Alt-Parenting: Who Will Be Blamed for That Missing Belt?

beltsWhen my boys were babies, I vowed we’d never be one of those families; the ones where the kids are overscheduled, everyone’s frazzled and stressed, and family meals are non-existent.  Jump ahead to this past spring, when we were off and running six days a week between t-ball, baseball and karate.  The result was one frazzled, stressed-out family that never ate dinner together.  Therefore, one would think I’d be thrilled when my 8-year-old told me he wanted to quit karate. Instead, I felt paralyzed. After investing a year and a half of his (our) time and attaining the level of brown belt, I wasn’t sure I could let him quit that easily. I didn’t want to be blamed for the black belt he never he achieved.

I’m no Tiger Mom by nature, but instead consider myself more of a laid-back ‘70s style parent (though unlike a true ‘70s mom, I’m wrought with confusion and guilt). This probably has to do with my upbringing; my mom’s philosophy regarding extra-curricular activities was simple: If you don’t want to do it, quit. I tried my hand at ballet, softball, the flute and art lessons, all of which I gave up when they got too challenging. I did stick with cheerleading, which basically had a major role in my underage drinking and brought me nothing but ridicule as an adult, but I had a lot of fun along the way, and that’s the point, right? I wonder, however, if I could have excelled at something if I’d just been forced to stick with it.

With the wisdom of 40+ years of life behind me, I can confidently say “NO.” I never would have joined a professional dance troupe or been accepted to the philharmonic, and as an artist, I definitely would have been starving. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, I might have become a mediocre artist, as that was the only activity in which I showed any promise. It certainly wasn’t my passion, however, and I had no drive to devote myself to the cause.

Unlike my younger brother, who discovered a passion for filmmaking at the tender age of 3, I never felt that natural longing for one particular thing. This used to bother me and I often went on quests to “unearth my true longings” and “follow my bliss.” My quests were fruitless; I’m just not like my brother. I am, however, like most of us who show up at life’s buffet and find plenty of interesting tidbits to sample. Over the years I’ve developed a list of activities that bring me great joy: writing, painting, yoga, cooking and organizing, to name a few. While these activities aren’t particularly exciting or novel (as a matter of fact, they resemble the description of your typical NPR listener), they do enrich my life. My brother still makes movies. Both of us are fulfilled and our fulfillment has nothing to do with the extra-curricular activities we did — or didn’t do — as children (Mom, you’re off the hook).

As fall approaches and soccer season is upon us, I see our stressed-out, joyless future unfolding before my eyes if my son continues with karate. That vision helped me remember my priorities, and having my child become a black belt just isn’t one of them. I’m not a “keep up with the Joneses” kind of person and have no dreams about my boys going to an Ivy League school or getting an athletic scholarship. I’d rather they join the Peace Corps or travel the world with a backpack and plenty of condoms. Time to act on those priorities and find that middle ground between Tiger Mom and hippie dippie.

So, in true 21st century over-thoughtful, hyper-vigilant parenting mode, I helped him make a thoughtful decision rather than just quitting outright. Together we made a list of pros and cons. I talked to him a lot about “gut instinct” and asked him how he felt with karate no longer being part of his life. We vetted the issue to a point of nausea. In the end, he remained firm in his decision to quit. I truthfully couldn’t be happier, and so is he. I just wish parenting could be easier, like it was for my mom. After all, if not the failed black belt, I’ll be blamed for something. So why all the stress?


One response to “Alt-Parenting: Who Will Be Blamed for That Missing Belt?”

  1. Kim Fogarty Kinzie I love this… you are a great Mom to care enough to sit with him and go over the pros and cons. He will remember that. Ballet? You hated it after awhile, not just disliked it! Flute.. didn't even know you cared about that…art lessons, well i kinda wish you had stayed with those..and you did continue to paint and draw, very well, in your young adult life.. so not all bad. But I never felt I should force either of you to do something you didn't want to do.. thus I gave in. Don't regret it… and thank you for not chastising me! One thing I always that you and your Brother would do what you wanted to do… and would do it well.. because that is one thing I always stressed.."Do your Best". I'm just lucky I had 2 great kids!!

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