I always told myself that we were not going to be one of those families – spending every non-school hour driving to and from music lessons, dance recitals, little league, and Scouts. But over time, the activities started to pile up and my children’s unstructured play time was significantly decreasing.
I came to this startling realization when I was attempting to schedule an after-school playdate for my oldest son. The conversation with the other child’s mom went like this:
Child’s mom: “How about Monday after school?”
Me: “Sorry, that won’t work, we have gymnastics.”
Child’s mom: “What about Tuesday?”
Me: “Unfortunately, that won’t work either, we have basketball and then Spanish class. We’re free on Wednesday though.”
Child’s mom: “Wednesday won’t work for us, we have Mandarin, how about Thursday or Friday?”
Me: “Thursday we have violin lessons and Friday is swimming.”
Of course, the weekend wasn’t an option, as it was jam-packed with family events and more lessons. Against my best intentions, I had slowly over-scheduled my kids to the point where they had no downtime to just play or mentally unwind. Our family’s Google calendar was on par with the busiest high-power CEO. This slow creep into “too much” hadn’t gone unnoticed by my children. They would complain of being tired and not wanting to go to lessons or practice and ask if they could just stay home and play.
“You need to go to lessons,” I would implore, “you’re learning wonderful things that will enrich your mind.”
“What does enrich mean?” they would ask with innocent and fatigued eyes.
To be honest, I was also feeling the effects of our over-scheduled calendar. I was spending so much time in the car (the only place where we had true quality time together) and waiting on the sidelines that I didn’t have time to catch up on work or household tasks. When we would finally arrive home for the evening, I was tense and anxious to get it all done – I would find myself being impatient and quick to anger. In the moments of rare quiet, my children would complain of being bored and would want me to help them with finding something to do. Because they always had something to do.
I knew something needed to change, and fast.
I asked myself, is this all worth it? What am I trying to prove? Is it really so bad if my children simply stay home after school with nothing to do? What if they’re not on par with their peers who take Mandarin, cooking, art, and enriched STEM classes? On the contrary, I thought, my children are learning valuable skills that are assisting them with positive development.
“Enrichment programs are great, as they add a lot to kids’ lives,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, child and adolescent psychiatrist, and an author of The Over-Scheduled Child. “The problem is, we’ve lost the ability to balance them with downtime, boring time… make sure children have enough time with no activities, parents have enough time with no work, and the two sides come together to create activities of their own.”
As with anything in life, balance is key. Too much of anything is not good, and what good is over-scheduling my kids’ lives with well-intentioned activities if their brains won’t have the ability to process any of it because of fatigue?
I decided to talk to my kids about letting go of some activities, and to my surprise, they were enthusiastically on board.
Together, we decided that three activities per week would be our limit: swimming (a life skill and sport), violin (music), and Spanish (because we’re of Mexican descent and the majority of our family speaks it). Of course, every six months or so we can revisit and add on activities that are of interest to them and let go of ones that they’ve completed (like swimming).
I’ve also had to help my kids understand that downtime does not equal TV time and that it’s OK to be bored. We’ve finally hit the sweet spot of after-school activities and free time, and so far the kids seem happier and are less grumpy at bedtime. It makes me happy to think about how this one small change has drastically improved the flow of our week.
I’m always questioning if I’m doing enough for my children. Am I teaching them enough? Am I loving them enough? Am I feeding them healthy foods enough? Perhaps that’s why I overdid it with all the activities. Perhaps I was trying to show (the outside world) that I was being a good mom.
I’ve realized that being a good mom is not about how many external things you can provide for your child, but it’s about being present, happy, and teaching them lessons in life’s everyday moments — not through manufactured ones. These are what good mom moments are made of.
How do you juggle your kids’ activities?