I see them on Saturday mornings on the playing fields opposite my house, troops of muddied children accompanied by their bitterly cold parents waddling back to their cars due to the sheer amount of extra padding necessary to protect them from the elements of a 10am October morning. I sigh a contented, warm sigh of relief and carry on playing with the children at the table. “Can I go football like those boys mummy?”
There it is. The question I have been secretly dreading, the question that has the possibility of shattering my weekend routines for the rest of eternity.
My children are now 6 and 7 therefore the possibility of them wanting to start some kind of club or extra-curricular hobby was imminent. My husband and I have had various discussions as to what type of club we could enrol them into. From discussions over at my Instagram page I feel many other parents, like myself, have similar views as to clubs and hobbies for their children to attend. Yes, I understand that children should be encouraged to chase their dreams but realistically these dreams could have a huge impact on your family dynamic. Therefore, as always, I am here to guide you with the numerous factors to consider before you sign your child and yourself up to a life of, for example – equestrian pursuit just because your little princess has demanded to ride ponies.
Why Hobbies/Clubs are Important
Before I start, I wanted to express that I do feel clubs and outside interests are very important for children. It’s inevitable that most children will want to take part in some kind of activity outside school and development wise this is a huge step in their growth. Sports encourage fitness and exercise, Brownies, cubs etc. have that element of social and moral development and then music and language lessons help to teach the creative side of a child’s skill sets. Ultimately most parents hope that these extra-curricular activities will benefit their child long term and perhaps if a specific talent is uncovered, they may even go on to be successful in their talent and use it later on in life. I can honestly say the roller skating lessons I attended as a child have not been beneficial to my adult life, but swimming has given me the obvious skills of keeping afloat and a nagging feeling of having to keep physically fit even when I’m at the chubbier end of the scales.
Below are the factors I feel need to be considered when “guiding” your child into a hobby or interest:
Location and Travel
Location to me is key on the possible choice of club for my children. Thinking back to my own childhood I have the upmost respect for my parents, my mum in particular who drove my brother and I across the county and country (even a quick flight to Guernsey!) at times to attend swimming galas at the weekends. As well as the weekend competitions my mum also made the half hour to 45-minute journey each morning at 5am to take us to swimming training and followed that up after school until we were 16. As a child and teenager, I never once appreciated the effort and time my parents put into these travels for my brother and myself, however now as a parent myself I can think of nothing more horrendous than 5am starts and waiting around on pool side for my children to complete 150 lengths. Therefore location, timing and travel is an essential factor to consider before committing yourself and your child to a potential lifetime of travel up and down the country each weekend.
Cost and Equipment
From the polls I ran across my social media this week the main reason parents would say “no” to a child’s request to attend a club is COST. This is definitely a key factor to consider but not just in terms of the actual training sessions but also in terms of the extra equipment and accessories needed if your child was to progress into the chosen hobby.
Other Parents and Socialising
As an adult I have a small number of friends I willingly spend time with because I enjoy their company and they basically can put up with me. However, if your child is now attending some kind of club or sporting activity the likelihood is that you will be forced into companionship and social situations with a new group of parents. These situations can be great for meeting new people and families but also can be a viper’s nest of competitive snipes and lifelong feuding between certain families. I have listened to countless stories regaled by friends about parents of children at the clubs they attend and also can remember the rows on the side-lines of my brother’s football matches when we were younger. My own dad enjoyed the social aspects of the weekly football matches, being the East End version of Del Boy we often would drop my brother off and then go off to the other games and parents to help flog whatever merchandise he happened to be selling on the market that week from the back of the van!
Think Long Term
Many parents start children in clubs to give them a “taster” of what a sport or activity could be like. I have heard this countless times, parents who book a 12 week training programme to a particular sport and then become unstuck because actually their child really enjoyed the sport and now wants to progress further. My advice would be to always picture what that sport will look like 5 years down the line. Will they need transporting up and down the country to performances or competitions? It sends shudders down my spine as my best friend tells me of her Saturday mornings freezing cold, attempting to keep vomit down on the side-lines of the football pitch after a heavy Friday night since her husband introduced their son to football as a one off.
Cruel to be Kind
I know many of those super perfect parents out there will disagree with this next factor and deem me of quashing my children’s dreams and hopes for the future. However when I watch X Factor and similar talent shows and see those contestants that are quite obviously God -Awful, they then shoot backstage to their parents behind the scenes shaking their heads in disbelief that they’re son or daughter receives four “no’s” and the contestant is left weeping, I shake my own head in disbelief at a parent that would allow their child to continue with something they are so awful at. I vividly remember asking my parents if I could do some sort of drama or singing and them saying (gently) no. The reason being, I sing like a strangled cat. I don’t feel emotionally scarred by my parents not letting me join some kind of singing group and as much as I will support my children to the end of the earth, it’s still important for them to understand that actually some things you’re just not actually going to be amazing at and that is also ok!
Practice makes Perfect
It’s crucial to remember that some activities and hobbies are not going to be confined simply to training at said location. Some activities such as music lessons will need practising at home and this is something you need to consider when you have a small home like mine. My home is loud enough and crazy enough without my son learning the drums or heaven forbid, the violin. Yes, these instruments sound amazing once perfected but in the early stages, the spine-chilling melodies of a badly played recorder do not need to be added to my already manic house soundtrack. A place for them to practice is ideal, either that or a heavy duty set of ear plugs until they find their way with the instrument. Luckily my daughter has picked the guitar up quickly and hearing her practice is a wonderful sound in our home and one I hope continues.
As a teacher I also ran the school netball and rounders teams. In my opinion there is nothing worse than a pushy parent both in academics and hobbies. Children who are forced to take part in a sport are miserable. fact. I understand that the reason parents like their child to participate is because they want them to be passionate about something, to encourage commitment, to aid a healthy lifestyle etc. but ultimately are we teaching our children anything by forcing them to participate in something they actually do not enjoy. Yes of course, give it a few months to see if they eventually do enjoy it. Nobody likes a quitter! However, if a few months down the line they still hate the sport then let them pursue something new.
After writing this post I’m still left wondering if there is the perfect sport or hobby to gently force my children towards. One which won’t interfere too much with our family dynamics, one which won’t cost the earth and one which won’t overtake our lives but I don’t actually think there is one. Who knows perhaps my son will want to take up boxing, perhaps he’ll want to play chess but whatever happens I know that as long as he wants to do it we’ll be there behind them, cheering them on whether I’m hungover, sitting seething next to a pushy parent in the freezing cold or not.