his time around the house? Will child B willingly engage in structured activities outside of the home, or is she happier holing up inside her room?

At the Rockower home, we have two very different children with very different needs.

Generally speaking, Maddie will find healthy ways to occupy herself; she reads, pretends, bakes, sketches and writes stories. She’s been willing to try many activities outside the home: dance, Tae Kwon Do, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, sewing and performance. She’s given all of these things a chance but hasn’t found one she’s crazy about.

Nathan’s passion is soccer. He’s dedicated many hours of his life to the sport. He plays basketball as well, but outside of these two activities, he doesn’t have many interests. When Nathan is at home without friends or an activity, things can get hairy. He doesn’t do well with downtime. The kid needs structure.

Though he may not admit it, he’s happier when his calendar is full. What we consider a healthy, balanced lifestyle for Nathan might be an overscheduled lifestyle for Maddie. Because of these differences, Michelle and I are still learning when to demand, when to nudge and when to back off. And most importantly, we are all learning that fair isn’t always equal.

There are other questions to consider: Where do you live? Are there similar-aged children in the neighborhood? Will these children be a good influence on your own? To complicate matters further, we live in a secluded neighborhood. Maddie has one friend who lives across the street. That’s it. There is no one for Nathan. So we end up calling friends, trying to set up after-school playdates or weekend get-togethers. We’ve talked about moving to a more kid-friendly neighborhood, but who’s to say that Nathan and Maddie would find playmates there?

I’ve always believed in trying to achieve a balanced lifestyle. For me, that means a creative and autonomous work environment. It means plenty of time for exercise and hobbies. It means conversation with family and friends. I used to think that my own idea of balance could be applied to others, but raising children has taught me otherwise. It’s my hope that Nathan and Maddie will discover a lifestyle that stimulates and inspires them, ultimately discovering a sense of balance, whatever that may look like. •SCM

With a sports-obsessed 11-year-old son, a spirited 9-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle who looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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