So....don't over schedule kids.
Honestly, I don't know what is best for your kids. You do. But I know there are lots of you out there who have been on the activity treadmill so long and want to get off, but feel too much guilt to slow down. Maybe you have younger kids who haven't gotten sucked into endless activity, but you see your friends with older kids and are freaked out by what is "expected" of parents.
I'm going to share some things that I have figured out to help you slow down and breathe a little. Or a lot.
First, what's your motivation for all the activities? Are you hoping they'll get a college scholarship? Do you want to pad their college resume? Do you not want them to feel left out? Do you sign them up because your kids "really, really, really" want it? Do you do it so you feel like a good parent? Have you forgotten why you started in the first place?
None of these are bad reasons to have your child join an activity or two. But things can be taken to excess - even when the activities are completely wonderful.
Before you sign your child up for an activity you should think about the cost. I don't just mean the financial obligation, although some of them are crazy-expensive. I mean, what does the activity really cost in terms of money, time and effort? Will it require a frequent commitment over the supper hour? Will you have to drag other kids to the event? How many nights a week will it require? Will you end up eating out because you are never around for supper?
Every activity is a trade-off. By saying "yes" to another commitment, you are necessarily saying "no" to all the family game nights, popsicle stick creations, impromptu dance parties, snuggly-book reading, tree climbing, extended family visits, etc. that you could have been doing during that time instead.
Time is finite. Do you want to spend an extra two hours dealing with an organized obligation? Even if the activity only lasts an hour, you still have to figure in time to get your child ready, time to get the siblings ready, commute time, waiting around for the activity to be done time, waiting for your slow-as-molasses child to actually come out from the activity after its over time, commute home time, get coats and shoes put away time, washing the uniform time, etc.
Let's not forget about the parent's time, too. My time is at least as important as my children's. I refuse to spend all my time shuttling kids back and forth. Not only does it make it more difficult to get everything done that needs to be done, but it would be darn near impossible to get anything done that I WANT to get done.
I've heard so many friends complain that they don't have time to read a book, or do a favorite hobby, or hang out with their spouse. Really? You do have the time, you just don't choose to prioritize yourself enough to take the time. How about prioritizing your marriage? What is a greater gift to kids than a stable home?
Have you considered that all your excess time sacrifice for your children's enrichment might not even be that great for them?
Listen. I don't want my kids to believe the world revolves around them and their activities. All of my family's resources (time and money) should NOT go towards my children. I want them to realize that their wants and needs are met within the confines of the wants and needs of everyone in our family. Yes, their interests are important, but so are those of their siblings, dad and mom.
I also don't want my children to assume that once they have children, their own hobbies and interests come to a screaming halt. I need a chance to reach my full potential as a human being, just as my children do.
What about chores? When in the world do children get the opportunity to learn how valuable a member of the family they are if they don't have time to make valuable contributions to their family? Chores are important! Even if kids don't like them (and even when they actually make a lot more work for the parents) kids need to do chores. I refuse to send children off into the world who have no clue how to cook, clean, do laundry or do basic household maintenance. I feel that is part of the training they need to become competent, independent adults some day. And what better way to learn how to do what they will need to know than by participating in the running of the household from the time they are young?
We haven't even talked about weekends. When will families go to church together? When will families work together to serve others? When in the world are extended families going to get together if every
weekend is consumed with sports, scouts, or other activities? Selfishly, I don't want to implicitly teach my children that sports or other organized activities are more important that grandparents. Someday my kids will have their own children and I will long to be part of their life. I would hate for my relationship with them to be relegated to cheering from some bleachers. I want to interact with them, not just observe them.
I know you want your kid to feel included in the group. You don't want them to miss out on future opportunities because they didn't put in enough time and effort in the elementary and middle school years. But, which group is more important? A fifth grade soccer team or siblings? What is your family going to reminisce about when they are grown? Yet another weekend-long tournament of one child or the summer they all together created swords out of cardboard and aluminum foil and played pirates every night till they were caked with dirt and thoroughly exhausted?
Still think round-the-clock busyness isn't so bad? When will your kids get the privileged of being bored? And I do think it is becoming a privilege now. How often do your kids have the opportunity to occupy their time however they see fit without an adult structuring their time and without electronics? Until kids get bored, they won't figure out how to amuse themselves and will expect the world to amuse them. How will kids learn what they love without a chance to laze over mounds of books or stare ate the clouds daydreaming?
When children's time and activities are dictated to them, they don't have a chance to imagine and pretend. This time isn't wasted! This is when children become creative problem solvers. Kids can learn a lot from just being given some nails and wood - what to build, how to build it, how to modify their plans when things go askew, etc. Kids need a chance to learn how to think. They need the time to hone this skill.
I'm not telling you how to raise your child. I am offering the support you might need to step off the activity treadmill that moves faster and faster each year. Get rid of the guilt that might be holding you back from a less insane schedule.
Oh dear. In reading what I have written so far, I sound a bit like a sanctimonious, self-righteous windbag. Keep in mind, my oldest child is only 11. I don't have everything figured
out yet, but I've given this enough thought that I know the kind of childhood I do not want for my kids. I know the kind of parenthood I don't want for myself.
I guess what I want for myself and my kids is the chance to stop, breathe, and appreciate this life. I want the chance to waste some time. And in this go-get-um world we're in now, that's a luxury too many people are willing to pass up.