Finding Work/Life Balance – when you are 10 ??!

 My best friend is starting to think it`s a huge joke. Every time she calls me these days, I  am in the car, either driving to cub scouts, from soccer, to piano, from gymnastics, to school, to additional school, or somewhere in between. Bluetooth has become the technology I would most like to take with me if I were stranded on a desert island. But then, if I were stranded on a desert island, perhaps there might finally be some escape from all this. And perhaps then we could just focus on swim club.

What has happened over the last 30 years??!

I distinctly remember when I was 10 years old, the most difficult decision once homework was finished was: bicycle or roller skates? Perhaps part of this was that I came from a country and an education system where college scholarships were virtually unheard of, and the top tier of universities was (at that time) almost solely the domain of the private-school educated. But coming to America, one of the first things that dawned on me was just how hard American kids work and play. Many frustrated American parents may beg to differ with me on that one, but from an outsiders perspective, it`s true! OK – let`s qualify that – how hard kids work IF they WANT to! Apparently you need a resume for college?!

A lot of Americans seem to be under the impression that their education system – and I am paraphrasing here – “sucks”. When we first knew we would be Homework Helpmoving to the US, Americans commiserated with me over having to enter my children into The American System. They lamented how far behind it was, how lacking in resources, how weapons/soda cans/Ritalin are rife in every school. Well, to be fair I only have experience so far of one school district, and a fairly high level one at that if statistics are to be believed – but on the academics at least I beg to differ. The volume and level of homework has made my head spin. And it seems that if your child actually wants to study, there is no limit to the amount of opportunity available to do just that. “Minimum reading of 30 minutes a night, minimum Math practice of 10 minutes per night.” reads my 3rd graders general homework guidance notes. I notice the instructions don`t state a maximum.

And in the interests of balance, there is also sports, music, art classes – no limit to the amount of extracurricular opportunities for an enthusiastic child with a parent who just loves driving with a passion that cannot be measured. So let`s take an average week, filled with school, homework, extracurricular activities, possibly church, perhaps volunteering, standardized testing, advanced programs, and the all-important family time. What do we risk in return? Sleep deprivation, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, eating disorders, cheating, stress related health problems, and burn out. And I`m not just talking about the children here!

Not exactly an appealing prospect.

But what to do? Opt out of the rat race altogether? Where will that leave us come college application time? Some people are choosing to do just that, through homeschooling or other such alternative paths with the same end goal of achieving a valuable education, but with a different emphasis on what “valuable” actually means. Ease up on expectations? Very difficult in a society conditioned to reward the highest levels of achievement. And why not? What is wrong with achievement anyway? Why should we expect anything less than the very best? Or is it better to have a B average student, even a C average, rather than one on the verge of burnout? Or is it all par for the course anyway? After all, we are all largely in the same boat, and it`s party-time once you get into your college of choice, no?

These are all highly subjective questions that could turn this article into a War & Peace-style novel but they are questions that are sure to be in the minds of many concerned parents at some time or another.

One such parent, who, worried about the pressure and the effects on her daughter, started on the road to producing the groundbreaking documentary “Race to Nowhere”, which has been screened in schools and communities around  America.

The message to be carried away from the film is to trust your instincts as a parent. Stay engaged with your child, and communicate with other parents. Everyone else is going through the same sometimes heart-wrenching process. Support each other as a community and we can better support our children.

A further step I would add is to also rely on the instincts of trusted professionals. There are people out there who are willing and able to supply their expertise in support of parents and children so they are not so alone in this process. They may not necessarily constitute an entire village, but with our traditional village these days often located around the state, the country or even the globe, they are all we have. From school psychologists and counselors to professional tutors, no one actually has to undertake the mammoth task of guiding a supporting a child from kindergarten to college alone.

Professional tutors can take some of the “alone-ness” out of college or exam preparation, or even week to week curriculum. They have been there already as students, and are trained to help every child maximize their potential, without burnout.

Every child is different and that is why the question of how to achieve balance is so arbitrary. I remember my mom sitting down at a teacher conference with my geography teacher when I was a Junior in high school, and asking him how she can best support me in my quest for straight A`s. His response was “Take her to the movies, take her out for lunch, and don`t let her near a book. The kid studies way too much!” He is a long-time facebook friend of mine to this day!

But know your child, know their strengths and most importantly their weaknesses, and know there is help and support right here, on this website.