My kids started school less than two weeks ago. In that time, almost daily a flyer has come home with an event, a club, a sport, or camps for the upcoming days off. To put it bluntly, I’ve already received a deluge of invitations. My kids know what is in their folders coming home and so with each of these flyers, comes the childish enthusiasm, “Can I do that?” “Can we go there?” “Can you sign me up?” Part of me wants to say yes. Each of these are “good” opportunities. None of them are harmful or bad influences.
Like never before, we have more access, more opportunity, more mobility, more information. All of these good things can be overwhelming. So how do we wade through the good to decide what is the best and most necessary for our family and specifically my kids? Its not easy, nor do I do it perfectly.
Based on our preferences, information we have read and heard, and the lifestyle we desire to live, we decided that while our children are still young (we have two under 10) less is more. Less activity is the better choice for us. As they get older, I plan and expect them to be a little more involved in activities than they are now.
My main guiding thought is that while they are little, I want them home. My husband and I want to be the main influencers in their lives. We homeschooled for two years and now they attend public school. When they are gone for eight hours of the day, I don’t want the other remaining hours to be spent elsewhere as well. This does not mean that we never do anything. In fact, last year they each participated in an extra curricular activity and most likely will do so again this year, but it is for a short season and is usually one evening per week.
Another guiding thought is that I don’t want the chaotic, harried, schedule that I used to have. With more activities than time, I left myself with no buffers. Often late, tired, grumpy, hungry or hastily and unhealthily fed, I’ve come to realize that this is absolutely not the way I want to live or how I want my kids to think they have to live. Nights like that can be the exception but not the rule.
I realize that many of you have more kids than I do and that you are already committed to activities. I share our story and our decisions as encouragement to those of you who want to simplify your schedules more to pursue more time as a family or on more important things. So this will be bent towards having a less busy schedule.
These decisions are not easy. We decided to not put my son in hockey this year—something we all thoroughly enjoy. Skill-wise he was ready to join the next level up which would have required going from one day a week (last year) to two or three days each week this year. My son just turned 7 and the once a week practice last year was actually really difficult. Though he loves playing hockey, he is tired from school and generally just wants to be home. Again, he is only seven and we felt that physically he’s not ready to be pushed so much. There will be time for that later if he still wants to play hockey. For now, we’ll stick with pick up games in the street on roller blades and ice skating when we can as a family this winter.
So, with that said, here are some things to consider as you are faced with all the opportunities.
Know your priorities. What are your prioriites?Most likely you can easily jot down several. I would suggest revisiting these and even thinking through your whys for each one. Deeply knowing what your priorities are and why will help with decision making. Consider writing a vision or mission statement for your family. Another good activity is looking back through your calendar from last school year. List the activities your children/family was involved in. Consider what worked and what didn’t, what was great and what you really don’t want to do again.
Know your limits. This one is hard for me. I’m a pretty passionate and energetic person. So when I find something I like or want to do, I want to go all in. I’m also recovering people pleaser who has a hard time saying no when asked to help. But in the past I’ve been on the brink of burn-out and anxiety. I’d like to stay away from that brink and if scheduling less helps, then so be it. I’ve also got a pretty good understanding of what my kids’ limits are. An interesting study summarized in this excellent post “Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues,” found that children living ordinary, safe, but busy lives show signs of PTSD similar to children who have been through a traumatic experience. Our busyness affects our children more than we tend to realize. We would be well served to consider this and learn to say no.
Know the trade-offs. In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Greg McKeown describes tradeoffs like this: Everytime you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. Really, it can’t get any simpler than that. This was a game changer for me and has helped me tremendously in saying no. If you say yes to scheduling something every night, the trade-offs might be home cooked meals and eating together as a family. It may be rushed and stressful homework times, late bedtimes. Or a full calendar may mean fewer weekends to just relax and do something spontaneous. Sometimes the tradeoff is worth it, but really consider if its something that they can join in later as they grow and mature.
Know your children. One of my kids is a homebody. The other one wants to do everything on every flyer that comes home. I more closely identify with the last one, so in her enthusiasm, I also have to keep mine in check. Right now she can quickly list six or seven activities that she is wanting to do. While I encourage and cheer her on, I try to find ways at home that she can explore some of these options. Reading about them is always a good way for the child to learn more and explore if it is something they would like to learn and try. For the homebody, sometimes he needs a little push. This past weekend we went camping at a park a couple hours away. He didn’t want to go, but once we were there he had fun and has been talking about the excursion ever since we returned. There may be a time when there is a choice in the type of activity. Knowing your child strengths, you can steer them in the activity they are more suited for, or push them to try something new if that’s what you think would be best.
As we enter a new school year, I’m thankful that my kids are happy and healthy and safe and are in an excellent environment for learning. While I want the best for them and it can sometimes look like the best is putting them in as many activities as possible. Yet I also don’t want to rob them of the magic of childhood. That magic is found in ordinary, everyday moments at home or in a park playing and exploring, and yes, learning. Unstructured play doesn’t get enough credit in these busy days. Explore the options, consider the activities, but be true to yourself, you children, and how you want to live. Sometimes being brave and bold, looks like just staying home and playing in the backyard.
To read more of my thoughts about busyness in general and how to combat it, check out my latest at No Sidebar, “The Joy of Removing ‘Busy.’”
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Check out the other posts in the Back to School Series!