With the new school year upon us, so begins the slew of extracurricular activities that come along with it. The after-school time slots fill quickly for kids, and especially for families if multiple children are of age to participate. However, one of the most important lessons that my 6-year-old taught me last year was that I was guilty of overscheduling my child.
As parents, we do our best to raise our children to be better people than we are.
Are Extracurricular Activities Worth It?
I absolutely believe that extracurricular activities can positively enhance a child’s upbringing. They foster lessons that are carried throughout a lifetime. While my husband and I have been doing our best to expose our daughters to all of the extracurricular activities we could afford, I came to the shocking realization that we had too much going on for our daughters.
Don’t get me wrong: I really do love extracurricular activities for kids. My mom swears that having my brother and I consistently involved in activities throughout the year is how we kept out of (a lot) of trouble.
As my kids grow older, I would rather schlep my daughters to practice or activity than leave idle time at home. You know, for not-so-awesome discoveries to be made (yeah, I’m talking about drugs and sex).
Commitment For 10-12 Years
Nearly every family that I know has a plethora of activities for their children. One of my best friends has a daughter who plays soccer year-round. She has done so for the last 12 years since she was 5 years old. She’s been on a traveling club team and her high school team for as long as I can remember. This means that by the time she got to high school, girls who hadn’t been playing for nearly a decade didn’t stand a chance at making the team.
After all, there was no such thing as a soccer “season” for her since during the year there was never a time that she wasn’t playing soccer. (Side note: remember when there were actually “seasons” of sports?! When did that stop being a thing?)
It became my understanding that my daughters not only had to choose a sport or activity when they were still itty bitty, but that was what we were going to need to commit to as a family for the next 10-12 years. Of our lives.
Not Enough Hours
As a result, during my oldest daughter’s most recent school year, she was involved in swimming, Spanish, karate, violin, and occasionally rock climbing. And that list was actually shortened after we dropped dance and soccer. Every single day after school we were off to one activity or more, only to come home afterwards with dinner, homework, and bedtime routines to follow.
There were simply not enough hours. Every single day was a tornado of activity for all five of us. There was no such thing as stopping to catch our breath or even really connecting enough to debrief about the day. We did not have time for that.
The author discussed how millennials became the generation of cell phones. While constantly being accessible to our work and even preferring to eat lunch at desks to complete tasks as opposed to taking an actual lunch break like the generations before us.
The author then got really up in my face when she posed the reflection about how that mindset can impact our children.
As an adult, is there ever a time when I come home from hours of cognitive engagement and don’t need a few moments to collect myself before I’m off to the next activity?
How would I feel going from a full day of having to actively participate in intellectual and social situations only to be carted to the next set for the remainder of the evening? Then be expected to continue to complete work at home and maintain positive behavior with my family…and eat all of my veggies?
As a parent, that question in and of itself is overwhelming, but it is obviously even more so for a child (and I’m totally including teens in this as well).
My realization of overscheduling my child came about a month after reading the article. My daughter was in karate and had persevered during a lesson after she got hurt. She was then invited to join the Black Belt Club and I was so proud of her that I cried.
We got in the car to go home after, celebrating her and her accomplishment the entire drive. It was then that she told me that she didn’t want to make the commitment to join the club. Attributing her negative attitude to being tired, I shrugged it off and told her that we would talk about it later.
Our oldest daughter is a total princess, and my husband and I both loved extracurricular like karate for her. It got her engaged in a physically demanding activity three days a week. Her martial arts studio was amazing and her main teacher was nothing short of incredible.
We loved going. My youngest daughters would watch and cheer her on. She wasn’t wearing a tutu or a dress; she was learning how to deliver a cross punch and being held accountable for completing chores at home. We felt so good about this for her, so her lack of enthusiasm to continue didn’t sit well with either me or my husband.
The following week another student received an invitation to the Black Belt Club. It was then during the drive home that she told me that she wanted to join. Sensing her sudden change of heart, I asked her why she now decided that she wanted to join.
Her response broke my heart: “Because I think it will make you happy, Mama.”
Making a Decision
This sweet little lady of mine knew how much we loved karate for her, even though she was no longer enthusiastic about it herself after 8 months of trying it out. It was at this point (with the aforementioned article front and center in my mind) that we discussed. She could make a decision to continue with karate, or anything for that matter, that it needed to make her happy. Karate didn’t make her happy anymore, she told us. She would rather try another activity or HAVE REST DAYS AT HOME.
We discussed it some more with my husband that night. My daughter said that it was just hard to have something every single day after school, and truly, we didn’t disagree. It was exhausting to both of us as adults. To always have to cart three kids to more activities after school got out every. single. day.
We didn’t even really see any end in sight since the activities that she was involved in were year-round, never taking off more than a week or two for a break.
My husband and I talked with her a bit more and informed her that she couldn’t quit karate. But she could be done with it when we completed the 9 month commitment period that we had signed up for. She agreed and a few short weeks later, karate was no longer on the schedule.
Despite the fact that we do miss it, I have to admit that life has been a less chaotic during the week. We now have two major activity days during the week. This means we are not all at home and together as a family until about 8 pm…but that’s ok. It’s only twice a week right now and that’s manageable for us.
Burnout is REAL
Ultimately, I have to confess that I absolutely experience burnout. Getting even small bouts of time to regenerate myself is nearly non-existent. I consistently say “yes” to things, fooling myself into thinking that I have room in my schedule. And to be honest, I don’t…I just figure out how to fit it all in. People always ask how I manage to do everything that I do, and I honestly answer, “I don’t know.”
But just like I told my daughter, I agree to a commitment and so I follow through, trying to recognize when I’ve reached my limit.
Like most adults, I get cranky when overworked and tired. Sometimes transitioning less than gracefully from one activity to the next.
SPOILER ALERT: I don’t want that for my children.
I want them to realize the greater quality of life that is attainable. Especially when one actually makes the effort to slow down and enjoy the gifts each day has to bring.
I mean, truly, how sad is it that a 6-year-old had to tell me that she needed a break? How sad is it that I, as her mother that fought to bring her into this world, didn’t reflect on the burnout that she would inevitably experience because I was, though well-intentioned, completely overscheduling her?
I am still so very proud of her for standing up for herself and making sure that we heard her voice. She helped us to realize that I didn’t need to take her future quite so seriously just yet. I didn’t need to push her as hard as I was in every single direction.
This summer, we slowed down. We had lake days and pajama days. From watching movies and splashing and playing. We basically completely forgot the meaning of “bedtime” and “baths”. But, we are enjoying the hell out of a summer that now seems like it’s way too short.
As far as advice goes for other parents, I have none.
You know your children best. If they thrive on the schedule that keeps them busier than a bee, then, by all means, keep going. If one activity a week is your kid’s jam, that’s cool. Kids also resist sometimes, and you know they’re ok.
For example, my parents made me take golf lessons when I was a kid. I tried to get out of them *all the time* (same with skiing). Then I fell in love with my husband on the golf course. Now we all golf together as a big family and I can still (on occasion) give my dad a run for his money on the scorecard.
In order to provide my children with all of the opportunities that life has to offer, I want to expose them to as much as I can. I just need to remember that all doesn’t have to happen RIGHT NOW. It will all come in time.
I don’t need to burnout all five of us by overscheduling my children.
Wish me luck on not forgetting.
Jenelle Stathes married her high-school sweetheart and they share their love with their three darling and fierce daughters. She works as the CEO of their small family business and as a group fitness instructor for a local gym. Jenelle was born and raised right here in Reno, Nevada, and is doing her best at living a non-judgy and tribe-loving mom life. She has experience with infertility, weight loss, body positivity, fitness, and most recently, a tummy tuck. You can follow Jenelle to laugh either with her or at her as she traverses through the daily adventures of motherhood.