All hail extracurriculars!

Posted Friday, February 12th, 2021 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Law and Culture, Miscellaneous, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, Of Interest to General Public

A few weeks ago I had my first court hearing on the issue of whether a non-custodial parent should be forced to take one child to extracurricular activities during his visitation periods. The parties had recently separated and my client’s visitation was alternating weekends and one afternoon each week. With two children, neither of them old enough to be left home alone, and no local family support network to watch one child when the other child had activities, the options were to either drag the younger child to the older child’s activities or not take the older child to activities. Further the older child had an extracurricular schedule that left few unoccupied afternoons. A requirement that my client bring the child to her extracurricular activities impinged on the other child’s after school time and impinged on my client’s ability to enjoy his limited time with his children.

Despite these concerns, the family court required my client to either bring the child to these activities or forgo his time with that child. The family court seemed shocked that any parent would take the position my client took. In issuing her ruling that judge wrote:

Parenting is a difficult responsibility. In today’s society, children participate in these activities more so than ever before. The design of communities does not provide for the neighborhood and community events of generations past. Simply put, these activities are the only forms of socialization many children have. To deny children the opportunity to participate in such activities, it to simply deny them their right to experience moments in time and to develop physically, emotionally, and socially. This Court will not force Father to participate in those events. It is a shame that he is unwilling to put his children’s needs before his own.

Earlier this week, the South Carolina Court of Appeals, in Daily v. Daily, came to a similar conclusion about the importance of extracurricular activities, requiring a Father to bring the children to those activities during his limited parenting time. The Court of Appeals wrote:

We find it is in Daughters’ best interest to require Father to ensure their attendance of all previously scheduled extracurricular activities and events during his Short Weekend Visitation. The record shows Daughters enjoy participating in dance, drama, and sports, and Mother only enrolls them in activities in which they are interested. By taking Daughters to these events, Father attends to Daughters’ psychological, physical, environmental, spiritual, educational, medical, family, emotional and recreational needs.

I’m not disagreeing with the points made by the family court judge and the Court of Appeals on the importance of extracurricular activities. But, perhaps, a culture that deprives children of socialization through neighborhood activities, and demands parental involvement in extensive organized extracurricular activities, needs fixing.

The culture’s view of extracurricular activities for children has radically changed in the three generations since my parents were children. Few children of my parents’ generation–mostly the privileged–had formal extracurricular activities. My dad’s tales of after school adventures are textbook “free range childhood.” While my parents would occasionally drive me to soccer matches or basketball practices, I recall a number of ten mile round-trip bike rides to get there. And I regularly rode my bike eight miles, in the dark, up hills, and along Ventura Boulevard, to get home from Hebrew High School. My own children had some extracurricular activities that required parental involvement or transportation. However, given a nine-year age gap between our children and an intact marriage, we were able to employ the divide-and-conquer strategy to get them to these activities. And those activities rarely occupied more than a couple of days a week.

One of my first blogs addressed helicopter parenting. The grade-school child who loved having daddy come for lunch is now a college freshwoman living in a dorm two state lines (and next year an ocean) away. In those dozens years the trend towards parental involvement in children’s lives has become even more intense. Nowadays I see grade school children who have multiple extracurricular activities, sometimes occupying more than five days a week. I pity my clients who have to drag young children to another child’s extracurricular activities on school nights. Between homework, feeding and grooming, and extracurriculars, I imagine those nights are brutal, with little time to relax. But that seems to be what our culture finds ideal.

It is difficult to practice family law when one does not understand the culture. As I get older I try to spend time with parents a generation younger than I so I can understand contemporary parenting. In not suggestion my client back down on the extracurricular issue, I clearly did not understand contemporary extracurricular culture. However I’m not sure my dad’s unstructured after school adventures–as the fifth of seven children in a working class family, his family lacked the time or money to have him in activities that cost much money or required parental involvement–weren’t more rewarding than the activities of many of my clients’ relentlessly scheduled children.

One thought on All hail extracurriculars!

  1. Deborah Proveaux says:

    Mr. Forman: I disagree with the ruling. I believe that a non custodial parent should have full jurisdiction over the children during their limited visitation. It is difficult enough, every other weekend and every Wed after school for 4-6 hrs. to impart that parent’s values and bond with them. This ruling will lead to court involvement, in future, of selecting extra curricular activities, with the court becoming a third parent, while the parents fight over who is committing the non/custodial’s time & money. More offensive is the intrusion of the court upon parenting, which must be creative at best, when you only see a child 60 hrs twice a month on weekends and 4-6 hours weekly for that homework/dinner and return to home frantic-school-nite visit. Children today are often pressured and over-scheduled. I enjoy your opinions. I was a single custodial parent of 3 , ages 4, 3 & 1.5 until the last one was in college in 2005. Brutal. Glad mine are grown.

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