Parental Pressures

 

At the end of last school year, I shifted from full to part time work. With this change, I have been able to spend a lot more time with my little ones, who are two and five. Amazingly, it has also brought more peace and balance back to our household.

 

But like most major life changes, there was a downside. In our case, no longer having a two-parent income meant that our home renovation projects had to be put on the back burner and we were not able to save as much as we had in the past. But to us the pros definitely outweigh the cons. So we took the leap.

 

Creating a Sense of Community

 

I have only lived in my town since I got married seven years ago. I know it sounds like a while, but when you are balancing full time work with parenting, little time remains to develop friendships. Consequently, I didn’t know many people in the area. Most of the friends I have made, were from work or church and they didn’t live particularly close to my home.

 

As an extrovert, I was excited about the opportunity to form some new relationships with moms and families in the area. When I was working full time, play dates were few and far between. Leading me and my kids to feel a bit isolated.

 

With my new schedule, I was able to drop my son off at his half day preschool, like the other parents (I had always felt like I was missing out). This gave me the opportunity to get to know some of them. Initially, we would run into each other in local kid-friendly spots, like the playground or library, but then we started planning play dates.

 

My Fears Surfaced

 

Interestingly, I noticed a pattern. I made a lot of plans to meet people at locations within the community, but I avoided setting up play dates in my home. After some reflection, I realized I was worried that visitors would judge me for my unkempt yard, 1980s carpeting, and lack of decorative style.

 

I have always had a “go against the flow” type of personality, with little concern about what others think. So it surprised me that I was so worried about the opinions of others when it came to my house.

 

As I sat with my feelings a bit, I realized that I was also concerned about how these new friends would treat my son. Our modest lifestyle was enough for us, but I wondered if others would look down on us. Would they judge him for not having the latest toys and electronics?

 

Pressure to Conform

 

I realized I also felt pressure to conform by getting my kids involved with activities. The opportunities for kid-friendly programs have just exploded since I was a kid, even for toddlers. Kiddie music, STEM camp, karate and swim lessons just to name a few. All of them promising to help with character development, focus and discipline. At an average cost of $25 per class, I just don’t have the money to sign my kids up for everything.

 

I met a mom at a local family music class, we exchanged numbers and met for a play date. During our conversation, she suggested that I join her fancy, expensive gym which came with kiddie classes. I knew it was just not something my family could afford, but I just didn’t know how to say that…without feeling embarrassed. So I just changed the subject.

 

Afterward, I thought about it some more and I realized that real friends will love me and my family for who we are, not our income level. So in the future I have decided that I won’t hesitate to tell them the truth.

 

I also needed to remind myself that my kids will still be prepared for adulthood. They will still be happy and have friends. Even if they don’t have a lot of exposure to the kiddie programs and classes in our area.

 

Pleasantly Surprised

 

After working through my fears, I started making plans to have other families over to play, and I even invited neighbors for dinner. It got easier each time.

 

Opening up my home allowed for deeper conversations and connects to be made. Much deeper than what I had experienced at the playground. And now I have a group of people that I can call on for support, who live close to home.

 

As it turns out, they didn’t care about the way my house looked. They cared about me and my family. I was glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone.

 

Worth the Cost

 

What I have come to realize is that more stuff and activates don’t make us happy.

 

You know, in this day and age, there is so much pressure to have more. We are bombarded with advertising all day long, in every form. The marketing is so sneaky that you think everything will make your kid smarter, healthier or more successful in life. It is so tempting to buy everything we see.

 

Reducing our family income was liberating in a sense, because it helped us put more focus on what is really important to us, family.

 

While I can’t sign my kids up for every activity imaginable and buy them everything they want, I can provide them with adventure and opportunities for growth within my home.

 

What I Want to Teach My Children

 

At the end of the day, I ask myself, what do I want to teach my children? Happiness is not found in possessions or approval from people. I think it is found in strong personal connections and time to pursue our interests and passions.

 

In order to make this happen for my family, I have to make a conscious effort to focus on our priorities, and to let go of the pressure to compare our lives with others.

 

Christine

Christine Sullivan is a school counselor, blogger, teachers-pay-teachers author and a Juice Plus+ sales representative. Her mission is to nurture young hearts and grow a kinder world by providing resources to support parents and educators. She is also passionate about the connection between diet and mental health. Follow her on her website www.teachkidsemapthy.com on Instagram (teachkidsempathy) and on Facebook. Christine lives in New Jersey with her two young boys, her husband and her dog Bingo.