Archived Story

Confessions of a slacker parent in A.L.*

Published 10:06am Friday, February 1, 2013

Column: Notes from Home, by David Behling

Ever since our children entered Albert Lea High School, they have taken advantage of the extra-curricular activities offered there. Through the years our family has been exposed to everything from chorale to speech to mock trial to cross country to track and field to super mileage.

Every week, throughout the school year, those busy children stayed late at school or arrived early to fit all these extra things into their schedules. The activities did not interfere with their academic work, but their choices often involved fundraising work and weekends away from home for competitions. Occasionally they ended up double-booked, but mostly it just meant they were very, very busy.

Most of these events, concerts and competitions away from home have parents in the audience, showing their support by faithfully cheering their kids on to success. I have been told that this is true but don’t really know it as a fact because those audiences rarely include me.

Although she-who-must-be-obeyed is somewhat more likely to attend these events, we are both slackers when it comes to traveling to out-of-town, away from home competitions and concerts (although we do make an effort to attend out-of-town music events when there are no conflicts with workplace demands).

Please do not misinterpret. I am not a cold, unfeeling person, who had children out of some biological urge to sustain human life on our planet or the economic urge to provide a familial safety net for when I am old and weak.

I am supportive of our kids’ involvement in those activities, even when I don’t quite understand how they could be so enthusiastic about whatever it happens to be. It brings me joy to see that they are flourishing and learning in all sorts of important ways.

In fact, I support all of those extra-curricular activities — from fine arts to sports to industrial technology — regardless of whether our own children are involved (and provided that the students don’t end up undermining their academic efforts in the process). But I choose not to be obsessive about it, as if my children’s activities have become huge priorities in my own life.

Because if I were to declare that attending every away cross country meet (or one-act competition or show choir concert) was the single most important thing in my life, no matter where or when it was, I would be telling a lie. I would be lying to myself and to those other parents, but mostly I would be lying to my own children.

Again, I repeat: It matters to me that they are involved in these activities. They are encouraged to get involved, and they get support for those choices in all sorts of ways. But the crucial distinction for me is that it matters to them most.

I don’t want them to ever get the impression that my preferences matter more than their own, or even as much as their own, as they discern what they wish to explore or celebrate through these activities. The joy they experience should not be dependent on whether I approve or applaud their efforts — and should not be diminished by a sense of having let me down somehow.

So when other parents sit and talk about their latest stressful away from home weekend in Willmar or Duluth or Red Wing because of a meet or contest — during coffee at church or before concerts or competitions here in town (which I do make an effort to attend) — I listen as a skeptical outsider. I also listen quietly (or have done so until writing this), because there is nothing a parent hates more than another parent passing judgment on them. And I will listen without being able to fully appreciate their reasons for doing all that driving and spending so much time (and money) in restaurants and motels.

Along with the obsession with videotaping every single event our children, there are some things other parents do that I am apparently incapable of understanding. I think my kids will survive unscathed despite this inadequacy; in fact, I hope they might even flourish more because of it.

* This title is stolen, with neither apologies nor regrets, from the book “Confessions of a Slacker Mom,” written by Muffy Mead-Ferro.

David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.