Saturday, April 27, 2013

Kids and activities: how much is too much?

(Making "dirt cups" at a scout meeting)

About this time every spring, the husband and I find ourselves engaged in the same debate.
Our evenings are full of sports practices, scout meetings, swim lessons and a music class.
Half our weekend is eaten up by games or campouts or other scout stuff.
There is a drum recital our eldest is not so prepared for.
In other words, we get busy.  Very very busy.

So how much is too much? Some parents abide strictly by a one-activity-per-kid rule.  Especially the more kids they have.  Some parents way overschedule then only make it to half the stuff.  I know a family like this: they are always stressed out with 3 kids doing 3-5 things each.  Someone always misses out.  Some parents are very DIY and family-focused, doing activities that bring the family together.  Some families are sporty and competitive, some are artsy, and some have very specialized family pursuits. I know one family that is all about the board games.  In fact they just bought themselves a fancy gaming table which now sits front and center in their house.  I know another family that spends every summer dressed up and hanging out at the Rennaissance festivals.

My family is very middle of the road.  If we were ever on "Wife Swap" it would be a very boring episode.  We don't have extreme views on most topics.  I don't even know what the opposite of us would be! We strive for balance in all things.  We keep it open minded.  We tend to steer the kids from heavy duty activities like travel sports, partially because of the expense, but mainly because we dislike the idea of so much time and energy going into one family member at the expense of the other family members, adults included.  However we love that our boys do sports.  We especially love that they are doing sports picked by themselves and not us. (But really, between you and me, I love baseball! So glad one kid is into it!)

We also love that they are into scouts.  Scouting is something that the whole family can do together.  We love being outdoors, camping and hiking.  We love learning about nature and living in a way that preserves it.  We love the motto "Do Your Best!" and have adopted it as our own.  Unlike most other activities, scouting promotes the development of the whole child---being a good family member, teammate, citizen, and things like pursuing your spiritual journey. And the friendships they are making are powerful and good. Yeah, we like scouting for sure.

And we feel it is important to be well rounded, which is why we like our kids to do art and music.  In the past they have taken various art classes, and our oldest plays the drums.  Very well, I might add, despite his never wanting to practice.  The younger one wants to learn guitar, and probably this summer I will get around to finding him a teacher. 

As I read this it seems reasonable enough.  Some will read this and say, whew, you guys do a lot! And others will read it and think, meh, we do more than that.  We are blessed with few days a week of nothing, including Sundays.  And so far no one has wanted to play winter sports, which frees up our time to pursue indoor hobbies, or just spend time together as a family.  There are peaks and valleys: fall and spring are the hardest.  In summer we ease up and hang out at the pool and ride bikes and cook out on the grill.  By the end of summer they will be bored.

Maybe taking the long view is the trick.  If the whole year round is a constant sprint from one thing to the next, you're doing too much.  I sometimes try to imagine what we would be doing if we didn't have a baseball game or soccer game or a hike to go to on Saturday mornings: we would probably be doing the chores and fussing at the kids.  Watching TV. Going to a restaurant.  When the kids were very small, our weekends almost always included not much more than going to eat, stopping at Target or Home Depot, then coming home to watch a video.  There is a season to all things, and I'm glad that season is behind us! After school is no different.  If your kids have started the Common Core curriculum you're seeing that they don't have much, if any, homework anymore.  I'd much rather send my son downstairs to practice his instrument than see him flopped on the couch with an iPod.

I guess the bottom line is you're doing too much if you find yourself completely drained all the time, especially if the kids are burned out too.  As parents we have to be open minded to change.  Maybe he doesn't like the drums anymore.  Maybe the sport he's been playing since he was four is blocking his ability to try something new.  Maybe three activities per kid is just too much of a strain on the family.  Don't they need to learn discipline, though? It's so hard, isn't it?  We all want what's best for our kids, and what's actually best is not always that clear to us.  All I know is that at this moment I am looking forward to that boring July day at the pool, and I promise I will not overschedule our summer, no matter how many cool camps and day programs I see in the parents newspapers.  Scout's honor.


  1. Thanks for sharing your heart Shannon! It can get tough knowing how much to do. We just go with one season at a time, it's a journey.

  2. I loved reading this post! Your heart was so evident throughout! What a beautiful mother you are! I love the balance you are striving to achieve and how you make decisions based on the needs of your family and not what others are doing :) Seriously, wonderful!

  3. I will admit that part of me felt like, "Whew, glad that part of my life is over," as I read your post. I have really fond memories of those times, but we are now in a different season. Learning to let go, as it were.

    As always with you, though, you have a really good self-awareness coupled with great parenting instincts. Personally, I like your balanced, one-day-at-a-time approach. I think when you are at my point in life, you'll look back and feel good about your choices.

  4. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the exhaustion factor.
    I think our kids tell us exactly what they need from the day they are born.
    (It's whether or not we listen to the signs as parents that is up for determination.)
    And you're right, parents need to be able to relax too. It's ok for us to say "NO" sometimes