Tis the season, isn’t it? The season of consumerism, consumption, over-buying, over-spending, and over-doing. Tis also the season of comparisons, between your family and everyone else’s. Family comparisons (is life a competition this time of year?) are even made the old-fashioned way, via holiday cards, in case social media were not judging you enough. Soon even the daily snail-mail makes it abundantly clear that everyone you know had a perfectly rosy year, amazing children, and are always happy. Everyone else’s family seems, from the photos, to “have it all” and “do it all”.
It’s really hard to be a parent in this age of comparison, perfectionism, social media, social judgements, and American expectations. Every parental choice can feel complicated and loaded. I fret over every decision, especially this time of year. I think family biking can help us here, as our heads spin and pocketbooks strain.
Family biking can remind all of us that saying “no” can be a most beautiful way to say yes.
The choice to bike with one’s children is an alternative choice, and it can remind us that all of our parental and life choices have pros and cons, benefits and sacrifices, yeses and nos. Family biking often takes longer than driving. It’s hot or cold or whatever temperature it is outside. It can be sweaty and give you helmet hair. It takes effort and energy that might have been utilized somewhere else. Someone will argue that it’s dangerous to bike with your children, just as someone will probably judge any parenting choice that you make, especially if it’s different from their choices. And then, what if you begin to make other alternative choices as you bike more with your kids? What if you decide to shop locally, from stores you can reach by bike, which perhaps requires you spend more money on products you could have bought cheaper if you drove to a bigger store? What if you decide to limit your and your children’s activities to those that can be reached by bike or public transit? Soccer is too far, so you choose swim team for your little ones instead. What if, oh my, you even decide to give up your car altogether, and make a family life locally, by bike and transit, and just say “no” to all the places outside of that circle? Then, oh dear, then your kids can’t “have it all!”
It’s quite hard to make choices that involve saying “no”, especially to our children, especially when it seems like everyone else around us is saying “yes”. I feel the weight of that especially heavily this time of year.
But let us take heart! Family biking can remind all of us that saying “no” can be a most beautiful way to say yes. Yes to less driving, yes to quality time with our children, yes to exercise and fresh air, yes to slowing down, yes to living locally, yes to shopping nearby, yes to immersing ourselves in our neighborhood and local community. But the reverse of that means saying no to quite a lot. And that is a lesson I need to remember during this time of year.
It’s okay, and even good and healthy and wise to say no, even if it seems like all of the other parents in the neighborhood or at school are saying yes. We can say no to that toy, no to that gadget, no to that video game, no to those social media comparisons, no to that party, no to that travel plan, and no to the guilt over saying no. It’s okay. Your kids are going to be OK. Even better than okay, even better than they would be if you always said yes, even if you could.
I hope this is a beautiful season for everyone. But I recognize how stressful it can be, especially when financial constraints make it impossible to say yes to all the things we might want to have, buy, and give to our children. (Hey, all of my kids’ “new” bikes this Christmas are most definitely not new, as we continue our habit of buying used gifts for our children… they’ll be fine.) I hope that instead of feeling guilty, you can go for a bike ride, and remember all of the blessings that can come from having less, going slowly, and not “having it all”.
Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via email@example.com