Parent as Curator





Son recently started fourth grade travel basketball. Bye, bye weekends until March. He practices Tuesday and Friday nights and plays games Saturday afternoons and evenings. In his spare time he checks scores for his fantasy basketball league, watches the Knicks and…shoots hoops. Did he sign up for Odyssey of the Mind at school? Nope. An instrument? Nope. Is he rounding out his character with an art or boy scouts? Nope. Is he happy? Yes.

Kids 2.0

Welcome to my kids 2.0. This year we trimmed down, scaled back, and basically, didn’t sign up. It took me the full length of September to quiet the voice in my head that said I was jipping them of opportunity, letting them languish in mediocrity, that they couldn’t compete with their peers in…well, what exactly? And that’s where my voices banged against the brick wall of nonsense that many of us let cloud our thoughts day after day. Nonsense about seizing every opportunity to tiger mother our children into greatness. Nonsense about what we think matters now that won’t matter at all then. And nonsense about falsely believing that what matters to us actually matters to them.

My daughter version 1.0 attended swimming, ballet, gymnastics, karate, soccer, softball, basketball, skiing, drama, choir, piano, and girl scouts between ages three and six. Now she says no to after school activities and after a few tries of “How about the clay class?” I’ve stopped prodding her. When swimming ends in a week, she wants to ski for the winter. Basketball on Saturday mornings in case the conditions are crummy? No. She chose skiing.

The truth is that what we help our kids choose not to do is as important as what we encourage them to do. This point hit home with me in a speech by Jason Fried, Founder of 37Signals. (I always hoped I could combine my technology profession with parenting advice!) In this talk, Fried talks about software development, bear with me now, and that adding more and more features creates something called, bloat. Think about it, how much bloat is in your children’s schedules? In their playrooms? On their iTouches or iPads?

A Collection vs. a Warehouse

What makes a museum, Fried prompts, is not what’s on the walls, but what’s not on the walls. What’s left in the warehouse. A curator’s job is to say no. And aren’t we parents the stewards, the curators, of our young children’s lives? This means it’s up to us to decide what comes in and what goes out. It takes a great amount of discipline to keep a software product streamlined and elegant and not include every feature requested by customers, but only those features that the developers know are the smartest for their specific product. To make it stand out.

Fried notes that in software, certain customers will be very vocal about what they want and yet what they want may not be best for the product. Additionally, what they ask for, may not be what they actually want. It takes skilled listening and discernment to choose what features to implement.  As a parent, our “customers” aren’t just our kids. Sometimes, they are the voices from our peers, our own parents and pasts, and our nonsensical notions about what’s necessary to give our children their best shots in life.

But if we think of ourselves as curators, then we’re in charge of the museum and it’s our job to reject what doesn’t fit. As Fried says, the best museums are built on careful decisions. It’s the difference between making a collection, not a warehouse. And if we learn to curate really well, we’ll teach our children to be their own curators.

Soon after basketball started, we received an email about a new competitive baseball league starting in town. It would prepare a select group of boys during the winter, during basketball season, for spring baseball season. Baseball is Son’s second favorite sport. It’s what he plays, watches, and thinks about during the rest of the year. Would adding another sport to his schedule tip the balance in his fatigue, schoolwork, and temperament? But if he didn’t participate in the new private, super competitive training league, would he fall behind his peers? We put the question to him.

Sometimes curators pass on one opportunity to sustain and feature another. They don’t star the Renoir exhibition until the Matisse show has closed. Choice matters. Son decided to pass on the new baseball league. He chose basketball.


Check out Jason Fried’s entire talk here (note: there are a few four letter words so you might want to listen out of earshot of little ones).


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