“I know I’m ridiculous,” she confessed. We were sitting side-by-side at the skating rink, watching our daughters glide hand-in-hand. It took months, but we finally managed to meet up so our girls could play together. The reason? Her family of five was involved in nine (yes, nine) extracurricular activities.
She went on to tell me how her three kids were each playing three sports at the same time and how her weeks, plus every weekend, were booked solid with games and practices. They’d just purchased a new house with a fabulous pool and green space for soccer, but those amenities were rarely used. “We just don’t have time,” she shrugged.
I smiled and shared with her how we were the opposite. Our four kids are each allowed to be in one activity at a time, and there are often pockets of time when there are no extracurricular activities on our schedule at all. Her response is a narrative I hear on repeat.
She prided herself on being “so busy,” with hours spent in her SUV, zipping back and forth across town, her vehicle loaded down with coolers full of snacks and sports gear. In the same breath, she said she’s horribly exhausted, a venti coffee clutched in one hand, lamenting that she didn’t have more time to do other things.
Her kids don’t start their homework until 9 p.m. most nights. She couldn’t remember the last time she and her husband spent any time alone together, but, she joked, they could make up for it once all the kids were off to college.
And what about weekends? Weekends were even busier than weekdays, with out-of-town (sometimes out-of-state) baseball tournaments. On the weekends when they weren’t traveling, they had three-hour sports practices on Sundays followed by school projects, ones she would sometimes (admittedly) end up doing herself because her kids were too tired to complete them. They’d squeeze in private music lessons and tutoring, usually on early Saturday mornings.
I truly felt fatigue set in just listening to her schedule. She, like so many other moms, seem to crave the affirmation of being a good parent by making sure her kids could participate in multiple extracurriculars that would surely make them smarter, faster, better. And I wondered, we all want our children to be “well-rounded” and invested in their communities, but at what cost?
Is it possible that teamwork, commitment, self-discipline, and confidence can be developed in less-stressful and less-costly ways? I think the answer is yes. At least, I hope it is.
I realize that our decision to limit our children’s extracurricular activities is counter-cultural. I realize it isn’t popular. But given the slew of information on the negative impacts of over-scheduling children, I think we’re making a good decision for our family.
What do we do with all our spare time, the mom asked me when she paused to take a sip of her coffee. I shared with her that we place a lot of value on free play, creativity, and family time.
Friday nights are for buttery popcorn and the latest family-friendly movie. On Saturday mornings, my husband and the kids have a pancake fest while I sleep in (oh yes, I do), then we might play basketball or ride bikes, run errands, or have friends over for dinner. Sunday mornings we attend church, and then in the afternoons, we do projects around our house. A handful of weekends a year, we travel to visit extended family or my kids’ birth families.
In essence, our weekends are ours. They don’t belong to coaches, instructors, or tutors. We don’t punch someone else’s time clock. This is how we like it.
My kids aren’t living in a cave with no social contact. My oldest daughter is currently in ballet, which is one forty-five minute class a week. My second daughter, who played basketball in winter, is starting drum lessons, which is just one half-hour per week. My six-year-old son is starting a ninja warrior class on Saturday afternoons for a five-week span. My toddler’s extracurricular is following her siblings around. I do not participate in (or enjoy) Mommy-and-Me classes.
I know our life may sound dull and boring compared to the long to-do lists of other families, but the truth is, our family is peaceful, happy, and creative. We love our no-alarm-clock Saturday mornings and our create-a-fort-in-the-living-room Sunday afternoons. In summers, we swim every single afternoon together for hours-on-end while we listen to music, visit with friends who arrive to join us, and eat melting popsicles.
I only have a few precious years to raise my kids, and these non-scheduled, non-adult-directed-and-organized moments matter. They matter so much. We are creating memories among the six of us and enjoying the benefits of being present and seeing how our time together unfolds. In some ways, perhaps this is the greatest adventure.
This life isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. I’m not worried about my kids’ college applications or if they can play the piano by age four. Running through the sprinkler is more our jam, and my kids are not complaining.