I had grand plans, before I had kids. I fully intended on signing my future children up for any and all activities, determined to do what I could to spark their interest and raise well-rounded humans. After all, that's what a parent is supposed to do, right? Thats definitely what my friends who were moms were doing, and my mother had done the same. But then I had kids, and learned that, yes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Thankfully, it didn't take me long to effectively learn my lesson, and now I refuse to overschedule my kids' lives. In the end, my family flourishes in the slow lane, so when I signed my kids up for everything I was hurting more than I was helping. The only downside, of course, was how long it took for me to reach this life-changing realization.
Part of my propensity for over-planning stems from the fond memories I have of my own childhood, which was chock full of activities. Eventually I found my niche and friend group in theater, music, and speech, thanks to a busy schedule that helped me discover who I was and mold me in to the person I am today. I didn't love everything my parents signed me up for — I mean, I quit basketball a week in — but I wouldn’t change a thing.
I don't know if my mom remembers all those extracurricular activities as fondly, though. And now that I’ve had kids and experienced what it's like, I don't blame her. Filling a family's schedules with a bunch of "stuff" might be fun for the kids, but man it sure is exhausting for the parents.
My kids' schedules were so exhausting, for them and for me. And instead of simply being their "mom," more often than not I was also who had their scheduler, chauffeur, cheerleader, and project manager. The expense, the time, and the mental space it took to manage our lives made it all, well, far from worth it. I was exhausted, and as a family we were constantly on the run.
When my kids were doing everything under the sun we almost never ate meals together as a family, and when we did it was often a rushed afterthought.
Take soccer, for example. When my daughter was in soccer, and I was her "soccer mom," I paid a ton of money to get up early every Saturday and sit on a bug-infested field, just to watch my preschooler eat grass for an hour while another adult got frustrated with her and the other 20 "players."
I vividly remember looking around one morning and thinking, "Does anyone really enjoy this, or are we all just trying to give our kids a perfect childhood that doesn't exist?" I was pretty sure I knew the answer, and I can tell you I was absolutely relieved when my daughter said she didn't want to sign up for soccer the following season.
It only gets harder as your kids get older, too. Sports and other activities become more challenging, require more time and commitment, and your kids can quickly become hyper-focused on their performance and the results of their hard work. And that can be great, don't get me wrong, but it sure is heartbreaking when they don't meet their goals or have to suffer through a devastating team loss.
I'm not saying that sports and other extracurriculars aren't valuable, because I believe they are. But I am saying that, as a parent, you quickly learn that they can also make your life complicated, exhausting, and stressful. Between the logistics of getting your kid to practice, attending tournaments, staying up way too late so they can get their homework done, and helping them manage expectations in a healthy way, deal with the inevitable disappointment of a loss or hard-learned lesson, and the stress of competition, it can add a lot to your plate.
I decided to slow things down, prioritize activities, and try to see if we could find some balance.
When my kids were doing everything under the sun we almost never ate meals together as a family, and when we did it was often a rushed afterthought. Instead of enjoying one another's company, my husband and I were thinking about who had to go to which practice on what day. There wasn't any time to just sit, breathe, and enjoy a meal at a table with my family.
So, after a couple of years of trying to do it all, I decided enough was enough. It’s hard enough to be a working parent, and I honestly needed, and deserved, a break. I was constantly forgetting things, showing up late for pick up, and feeling like a hot mess. That's no way to live life, especially when you're already shouldering society's unrealistic expectations.
Sometimes I worry that my kids will hate me for not pushing them harder.
I decided to slow things down, prioritize activities, and try to see if we could find some balance. I’m happy to report that my experiment was a success. Now, I’m not going to say that it doesn’t make me feel guilty AF. I mean, I want my kids to find out what they’re good at, and I want them to try new things so they can decide what they want to enjoy. I also feel bad that my younger kids don’t get to try out all of the things they’re older siblings did because, again, this was a lesson that took me way too long to learn.
But my time, sanity, and wellbeing are worth something, too. And that expense isn't something I factored into my pre-kid plans. So, yes, my kids have had to learn how to prioritize which activities they want to do, and my husband and I decide if those are activities are a good fit with the family's schedule. We make every effort to ensure that each of our kids gets to try a few sports and activities (if they want to), but sometimes we do say no. And that, my friends, has been a magical revelation.
Now, and for the past year or so, we’ve eaten dinner together as a family almost every night. Now my kids also have time to just be kids. Now my kids get to slow down and play, read books, and learn to entertain themselves, which I think is just as important as soccer or show choir or any other extracurricular activity.
I hope they will look back on those moments and appreciate the chance they had to just be kids.
Now I’ve have the opportunity to enjoy some downtime for a change, too, and I stress so much less about our collective lives. Now I can breathe.
Sometimes I worry that my kids will hate me for not pushing them harder. I mean, what if they could have been an Olympic athlete or professional singer, and I was the roadblock between them and that level of success? I know the chances of that happening are slim, but guilt rarely cares about reality.
Ultimately, our lives have changed for the better because I've forced us all to slow down. Watching my kids actually play with each other, explore our neighborhood on their bikes, bake cookies, and lounge around in the back yard with a book is simply the best. I hope they will look back on those moments and appreciate the chance they had to just be kids. I know I will.