My daughter and her friends are typical 7th graders. When they find a new activity they like, they dive in head first leaving all other activities behind in the splash. Doesn't matter if they also are involved with trumpet, violin, piano, biking, rock climbing, drama, cooking, ballet, fencing, or any other activity. Doesn't matter that they have homework and the need for some free time and family time. To this age group, a new activity is like falling in love - it becomes their be all, end all.
And, that is the blessing and curse of middle school. Middle school is truly a time for exploration and for spreading wings. Many kids discover new talents and interests they never even knew they had. The trouble is, this group adds to their plate well but doesn't have the judgement to take anything away. "Balance" and even "compromise" are not really in their vocabulary yet and are not life skills they do well or comfortably at their young ages.
So, you can imagine the stress we had recently when my daughter's 7th grade track team realize that one of their first away meets fell right on an important after school orchestra rehearsal. This involved a good amount of kids. And, this was an important rehearsal - the dress rehearsal before the end of the year performace that week.
As parents, how do we advise our kids in a situation like this? Do they miss this very important rehearsal for a musical group they have been part of all school year and have a responsibility to? To me, that wouldn't teach them the best of lessons. But, missing an important track meet is tough and being part of the team is equally important especially since there are so many individual field events that many of the kids have been working hard to be part of.
It would be easy for us to just swoop in and fix this for our kids. Don't do it. Once your kids are in middle school, that's the time to help them find a way to sort these situations out on their own, with us parents close by as guides, or coaches. School is practice for the real world and in the real world there are times we have to make compromises. And, in the real world, we can't always do everything we want to do. Let's face it, sometimes in real life, we have to make tough choices.
So, we opted to stay behind the scenes and coach our daughter to talk to both teachers involved - the orchestra director and the track coach. These teachers ended up talking together and created a solution that worked for both groups and didn't put one group over the other. The girls would attend the rehearsal but could leave early if they wanted to try and organize a carpool to try and get to part of the meet.
The girls loved that idea and carpool arrangements began before they even got home. If only there wasn't the unfortunately snag of the distance to the track meet, this would have been a beautiful plan. Each girl had a bit of the wind taken out of her sail when she arrived home to announce this well thought out plan to her parents. Sadly, it just couldn't happen. The meet was too far away. All the parents agreed so it turned out that no girl in the orchestra ended up going to the meet. But, we learned that the track coach was uber flexible and very supportive about the multiple hats these girls were trying to wear at once. These girls needed that and that really helped soften the blow they felt in missing that meet. They were disappointed but he helped them refocus and look towards the next meet. Why? Because there is always another meet and the one they missed is, well, only a meet - just a meet. One day - not an entire track career.
This time around my daughter had to miss a sporting event but next time it may be a musical event. Helping our kids learn to prioritize, compromise and balance are some of the best lessons we can teach them as parents. And, helping them find coaches (and music teachers!) who support that message is invaluable. Don't settle for anything less. Your kids need that. Your sanity needs that. And, our cars' gas tanks sometimes need that, too!