Why We Follow The 'Pick One Thing' Rule For Extracurricular Activities

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Why Our Family Follows The ‘Pick One Thing’ Rule

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We’re four weeks into soccer season, and my 4-year-old and 11-year-old are both playing. I’ll be honest: I’m over it already. Last week, we got up before God created the earth so my son could attend a photo shoot and glare at the camera, stone faced, hair mashed on one side, reminding me of Nick Nolte’s mug shot. In the rush to get out the door, we forgot snacks. It was a doubleheader and my children acted as though they were wandering the desert with Moses.

Not that I was much better. I was starving myself, but I wasn’t about to spend my retirement fund to get overpriced snacks from the food truck, and considering I almost had to get into to a brawl for a parking spot, I wasn’t about to leave to get snacks. Near the end of the last game, my 4-year-old fell to the grass and screamed, “I’m tired! I’m hungry!” Then she cried and cried and cried. I’d never felt a stronger connection with anyone, ever.

I know, I know. This all sounds pessimistic, but the reality is, kids’ extracurricular activities can be stressful and time consuming. And with three kids, everything is multiplied, so we’ve had to set some ground rules.

First off, each child must be involved in one extracurricular activity. It can be a sport, or music, or art, or whatever. I don’t care, but they must be involved in something, otherwise they will just be sitting on my sofa, complaining about being bored, eating cheese crackers from the box, and asking me to entertain them as if I’m actually entertaining, rather than a 30-something father of three who buys his pants at Costco.

But here’s the catch: one is the minimum, but it’s also the maximum.

Before we had three kids, my son wanted to do basketball and soccer, and like a sucker, I agreed. They overlapped for one month, and it may have been the longest month of my life. He had practice four days a week, which meant we could have dinner at 4 p.m. or 9 p.m., and homework went right out the window, along with family time, and sleep schedules.

The thought of having all three kids in more than one extracurricular activity felt like taking on three extra full-time jobs, and I’m sorry, there’s a new season of American Vandal on Netflix that I need to watch.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about my children chasing their dreams, but we have a rule for dream chasing, too. If I have paid for one dream, they cannot change dreams until they have fulfilled the obligation of the original dream. Thus, if one of my kids decided to jump ship mid-way through soccer season because all their friends are playing baseball… tough.

I don’t have the time or the money to be chasing dreams when one dream hasn’t been fully actualized. I have had several conversations with my son about how his dreams must last 9 to 12 weeks depending on the season, and the moment he accepts a uniform, or instrument, or whatever, he signed a contract to see it through.

This, I will admit, has been a source of tension. My middle daughter, Norah, was over ballet two years ago. She wanted to switch to gymnastics. But she still had three weeks of lessons and a recital on the schedule. She fought with me. She dragged her little ballet slippers to each event. She looked at me on the day of the recital as if I were committing some kind of heinous crime. But you know what happened? She survived. We put her in gymnastics, and she decided she hated that too, and now she wants to go back to dance (cue an epic eye roll).

Now, some of you might be nodding along as you read this because you’ve been there too. And if you aren’t nodding, it might be because you are too busy shuttling your children to multiple events to take the time to read this article.

Having your child in extra curricular activities is valuable.  They learn a lot about grit, teamwork, friendship, winning and losing, and a million other good lessons that really only happens from putting on a uniform and being part of something. But at the same time, we need to live life, too. We need time to bond as a family. I need to be able to see my spouse for a few minutes. We need time to visit friends and explore and grocery shop and sit and just be. And when kids have too much going on, those sorts of important activities get pushed to the side as parents mange multiple schedules and shuttle kids from one event to another, begging them to do their homework in between it all, along with scraping up the money for these sorts of things. Extracurricular activities aren’t cheap!

Also, if kids have too much going on, once you finally do get family time, everyone is too grumpy and exhausted to enjoy it.

And this, my friends, is exactly why we have the “pick one thing” rule in my house. It’s not because my wife and I suck as parents. And it’s not because we are dream crushers. It’s because we understand the importance of extracurricular activities, but we also understand the importance of time as a family.