We're Opting Out Of Extracurricular Activities, And This Is Why

by Emily Edlynn
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Our local youth baseball and softball league just launched their season. We had planned to look into it, and before we knew it, registration was over before we had even pulled up the website. I did not realize what a big deal this was until the past week, when I keep running into families whose kids are playing and it started to feel like we are the only ones not joining in the fun.

I believe our children are in the fewest number of extracurricular activities of all the families we know. Just as of a few weeks ago, our 3-year-old started his first ever structured class — gymnastics. Since age 3, our 6-year-old has tried dance, swimming, gymnastics, ice skating, dance again, and now gymnastics again. Our 8-year-old tried dance, swimming, and soccer before she discovered gymnastics at 6 and has never looked back. This year, we signed up both girls for Girl Scouts. So as of this moment, each child has one gymnastics class per week, and each girl has 1-2 Girl Scout meetings a month. Total. That’s it.

No musical instruments. No foreign languages. No math tutoring. No drama or art class. No spring soccer. No baseball.

In the spirit of a true mom confession, I’m going to reveal the real reasons why: time and money and selfishness.

We aren’t ready to tweak our weeknight schedules for on-the-run dinners and late bedtimes. We aren’t ready to spend our Saturdays and Sundays driving from one activity to the next, splitting up so my husband and I don’t see each other until dinner. We aren’t ready to pile money into all of it; full-time daycare and after-school care plus summer camps feel like enough right now if we want to also take a family trip once in awhile.

But every family we know — all my friends, all our neighbors, everyone — is giving their kids more to do than we are. So I do worry that our selfishness with time and money may be costing our kids opportunities and enrichment. I also worry, though, that as soon as we ramp up the activities, we can’t go back. It’s like we are delaying an inevitable future as long as we can, preserving a certain calm and innocence in our family’s rhythm right now.

We cook dinner every school night and eat around the table together. Some nights, this “quality time” consists mostly of kids complaining about food. Other nights, we are rewarded with finding out more about our kids’ lives than if we had not sat down together. On weekends, my husband and I still try to grab moments of time for us – individually and together. Whether I sneak in an afternoon run, or he runs out to a comic book store, or we craft a spontaneous date night, this time to enrich ourselves keeps us going.

Every parent’s fear is we are not adequately preparing our children for their futures. This fear sits in me even as I rationalize all the great reasons our kids are just fine without more activities. What if they aren’t as fulfilled somehow? They seem okay, but what if I’m missing something that I can’t go back and change?

Our 8-year-old has started to talk about wanting to join the gymnastics team, which would mean multiple 2-hour practices a week and weekend competitions, not to mention a new, huge expense to add to our family budget. She’s not quite ready – she needs to move up a level before she can even try out, and then she has to actually try out and qualify. I am so proud of her passion, and I believe in her talent.

I also want to wait…just a little longer. I want to opt out of this part of parenting…for now.