I was having a conversation with a mom friend a few weeks back and she asked how do parents with little means compete with parents who essentially have the large sums of money to supplement their child's education with all sorts of 'extras', such as clubs, activities, or personal tutors.
I answered her, that you don't compete.
To give some background, I live and work in a fairly affluent community where homes are worth way too much for my hubby and I to ever afford, and so we rent a tiny two-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood instead. Which works out perfectly, for now I am able to save ten hours a week on commuting, which translates to two extra hours with my family a day.
As a parent of limited financial means myself I have never equated my lack of millions with somehow limiting what I am able to provide for my children. In fact, I believe my hubby and I are giving our kids a very 'rich' life despite our financial limitations. We provide them with one of the most important and rich factor there exists in parenting; our time. By the mere fact that we spend time with them (cooking, reading, lecturing, chatting, playing with them) it sends a clear message to their little heads that they are worth spending time with, and that is by far a much, much richer gift to any child than years of club-like activities, tutors and college savings rolled into one.
Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in the idea of the 'self-sacrificing parent who gives up their own lives and livelihoods for their children's benefit. That is not the parenting style I am advocating here. In fact, I do a lot of the things I love still; I sew, I paint, I cook, see friends, travel. The big difference is that I do it alongside my kids. Yes, it takes a lot more work to set up paints for three, or travel with kids, or to figure out ways to get them 'helping' you in the kitchen....but the trade-off is that they get that rich time with you......and the whole time they are learning the MOST valuable lesson of all.....'YOU are WORTH spending time with'.
Now, I have not done studies on this or anything, all I have are my own life lessons to reflect upon, but my guess is that your time alone will give them super self-esteem, a gift they carry with them throughout their lives. This might mean better choices in life partners down the line, healthier eating choices, more balanced social interactions, higher level of self-reflectiveness, happier grow-ups, and it might even carry over to making them better parents. All that finding-our-place-in-the-world garbage we all go through growing up will be greatly diminished.
So you see, there is simply no substitution for qualitative time with parents. I reject the paradigm thinking of rushing to beef-up our kids' club resumes as a means of getting them ahead somehow. Understand, I am not against clubs. Our own kids will join activities and clubs as they wish, when they are ready. Nevertheless, utilizing activities and clubs as a 'means' of getting them 'ahead' of others academically is pure myth. If qualitative time with you (the parent) is not pencilled in the schedule, all the other efforts will add up to nothing in the long run.