My Kids' Schedules Are Wearing Me Out

My childhood memories were playing at home and commitment-free sports.

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It’s 6:30 pm, and I’m headed to a local school gym for the second time. I dropped one son off for basketball practice earlier and now I’m on my way to pick him up. Today also included a gymnastics class, two in-home speech lessons, an after-school program, and a partridge in a pear tree. Because life with school-aged kids is riddled with activities. Offerings are plentiful, signups are encouraged, and schedules are packed — and in my exhausted stupor I am left wondering, whatever happened to just hanging out?

I did just a handful of activities in elementary school. I think I took a dance class, maybe played soccer, and was on a commitment-free swim team in the summer. Virtually all of my memories include playing at home, around my neighborhood with friends, or at the local park. I remember exploring the woods behind my house for hours, creating secret clubs and worlds. I rode bikes, rollerbladed, and hopped from house to house with the kids around the block. And in the colder months, I hung out. I watched movies, played board games, and spent time at my grandmother’s house. It wasn’t always scheduled, and sometimes it was boring, but it was great. And then later, as middle and high school came around — as I got older, more independent, and more passionate about different things — activities started to increase, and schedules started to pack up. But today, I feel an increased pressure to pack my kids’ schedules a lot earlier than I ever did. And I really wish I didn’t.

I think social media makes it extra hard. My feed is peppered with photos of my kids’ peers engaging in two to three activities per season, and it leaves me feeling guilty that my kids are not doing the same. We have chosen to be a one activity or team a season family — and I think it is for a couple of reasons. First, we have four little kids, so when you multiply the commitment and expenses by four, it can feel unmanageable. I also feel that it’s important to keep sports and other organized activities fun and low-pressure at this age, so less feels more. But honestly, one activity a season is also all I can personally take. I like to be home, and I don’t love shuffling my family around. Maybe that’s selfish, but it’s the truth.

But, I worry my kids might fall behind their friends and miss out because they don’t practice a specific activity year round. What if they discover a sport they love later than everyone else and feel like they can’t join because they’re no good. I mean, it’s easy math really: more practice time likely means a kid will get better faster. So I worry that by limiting team sign ups, camps, and private instructions that I am putting my kids at a disadvantage. But if I was signing them up for all the things — running them around all week and on the weekends to practices, activities, and games, I would worry they might burn out. And socially, they want to be with their friends. But with playdates seemingly scarce as a result of the scheduling madness, where is the time for the casual friend stuff? Where is the balance?

Maybe if we all collectively made a parenting pact to limit our children’s calendar chaos we would all feel a little lighter. Maybe we could lean into pockets of leisure and boredom (gasp!) rather than the unrelenting, exhausting, hamster-wheeled hustle society seems to push on us. And if all agree and comply, it might even the playing field a bit. Our kids would still enjoy a healthy amount of activities — might allow for more family time, and less burnout.

All I really know is that I am tired. And I want to offer you some validation and understanding if you are too. Because life is chaotic and difficult enough, and adding a color-coded, multi-faceted youth activity schedule to your plate is exhausting. So here’s to all of us out there pushing for more ‘hang out’ time. May we see it and enjoy it, and may they thank us someday for it.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.