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The Do-Nothing Kid

By Michelle (Graceful, Faith in the Everyday)

I'm not one of those overzealous moms – the ones who enroll their kids in every next thing: soccer, T-ball, French horn, yoga for toddlers, Portuguese, Tai Chi.

Don't get me wrong – it's not because I'm self-righteous and virtuous and protective of my children's childhood. It's because I am simply lazy. The thought of schlepping Noah and Rowan back and forth, night after night and weekend afternoons to games and practices and recitals, combined with work and grocery shopping and Walgreens and trips to the post office paralyzes me. Frankly, I'm much too self-centered to spend all that time shuttling my children.

Yet I do strive to involve them in some activities, because heaven forbid, I wouldn't want them to become "nothing kids."

My friend Viv tells the story of her mom, who would always hang the threat of the do-nothing kid over her and her siblings' heads. She didn't want her kids "hanging around" the house, watching General Hospital and tossing back Cool Ranch Doritos. "I won't have nothing kids in this house," she’d tell her kids.

I get this. Kids need to be busy. Kids need to be entertained. Kids need activities and distractions and learning and growing opportunities. Kids need to be occupied and frankly, kids need to keep up with their peers.

This isn't a problem for Rowan, my youngest. He's naturally gregarious and adventurous – drawn to social situations and always ready to try his hand at something new. Noah, my oldest, on the other hand, is my more contemplative child. He loves nothing more than to swing in the hammock, gazing up at golden honey locust leaves against the sapphire sky.

This didn’t seem like enough to me – this dabbling in the backyard, this roaming around the neighborhood, spotting yellow finches in the spirea shrub and swallowtails on the clematis. These activities didn't seem structured enough to “count.” That is, until I read Ann Kroeker's book Not So Fast: Strategies for the Fast-Paced Family, and I began to reconsider and redefine what should count.

"But why do I have to try out for choir?" Noah would bemoan. "Why do I have to learn a sport?" he would complain. And my answer was always the same: "Because you can't be a do-nothing kid."

"But I'm not a do-nothing kid," Noah would protest. "I ride my bike. I have succulent and tropical plant collections. I'm learning about bonsai. I read. I catch grasshoppers. I draw pictures and have art sales. I do a lot of stuff. I'm not a do-nothing kid!"

"That's all really good stuff, honey, it is," I would reply, my voice climbing into a higher pitch. "But you need to do other stuff, too. Activities with kids. Or team sports. Things that will teach you how to hang out with other people."

Or does he? What will happen to Noah if he doesn’t enroll in the activities I consider “normal” for a child his age? Will he be scarred for life? Will he be unable to relate to other people? Whose life is it anyway…his or mine?

Ann Kroeker puts it this way in Not So Fast:

"We do have a choice in how we raise our children. If we want to give them a high-speed childhood charging toward adulthood full steam ahead, then, sure, we can do that. There’s a cost to living that way, but some people feel that the cost is worth it…many people feel confident of their choices in spite of the mania…

Or we can live a slower life. A more deliberate and focused life. A counter-cultural life that embraces the value of rest as well as work. Instead of letting the world define success, we can live a life that discovers the definition of success rooted in Scripture."

Noah naturally lives this slower, more deliberate and focused life. That’s how he’s made. So, I’m wondering, who am I to force him in a different direction, to force him to fit a different mold? Perhaps, as Ann so astutely notes, I am letting the world, rather than God, define success for me, as well as for my children.

I think, in the end, there is a balance – the trick is in discovering where that balance rests. It’s different for each of my children. It’s different for my husband and me. What I’m learning, again and again, is that different is not necessarily “wrong” or “worse.” It’s just simply different. And the key is to remember that God created each of us uniquely different…and to trust that he will help us find our own unique path.

Michelle is a Christian wife and mother of two originally from Massachusetts now living in Nebraska. She is a part-time writer, editor and fundraiser for Nebraska PBS/NPR. Michelle loves to write about how her family illuminates God's presence in her everyday life, and on finding (and keeping) faith in the everyday. Michelle enjoys reading, running and writing. Be sure to go visit her blog, Graceful, Faith in the Everyday.

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Reader Comments (12)

Oh Michelle! I'm in the hammock with Noah. Thought-provoking post!

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Heska King

Thanks, Sandra. Have you read Ann Kroeker's book "Not So Fast"? It's really made such a positive impact on my life...and my family's life.

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle DeRusha

I agree with Ann and I agree with you, Michelle. As far as activities outside the house (soccer, swimming, whatever), we sit down with our kids and pick one thing for fall/winter and then we pick again for spring/summer. It doesn't mean we aren't rushing around sometimes, but we can't keep up with 5 activities apiece (not to mention the cost involved).

I would definitely identify with Noah (which is my oldest son's name too). I would be content many times to be alone and doing activities like your son, both as a child and now! I do feel like we should all understand how to get out of those comfort zones, to engage with people differently, be social. I wish I could have had someone in my life as a child who could SHOW me how to do that and not just TELL me to do it.

I don't know- find that balance, Michelle. Then make sure you share the secret with me. :)

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterjasonS

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jason. Another good book to consider: "The Gift of an Ordinary Day," by Katrina Kenison. Have you heard of it or read it? I'm reading it now -- she is an amazing writer...and delves deeply into these topics of slowing down, finding balance, celebrating uniqueness, fending off cultural expecations and definitions of success, etc. She is a gifted writer -- love this book!

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle DeRusha

I think that the slower pace of things like Noah is wanting is just fine. THere are so many ways to find your way in this world, that we don't "need" all the formal activities. Some kids thrive on them and love every minute of them. Other kids? Are soooo okay in their own skin that they don't need their peer's approval as other kids might. Go with it! Let him be just fine in his own skin and maybe try to help him find ways to meet others in his interest areas.... a horticulture group, group art class, etc... and really it doesn't matter if that horticulture club is all children or a mix of ages. When ever in our adult lives to we ONLY associate with others of our own age range. It will give him awesome skills to be able to learn his socialization with all ages of people. He goes to a local school, so he will get some work on learning to work and play with other 9 year olds several days a week!! Good luck on finding the way that different isn't "wrong" or "worse"!! It is one of the hardest lessons to learn as a parent!!

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterELM @ A Family Treehouse

When there is something that interests Noah enough to command his full attention he'll be into this said activity with gusto. He isn't a do-nothin kiddo. He's a contemplative soul. There is nothing wrong with that. Maybe his interests will lie in writing later or even art. We should suggest things for our kids to do, but I don't believe in pushing. We're waiting until next spring to let Anthony decide if he wants an activity. He's MY more contemplative child.

Kids will naturally let you know what they want to do as far as extra activities. They'll either say it or you'll see their pull towards something. I completely agree with the balance needed.

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralita

WOW! I just ( in the last hour) sent out an S.O.S. e-mail to a few friends to try to get Jake more "involved". How can we be on the exact same page today? I am finding out from those friends that we have to remember that they are not always "involved", but maybe just "evolving". Trying to find that niche that is right for them, even if they are a little immature for their age. We complain that they are just "at home", but then I think that he will just be "at home" for 5 more years! Yikes!! I really should let him be who he is, and make sure he knows that it is okay.
BUT- and it's a BIG but- I do think ahead to making sure he knows how to throw a ball, and step up to a challenge, or walk off a scratch. Those make him into the man that he will become, and teach his son. But baking brownies isn't a terrible skill to have as a man either! :)

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTory

All really good, supportive comments here -- thank you!

Tory: how funny that we are on the same page today. Truthfully, as you can probably tell from this post, it's been a struggle for me, accepting that Noah is "different" from other kids his age. Part of it is fear-based -- I want him to fit in, so that he won't later become a target for bullies and whatnot. But it's also a matter of trust, and relinquishing control. I need to trust that God knows Noah's path and will guide him, and me, in the ways that are best. I love your phrase, BTW, about choosing "evolving" over "involving." Well said!

Elm, Alita -- you are sharing much wisdom and encouragement here. Thank you!

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle DeRusha

There's so much wisdom in your words. My fear for children in today's world is that they have so much crowding their minds and time that they will have much difficulty with "be still and know that I am God."

I'm with Noah in the hammock!

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaVon

This afternoon, my kids phoned some friends and met them at the nearby park to wade in the creek and kick around the soccer ball just for fun. Nothing organized. Nothing that involved significant travel. Nothing organized by a parent.

That freedom to follow one's interest is a gift I want to give the kids. If they fritter that freedom away with technology, we've got a problem. And sometimes I do have to watch out for that, because our family does enjoy using technology (look at me here!).

But compared with our neighborhood peers, we have decided to leave space in our lives for hammock time. The do-nothingness you described, Michelle, when Rowan was "gazing up at golden honey locust leaves against the sapphire sky"? I'll bet that wasn't nothing. I'll bet some important things were happening in his head, heart, maybe his soul, too.

Kids need time to think; and if they are inclined and the Spirit leads, to pray.

Thank you for sharing your story and struggle; it's a privilege to think we've been part of each other's thought process.

Loving all the comments, too! You are all intentional, godly parents; I respect your opinions greatly!

October 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Kroeker

Oh, my. That comment got long.


October 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Kroeker

Wonderful comments! It's so nice to hear a community of parents talk about things like this. My hubby and I decided long ago that our girls would not participate in more than two activities at a time. Now that they are a little older (6 and 4) we are finding that only having one is even better because their schedules are so different.

We also believe that down-time is so very important for their development. Like several of you said, in that time they are allowed to dream and grow, and just experience the freedom of play and exploration. Our girls have amazing imaginations and love to play. I think it's as much of a blessing to make sure there is time in our schedule for them to do that a it is for them to participate in an organized activity.

Thanks, Michelle. Fabulous post!

October 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGinny (MAD21)

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