Be honest. How Much Is TOO Much? How many of you schedule TOO MUCH for you, your family, but in particular… your kids? Don’t lie! I see you acting all indignant and shaking your head no! Trust me, I’m not judging, because I do the Same.Exact.Thing. And it’s not just play dates and get togethers with friends. I’m talking more about the scheduled activities. There is soccer, basketball, hockey, dance, swim lessons, tumbling, piano lessons, various enrichment classes and events and oh ya… that thing called SCHOOL. Did I mention that my kids are just 5 and 3-years-old? I’m shaking my own head, people…
Why do we have such a hard time spending more time at home as a family and enjoying the little things in life with each other on a regular basis? Lord knows it would be a heck of a lot cheaper! I know for a fact that none of my friends and certainly not myself were this scheduled as a child by our own parents when we were our kids’ ages. Why has society turned on us and made us feel like horrible moms if we don’t have our kids involved in every blasted thing available to us?!
I recently came across some figures from the University of Michigan survey that said in the 80’s and 90’s, structured school sports only required 90 minutes a week for families to commit to. Compare that to today, where it is generally a minimum of 3 hours a week! Meanwhile, the survey also found that children’s unstructured free time has dropped by 12 hours per week and homework has gone up 50%! That is absolutely eye-opening on why so many parents feel the effects of constantly being a slave to their children’s schedules. Multiply that by 2, 3, or even 4 children? The effects can be dazzling.
So why in the world do we do this to ourselves? It can be physically and emotionally exhausting not just for the kids, but for us as parents! It can cause burnout and really take a toll on the entire family. But, as you can see below, our intentions are good!
1. We are Convinced Our Children Will be Left Behind Socially or Developmentally
Is this you? Do you think your child is going to miss out on that one key experience if they aren’t doing everything the other kids in your circle or their age group are doing? There is so much said today about “Intentional Parenting”. It can help our children learn skills, gain confidence, experience new opportunities and help them to grow in character.
But the results? Busy family schedules. We are all faced with countless options on things we are able to enroll our kids in and it can be staggering! We start to be compelled by fear that if we don’t sign them up for these things, they’ll fall behind. Or we get guilted into it by relatives, friends or neighbors.
Meanwhile, based on a recent survey, did you know that 41% of kids, aged 9 to 13 say they feel stressed most of the time because they are too busy and have too much to do? And over 75% of kids surveyed said they wished they had more free time? Eye-opening.
2. We Want to Give Our Child Every Opportunity Possible
I think this is a big one for me, personally. I really want to just do what seems best for my kids and my intentions are nothing but good. I want them to gain the social skills and opportunities that crop up from scheduled activities. Just to name a few, it can help them with teamwork, sportsmanship, self-discipline, and conflict resolution. Some studies have found that physical play actually helps with improved intelligence in children!
And of course, most of the time, they are fun and I love seeing my children get excited about going to their favorite class or sport. They talk about it all week long until it’s time to head out and they are so excited they can barely contain themselves. We want to give them every opportunity to discover things they love and where their success may lie, but we need to step back sometimes and see what it may be costing us in terms of schedule.
3. We Want to Keep Them “Busy”
We all would rather have our kids busy with scheduled activities, events and sports rather than sit around the house watching TV all day, being left to their own devices.
But there is also something to be said about leaving free time available for play, exploring and learning on their own. Free play lets kids burn off all of that kiddo energy while learning social skills in an unstructured environment. They get to exercise their imagination (which I just LOVE watching my son do), create new games for themselves and become more aware of their surroundings.
It’s important that our kids learn the art of just being alone! Let them explore their world and develop life skills that will help with the crazy busy world they will become a part of, soon enough. I love giving my kids the space and unstructured time to discover their own passions and talents. It has created some amazing “magic shows”, singing and dancing routines presented just for my pleasure, and countless other things that I just love watching my children create all by themselves.
It has also been shown that kids with regular unstructured free time where they can play on their own creates more self-driven, independent and creative children. Unstructured play with friends and kids their own age can also lead to better social skills and create empathy when they are policing themselves.
I can definitely see the toll it takes on my son when he comes home from a day of school, spends a little time winding down from his day in class, only to be told that it’s time to get ready to go to XYZ. Sometimes I brace myself for a complete meltdown, while other times he asks as soon as he gets in the door if it’s time to go yet! More times than not it’s not because he isn’t excited about what we’re heading out for, it’s more the fact that he’s just tired from his day in school and needs a little unstructured time. There are many days where he would rather spend an afternoon building legos or transformers with his Dad or reading a book or coloring with me than he would to even set foot outside of the house. And I have to admit… I kind of love those days, too!
So how busy is too busy? I don’t want us getting so bogged down in these activities that we start missing family time together. My husband and I love our family meal times and I already see how some of these activities disrupt that daily time together. We are running out the door for something after school and before you know it, we’re getting home at 7pm and it’s time to start the wind down process for bedtime.
According to the American Dietetic Association, eating together as a family during childhood promotes relationship, understanding and love. It helps children digest the events of their day and work through any issues they may have stumbled upon with their parents. Guard this time, Mommas! Elevate its importance! Even if you aren’t able to do this every night of the week, make sure it comes into play when you’re deciding on the opportunities your children will participate in outside of the home!
So what are some tips to make sure you’re not overextending yourself or your children?
- Agree on the amount of activities as a family: For example, is everyone going to participate in one scheduled “activity” per season? Are you good with being gone 2 nights a week? Only your family can decide what works best for them.
- Set your time limits: We all know that some activities that our kids participate in are way more of a time suck than others. Are you prepared for the time commitment some sports will require for your family as a whole? Before committing, be prepared for what it will actually take and how long of a season you’re committing to!
- Are the things you are signing up for mandatory? Or is it going to be OK to miss one or two sessions if things crop up and your kids need a break? Make sure you’re not setting yourself or your kids up for failure and you’re not going to miss important family events because you’re locked into a schedule for your children that isn’t flexible.
- Schedule, organize and plan! Keep a calendar somewhere in your home that shows who is doing what so everyone knows what is going on. It will also give you a visual reminder of just how much you have scheduled for your kids versus how much time you have together as a family. If you have to, throw that scheduled family time in there, too, to make sure it doesn’t slip away!
- Prioritize! For us, school items come first. Our kids are still young enough where I haven’t had to really worry too much about this, but as they grow and the homework starts mounting, that will be a much higher priority than making sure they are making it to practices and sporting events.
- Know when to say no. Is there something new your child really wants to try? See if there is something else they are willing to drop to make room for it. Do you have a play date that you were invited to, but you have been out and about for the last 3 days straight nonstop for other events? Maybe it’s time to stay home and enjoy some downtime with the family. Make sure you’re not overextending yourself or your kids!
- As an extension of saying no, make sure you give yourself a break, too, Mom! Embrace the seasons of life and know that there are going to be times in our parenting world where we are going to be less available to others than at other times. Parenting requires time and it’s hard work! This sweet time with our little ones will never be back, so make sure you’re embracing this season, Mom!
Don’t get me wrong… if your kids are the ones pushing for more involvement and truly enjoy it, it’s great to include them and make sure it works for everyone in the family. And I like to give my kids a chance to try many different things at least once. But when it is clear that that particular activity just isn’t “their thing”, I’m certainly not going to be the parent that pushes them into a sport just so they can participate in something!
The key? Moderation. Make sure the activities you are choosing for your children fit their age, temperament, interests and abilities. It’s important to make sure they are participating in things they truly enjoy, rather than just “keeping up with the pack”. We don’t want to force our kids to do things just to please us. It kind of defeats the whole purpose!
And make sure to create that important family time with them amidst all of the chaos of daily family life. I know my children are young and things are only going to get more busy as they start embarking on their own paths, so this is the season in life that I love to have that time at home with them as much as possible. They’ll all be gone before we know it, moms! Help guide your children, as well as your entire family and they will find the positivity, love and friendship that are goals for all of our parenting endeavors!