Monday? Soccer. Thursday? Soccer and basketball. Saturday? More basketball. Tuesday and Wednesday? Ballet. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? Tutoring. Friday night? Cheerleading. Monday through Friday? Homework.
Fun, relaxation, and just being a kid? Never.
This schedule may be more packed than that of some CEOs, but it's not uncommon for some tweens and teens. The pressure to achieve and get into a top college pushes many grandchildren to overload their schedules, severely limiting their free time. Parents, who share their kids' worries, sign on to these schedules, chauffeuring children all over town while family dinners fall by the wayside.
Who can offer a break from all the pressure? Grandparents.
Lives out of Balance
Parents just want their kids to succeed, and there’s nothing wrong with that, says Alvin Rosenfeld, a practicing psychiatrist in New York City and Greenwich, Conn., and the coauthor of The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, (St. Martin's). "Parents and grandparents want the children to succeed and to put them on the right track. I don't think there is anything wrong with some pressure and expectation that a child will 'make something' of him or herself," Rosenfeld says. "The dilemma is that sometimes it goes over the top and rather than helping, it hurts."
Overscheduling children can become an arms race with other families. "People believe that the path to a child's success is loading on as many enrichment activities as possible," Rosenfeld says, "rather than balancing these with other needs of the child and family."
How can you help restore balance to their grandchildren's lives? To start, don't get caught up in the pressure yourself. Focus on who your grandkids are, and not just on what they do. While you shouldn't ignore your grandchildren's activities and achievements, it's important to separate "my grandson" and "my grandson, the football player," Rosenfeld says. "Grandparents ought to be interested in whatever interests the kids. If what interests them are their activities, and as a grandparent you want to have a real relationship with your grandchildren, you ought to talk about them. But what is of most interest is who the child is as a person, not as a vehicle to bring glory to the family."
Building an Oasis
A child's home may be filled with reminders of all that they have to do — desks piled with homework, instruments awaiting practice time, even a computer filled with unanswered e-mails. Make your home an oasis of calm away from all that — or take the kids out somewhere so they can let their hair down. Here are a few tips to help get grandchildren off the treadmill:
Younger children. Even young children's schedules are packed with competitive activities, as parents cast a wide net in search of an activity that will "stick," or at which their kids will excel. You can make your home an alternate universe where their imaginations are more important then their futures. Joanie Chipaloski, 65, a grandmother of 11 in Phillipsburg, N.J., plays a lot of "pretend" when she's with her grandchildren, allowing them to relax and just be kids. "I play 'Toll Booth' with my grandson Rece [age 6]. He rides his bike in the basement and I take the toll from him as he passes. He loves it. I also indulge them in some Star Wars play. They make me be Darth Vader."
Tweens. As kids get older, they have less time to spend with family. Instead of letting them zero in on their world of activities and text messages, steer them toward old-fashioned family game time. The video-game route isn't for everyone, but Chipaloski swears by Rock Band, the music game that helps you and the kids forget about outside pressures by forming a rock group and playing great songs. "My daughter and grandson sing, my other grandson plays other guitar, his sister plays drums, and the baby claps," Chipaloski says. "Me? I sit and applaud." Hey, it kept the Partridges together; why not your own family?
Teens. The stress elementary- and middle-school kids experience is magnified in high school, as grandchildren face the specter of college applications. By this age, pretending to be Luke Skywalker may not do the trick. If you’re looking for another way to connect, hit the road. Sue Lanni of Nazareth, Pa., spends a lot of time out with her granddaughter Jenna, 15. "She loves to visit, and often, we'll go shopping." Whether it's shopping or a run to the pizza shop, a planned outing can give overscheduled teens something to look forward to when they get their noses out of their books.
Rosenfeld emphasizes the importance of staying engaged with your teen grandchildren — even if the conversation ends up being about their pressurized schedules. See it as an opportunity to reassure them, with your years of experience, that high school will pass and that even college admissions always seem to have a way of working themselves out.
In the end, it all comes down to spending time. “Nothing makes a kid feel better than someone who wants to spend time with them with no goal in mind," Rosenfeld says. “Knowing they don't have to perform to be loved bolsters their self-esteem forever.” Providing balance, love, and perspective is a task that should appear on every grandparent's schedule.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.