With the school year starting up again, I started thinking about something I’m very passionate about: some families are just too busy.
This month, on Wednesdays, we’re looking at how LIFE can take away our enjoyment of marriage and sex, and to lead up to Wednesday’s post, I wanted to discuss something again that I last talked about on this blog about 5 years ago: sometimes our kids’ schedules get so out of hand that we have no time as a family–and thus as a couple.
When Katie was 12-years-old she started intense figure skating lessons. She had never taken lessons before, and she learned quite a bit on her own. But she decided it was finally time for lessons, so we signed her up for one night a week. She did it as a hobby for several years, and really enjoyed it.
But there was one aspect that was really strange to both of us.
Soon after she started skating lessons, we both felt like we had entered the twilight zone.
When we showed up for lessons, there were about 25 other children there, with various coaches. One coach immediately grilled me, “why only one night a week?”, in a rather judgmental tone. Turns out everyone else was there for at least two nights a week, if not more (and this costs a fortune, too!)
Now, these lessons were two hours long. They interrupted the dinner hour (they’re 4:30-6:30). But I felt that it was okay to do once a week, since we were together most other nights. It was important to Katie.
But soon into the lessons she started to question it. She said to me a few weeks in that nobody there actually smiles. They’re not practising so that they can have fun and learn a skill; they’re practising to be the best. In fact, many girls were only there because their mothers want them to be. Watching them I felt like standing up and yelling, “Take a chill pill, everyone! Nobody here is going to the Olympics. So just have fun!”. But I didn’t. I didn’t want the other mothers attacking me.
And the other mothers were strange, too. They seemed nice enough, but everyone I talked to has every child in an activity–or multiple activities. I talked to one mom who was out with the kids four nights a week. I gasped and said, “When do you eat dinner”? She laughed and said, “We don’t! We just grab it on the run, or eat in shifts.”
On the surface everybody looks like nice, middle class families, but I really felt when I entered the rink (and I was really happy when Katie was 16 and could drive herself) that the whole world has gone mad. No child should be away from their family that much.
Families need to be together, and stressing sports over family life gives a mistaken idea of what’s really important.
I have seen so many nice kids grow up in a particular sport, working like crazy at it, and not having a life. Or, when they’re older, not being particularly attached to their families. Even though they were good kids, they didn’t spend that much time with their families. They did school, did the sport, and did their homework. And that was it.
Before You Let Your Family Get Too Busy, Take the Long-Term View
So let’s take the long-term view and figure out what we’re really aiming for as a family. Let’s focus on one specific goal, and one very general one. First, the specific: we want our kids to develop fitness habits. After all, one of the reasons that we put our kids in sports lessons is so that they can stay fit! We live in a very sedentary society, and we need to encourage all the exercise we can, right?
Do Kids Need Extra Curricular Sports to Stay Fit as Adults?
I’m not so sure. I took ballet as a child. Two nights a week when I was 13 and 14, one night a week from 6-13. I actually was quite good. And you know what? I can’t do any of it now. I took adult ballet lessons when I was 30 for fun, and wrecked my knee because I tried to do the “turn-out” as much as I did at 14, and found my body no longer cooperated. Ballet isn’t the type of thing you can just keep doing. It doesn’t keep you fit. Sure it keeps you fit then, and it does help your posture (and it taught me to suck my stomach in, which I still do today), but you can’t keep it up. There’s no natural place “just to do ballet” in your life. So it doesn’t encourage long-term fitness.
(I’ve also read some research that it contributed to my vaginismus, since my pelvic floor muscles were always engaged and I didn’t know how to relax, and I’m looking into that more for the vaginismus course I’d like to create).
What about sports? Hockey and soccer are almost the same. Some men are involved in leagues as adults, as are fewer women, but it’s not widely done as an adult. So you can’t rely on those things to keep you fit. You may love them, but if you’re only playing hockey as an adult once a week over the course of four months, it isn’t going to cut it.
Skating or gymnastics? Don’t even get me started.
There’s really only one sport that I can see that does have the potential to keep you fit, and that would be swimming. (And, of course, track and field, but few children do this as an extracurricular activity.) So you may have your child in some sport for 5-10 hours a week, and that sport will do diddly squat for them when they are adults. It isn’t going to encourage fitness. It’s simply going to keep them fit right now. There is some benefit to that, of course, and those kids who like being fit are more likely to adopt other fitness activities, but the sport itself won’t do much.
(In fact, Rebecca’s finding swimming is really helping her as she approaches the end of her third trimester!)
If you really want your children to be fit, they need to develop habits that they can continue easily as an adult.
Biking. Walking. Playing soccer and frisbee and touch football with family. Working out at the Y together (if they have kids’ programs). Swimming together. Cross-country skiing. Jogging. As kids get older, these are all things you can do with them, which will keep you fit, too. They contribute to family time, they don’t take away from it. And they’re more likely to meet your goals of raising a child who is healthy than putting that child into hockey 10 hours a week. Even more importantly, if your child is in extracurricular activities multiple nights a week, you won’t have time to develop these activities as a family. So they won’t get done.
How Do Extra Curricular Sports Impact Kids’ Values?
Now let’s look at something more general. In her book Why I Didn’t Rebel, Rebecca shared 7 characteristics of families whose kids were less likely to rebel (there’s never a guarantee, of course!). And one of those was that the family had a strong identity, and the kids identified with the family over their peers.
What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?
How, then, do you get kids to identify with the family? You have fun. You hang out. You spend time together. You make the default in their lives “being with the family”. So many times kids are in so many activities that their primary relationships aren’t even with siblings anymore. And if you stop identifying with your siblings or your parents to such a great extent, it’s unlikely that “family” will be considered your first priority.
Besides, most sports now require practices or games or tournaments on Sunday mornings, and so many of the Christian parents I know are missing more church than they’re actually attending. Fill up your kids’ schedule with sports rather than church, and what message is that giving kids? It’s saying, “your primary identity is in sports, and Christianity is something extra,” not the other way around. I think that’s dangerous.
Kids need to put first things first in their schedules. Besides, you can’t just have fun on a schedule. You need downtime for that. You need time for people to laugh. You need time for siblings to decide that spending time together is actually worth it. Often kids need to get bored before they will do something together, but if everything is hyper scheduled, they’re never bored, and they don’t turn to each other.
There’s nothing wrong with boredom. It’s the birthplace of many a great idea or great game. Kids get bored, so they need to find something to do. That’s when they reach out to little, bratty brothers or sisters. That’s when they make up games. That’s when they use their imagination.
Let’s stop making our kids live a hectic schedule that denies all of us family time.
They may enjoy it at the time, but in the long run, what is the most important goal for your family?
Some families may be able to squeeze everything in, and more power to you! But I have seen families who have thought they were doing it well, only to find fifteen years later that their kids had really gone their own way.
It’s a big risk. It may be one you want to take, because your child is gifted or really wants to do something. Just realize it’s a risk. Count the cost first, so that you can be sure that you are doing everything you can to preserve your family life in the time you have left. But I hope most of you may choose just to hang out as a family and maybe, occasionally, throw a football around together. I think, in the long run, that may be more valuable.
What do you think? Am I really off base? Are kids’ sports teams worth it? Are lots of extracurricular activities worth it? Let’s talk in the comments (and I’m pretty sure many will disagree with me on this one!)
Oh my goodness, I agree with every single word of this. And what really frosts me is how hard it can be to find *recreational* versions of activities and sports, that don’t cost more than our mortgage. We have AYSO soccer here, which is all recreational, everyone plays, not a million dollars, 1 practice/1 game a week for 7 weeks, and thank goodness all my kids seem to like it; and there’s one dance program that my kids really like that has a good variety of classes and is all recreational and not expensive – we do have to drive past about 3 other studios to get to it which I find annoying, but it’s worth it. I always feel like I’m snarling “THIS STUFF IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN” when I see another dance studio has opened in the area and go to their website and see how hardcore, time-consuming, competitive, and expensive it is.
I may not be the right person to ask about this though… because I love my kids, but I love not having to drive a million directions and and I love eating dinner as a family at home, WAY more than I love my kids. Or maybe that’s saying I love my kids too much to sacrifice that time with them. You be the judge. 🙂
That’s exactly what I want, too, Jessica–RECREATIONAL activities!
When Katie was like 6 she was in gymnastics, and she was REALLY good. Like really good. So they wanted to put her in the competitive stream, which would have meant 15 hours a week plus being there 50% of the time in the summer. I said no way. But then the only other option was 9 hours a week.
She just wanted to learn how to tumble! I’d have signed her up it we could have done a 2 hour thing on a Wednesday night after dinner, but no. It was all or nothing.
Why can’t kids just learn things for fun? That’s what we eventually did with skating. We did one night a week, and we paid the coach to just do what Katie wanted. They kept wanting her to take exams and do competitions, and we said no, because she was already competing at Bible quizzing, and she just simply wanted to learn how to do spins and jumps for fun. (She still skates, by the way). But that was considered a super weird thing.
What ever happened to kids just having FUN?
There is the added element of sales, too. Obviously they aren’t going to want a kid with no. Atural talent in their competition team, but they want people to sign up and pay to a program that makes a lot of money. We are in our first month of an afternoon tumbling class, and I’m beginning to see that a lot of kids are just there a lot more than us.
I agree! When I hear families, especially those with three or more kids talk about how awful it is to have to “be a Uber driver all day long for their kids who just stare at their phones” while they’re being shuffled from school to one activity or sport to another, it makes me sad. Why put yourself through that!? You’re missing out on your child’s childhood…and for what?!
Right now I have kids in speech therapy, occupational therapy, dance (2 kids, one night each per week), one in piano, and three in the Wednesday night children’s program at church. I feel like they need these activities, but I do feel like I spend too much time driving and not enough time cooking, cleaning, etc. They have some coordination problems with gross and fine motor, so I sought a gross motor and a fine motor activity for each of my older two that they wanted to do.
The great thing about ballet is that it really builds the flexibility, balance and core strength they will find useful in martial arts, because only my 6yo is really old enough for martial arts right now.
I’m a big believer in life-skills fitness- swimming, martial arts, hiking and woodscraft, etc. So we worked on swimming some this summer, and when all of them are old enough, I’d like to find a martial arts dojo where we can all train together without paying a fortune! My mom, dad, brother and I were lucky enough to find such a dojo, and we observed that families who trained together stuck with it longer and attained higher belt ranks than kids and adults who came by themselves. Of the four of us, three made it to black belt, and two of us went on to teach. My mom got the first black belt in our family when she was in her early 50’s. Karate reversed the balance and strength issues she had begun to develop with age, and she lost some weight, too. So it really doesn’t just have to be a kid thing!
I’m a huge supporter of martial arts or swimming! I think both of those can be continued long term, and they help with fitness long term. I wish I had taken martial arts, actually.:)
A long time ago, there was a newspaper article (back in the days when I still bought a physical paper) about how some families define “vacation”. Once school is out, some families seem to want to cram as much activity into every minute as possible. So you never have down time, never have family time, you’re ALWAYS on the go. If it’s not school, it’s soccer, piano, karate, swimming, art, etc. Some activities are good, but we need some rest time, too.
Also, a couple of years ago, there was a behind the scenes documentary about little girl beauty pageants (like under age 10). The girls were crying, scared and so on.
The mothers were screaming their lungs out at the kids, and I mean SCREAMING. Saying things like smile happier, walk prettier, and so on. That can’t be good.
It really can’t, Nathan!
Yes! We have always been intentional about not involving our kids in too many activities. It is just too much! Our kids do cross country with school, but I believe running is a skill that they can continue to use most of their lives. Otherwise, we really like our family time. Instead of my girls growing up doing all sorts of structured activities, they enjoy hunting frogs and newts, drawing, reading, and writing books. We eat dinner as a family most every night, and we enjoy a weekly family movie and pizza night. We always saw other parents doing all sorts of activities, and that hectic craziness just didn’t appeal to us. We’d rather go to grandma and grandpa’s house regularly and just hang out at home. ❤
Oh, I have a lot of opinions on this:
I had to play a sport in high school, but was allowed to choose which one. I ran track and loved it. Got nine varsity letters, third place in the league in the mile. It was right after school, which made life easier on my parents (I needed to be picked up a bit after 5, not at 2:30). For what it’s worth, I still run – did 12 miles, split between Saturday and Sunday, this past weekend, and I’m halfway through pregnancy.
But: extracurriculars are not life. They need to be age-appropriate. Six days a week (after school plus Saturday morning) is fine for high school but wildly inappropriate for elementary and middle school.
Extracurricular coaches need to be realistic about what the kids are really achieving. Are you on a team going to nationals, or are you all just posturing about how important it is? If it’s for fun, then it’s for fun, and time and money should be allocated accordingly. Will the kids have good memories of hard work among nice kids, or is this a massive amount of stress?
Life is long. Burning out your kid by age 20 is a poor idea.
Even if the time commitment isn’t unreasonable, there are different levels of disruption to the family and the kids’ schedule. When my much-younger sister was deciding between private high schools, I offered my opinion – not a parent, not her, but I said one schedule was insane and one wasn’t. One school would have her home around 10 pm every day; the other had sports right after school and the kids home by 5:30 or 6. I said that the former was unnecessarily stressful and not appropriate for a 14 year old. Parental units agreed with me. (The sane school also appeared to have better academics and better college placement.)
Yes, all of this!!
Great thoughts, Jane!
I think there’s a big difference between elementary school and high school, too. I think that in high school having more to do is okay, but in elementary schools kids need their family.
Also, I agree that track can be good because running is something that people can do lifelong!
I did track because I loved it. That is the important thing for managing it six days a week three seasons a year… and doing it as an adult.
My husband fences. He enjoys it and got into it as an adult. We think the most important thing is to show kids a life long enjoyment of the activity, because high school isn’t life.
This makes me really, really sad. I got really excited about the article when I opened it, because I think kids are way overscheduled, and I see it in my students. I hate it, and I hate it for them. They’re way more stressed than they should be, because no one needs to do swimming AND soccer AND piano AND ballet AND scouts all in the same year. The kids and parents would be so much happier if they all just chilled a bit.
But part of parenting too is doing what’s right for your kid, and if they’re into arts or really anything seriously, the fact is they’re going to be there multiple times a week. I was one of those children in preprofessional ballet (six days a week, multiple hours a day), and my parents made a lot of sacrifices so I could do that. It was the only thing I liked, and the only thing I wanted to do, so they did it. I’m forever grateful, because now it’s my career. I can’t think of anyone in the arts whose parents didn’t make sacrifices when they were younger–it’s the nature of the field. If your kid is into any kind of performing art, that’s how it is. I know my dad, especially, struggled with the missed dinners, the late nights in the theater, the yet one more pair of $$ pointe shoes, but if you could have seen how proud he was of me–oh, he was SO proud of me. If he hadn’t passed away a few years ago, I know he would be still.
I could go on forever about the benefits of the arts for kids (and adults), but frankly that information is all available online from a simple google search. Now I teach ballet and modern, and I watch my students growing up–not just technically, but mentally. They learn to take ownership of their learning, they learn how to evaluate and fix things that go wrong, they learn how to be creative and take initiative and project confidence.
Sheila, I’m sorry you had a really crappy experience with ballet–as someone who has spent literally her whole life in the field, I can tell you that something was very wrong, technique-wise, if you’re having that kind of issue after only twice a week classes. That’s absolutely not normal. There are actually quite a lot of people who danced as kids and keep it up as a hobby their whole life (or who pick it up as adults); I take class with them all the time! Heck, I’ve taught them. I don’t know you personally, but it’s so common that I feel pretty confident saying you also know someone who does music, theater, or dance as a hobby now that they’re an adult.
But, of course, there’s nothing wrong with picking something up for a few years and then laying it down again (I think of my own brief fling with figure skating as an adult; I can only do one art form at a time, alas). Even something you recommend, martial arts, there’s no guarantee they’ll stick with that either–my husband did tae kwon do seriously for about five years as an adult, got his black belt, and then dropped it. Should I have discouraged him going to classes? Anyway, regardless of what people do as kids, once they’re an adult, the most most common things they’ll do to stay fit are walk, do yoga, or go to the gym/fitness classes, but no one is suggesting the only appropriate extracurricular activity is putting your kid on a treadmill.
Bottom line, extracurriculars ARE valuable. Every family is going to have to find a different line of how many they’re able to realistically do, but “well, it won’t keep them fit at 60” is a pretty sad metric to use when deciding.
Hannah, I think that’s great that you enjoy dance, and it certainly can be fun. I do think, though, that you can get many of the benefits from just a once-a-week class! 🙂
But the percentage of children who are in dance multiple nights a week who do make a living from it is infinitesimally small.
I think the bigger question that I want families to ask themselves is this: What do we want our family life to look like? What values do we want to pass on to our children? What life skills do we want our children to have when they leave home?
And then ask themselves: Are our extracurricular activities contributing to that, or subtracting from that? Are they making it more difficult, or easier?
Some families may say that it’s contributing and it’s making it easier, and that’s fine. But that’s not true of all, if not most, families who have their kids in stuff. So I think taking that step back and asking, “what are we trying to accomplish as a family” is an important thing to do at the beginning of the school year!
Yes, that I can agree with! 🙂 I just think that sometimes that answer is “yes, my kid adores this and it’s worth it for them to be doing it every day.” Kids change so much that there’s no way to tell where they’re go, regardless of whether they’re talented. One never knows what random interest will springboard them into their job. And the arts/sports are perfectly valid careers (and there’s a surprising amount of people in them, so it’s not as infinitesimally small as you might think). So normalizing that is a really important thing in both society and in families.
The flip side that you touched on that’s really key is the outlets for the once-a-week kids. I teach lots of those! But if the parents and the kid are enrolling in something once a week, they need to have realistic goals. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for parents to want to only pay for once a week training but expect results like you’d get from kids who are there 20 hours a week, and that’s not possible. It’s not fair to the kid or the teacher. So when parents take that route, they need to keep an eye out that it really is just for fun and they’re not putting unrealistic expectations on their kids (and that their kids don’t have them either). Very few activities will wind up being a career, of course–most are just really fun and good learning opportunities for life skills.
Hannah, i think you agree with her. Sheila didn’t say you can’t do any of these activities she just said make sure it doesn’t take away from family time. She had her daughters in some activities but those activities didn’t consume their life. She really ended the article by saying “count the cost.” Something even Jesus told us to do. Count the cost of building a house before you build it. Her metric wasn’t, “well, it won’t keep them fit at 60” her metric was “what will be more valuable for your family in the long run?” And i agree with her 1000%!!!!
That’s basically my point though, is sometimes activities do take away from family time. And there’s times when that’s the right and necessary thing to do, and when it really is the most valuable thing for the family. It’s a different balance for every family.
Sheila, i remember reading this article a while back i’m so glad you’re touching and updating some of your old articles. I agree with you 1000%!!! I don’t have anything more to add.
Just a question: Maybe one day you can write an article about marrying people whom you’re not PHYSICALLY attracted to, please? I don’t find a lot of men physically attractive and it’s worse with Christian men. I truly believe this problem is one of the major reasons contributing to my singleness. I would love to hear your thoughts.
I’ll certainly think about that one! It’s a tough one. I don’t know what I’d say. Perhaps I’ll throw it out on Facebook and see if that gets me any ideas? It is tough!
I don’t think you should marry someone you aren’t physically attracted to! Two things to consider – first, just because you don’t find most men attractive, doesn’t mean God can’t bring you someone you ARE attracted to. And second, often physical attraction grows as you get to know someone and become attracted to who they are as a whole person.
Actually someone close to me just got married in her 30’s. People were constantly giving her a hard time about being too picky because she wanted a really good looking guy. Well she found one lol! It does happen!
It does! But I can imagine how frustrating and lonely it is in the meantime. I wish I had something better to say. I feel a little like everything I could say sounds trite.
Give it a few dates for attraction to develop. If it doesn’t, move on.
I think part of the problem today is that our young child needs to almost make a decision on what sport or activity they want to do/play at such a young age or they are left out. Our youngest started basketball at 6 years old and was already behind everyone else. It makes it tough on the kids when it’s not so much about the fun as to what level you play.
For us we moved 4 years ago and part of that move was to reduce stress. Putting the Mom working from home and reducing outside activities so that we can focus on the right thing. That thing is FAMILY and most of all JESUS.
For us it is happening and the word bored comes to mind. I am admittedly a bit bored as we morph as a family into this unit that is not focused on the outside world…. just watching what is happening and seeing where we are headed. It is a work in process. Yes I agree that too much outside activity that isn’t family focused or Jesus focus leads us down the wrong lane. It also makes me crazy. My wife is also finally starting to see it after all these years…..and its good. I often think of Becca’s story from her book about the Mom who was dropping off her kid for swim lessons and was running around like chicken with her head cut off…for what? So her kids would have fun. Hey I am all about kids having fun and participating in activities. I am even willing to sacrifice as a parent. BUT I AM NOT GOING TO GO CRAZY OVER IT. AMEN.
I can’t really speak to this from a parenting perspective yet, since my kids are young enough that we haven’t tried any extracurriculars with them. But I teach music lessons, so from that perspective, I have seen so many examples of it getting out of hand! It seems that most of the kids I’ve taught over the last decade or so get involved in so many things (sports, marching bands, robotics, regular stacks of homework) that they just can’t keep up, and then they get super burned out as teenagers. And if it makes scheduling so hard on my end, I can only imagine how their parents feel!
Obviously, I think the arts are important, since I did end up going into music professionally. I was involved in lessons and band and school musicals all the way through high school. And when I switched my major to music in my second semester of college, I honestly felt like I had to try and catch up to my peers who’d had more performance experience than my little Christian high school had provided. But in retrospect, I think it helped me to feel like I needed to really work towards that career path once I knew that’s what I wanted. And since my parents made me narrow down to one of the two instruments I’d been studying once I hit 7th grade, it was easier for me to balance music and academics during high school– and, as a senior, a job. I would love for my kids to take music lessons when they’re old enough, since that is a skill that can be used for life. But I do understand that most kids won’t do it professionally. I think I’ve had 3 students that went on to major in it in the nearly 2 decades that I’ve been teaching. So I’d rather my students be able to study it on their own terms and get what they wish out of their lessons, rather than pressuring them into a level of playing that they might not need.
Also, I love your idea about family hikes and stuff over sports teams… but then, I never had a good experience with sports!
I was in ballet for 9 years growing up, and I did enjoy it, but it was always a hobby for me, and I didn’t have the talent or skills to dance professionally, so when I was 16, I stopped taking my once a week classes. I told my husband that I learned enough to be a good critic. I love watching So You Think You Can Dance. I certainly don’t regret having taken classes, but I know that the fitness I had then, I no longer have. Also, I am convinced that those years of dance definitely contributed to my back, hip, knee, and feet issues now. I am 33 now, and I have lost so much flexibility and mobility. I no longer have the strong core and good posture. Of course, I know that genetics plays a large factor in my chronic pain as well, and I know my ab muscles will never be the same after my c-sections either. Then, the extra weight due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and high testosterone from PCOS also doesn’t help matters. However, if my parents hadn’t been willing to find dance classes for me when I begged them to do so after I saw the Nutcracker for the first time, I would have missed out on so much: fun, camaraderie with peers (and I was a shy, anxious introvert, so this was important), appreciation for the art, and physical activity. But still, it was after family and faith for us. We had dinner at home every day, and we were at church regularly. Dance was my only extracurricular aside from swimming lessons in the summer until I was a teenager. Then, I also had clarinet lessons and played volleyball for a few years. I regret none of it even though I no longer do (or can do) any of it anymore. 🙂 I mean, I can’t remember much French or do any algebra anymore either. 😃
Once a week is certainly fun! I hear you about the toll on your body, though. My son-in-law Connor is still getting over a lot of physical problems from intense dance. It does do a number on you!
Yes, it does, and I was the only kid in my specific class who just took ballet class when I was young. The rest of the class did all three: ballet, tap, and jazz. I tried that schedule one year and said never again. Not only was I really bad at tap anyway, but being in class for so long (I think it was almost two hours long if you did all 3) and trying to remember three recital pieces was just too much. That’s hard when you’re 8. As a young teenager, I did do jazz as well for three out of the nine years I did ballet, and for a while, I kept my pointe shoes around thinking that I would just have fun at home after I stopped taking classes. But then, life got busy, and when I put them on one day while home on a break from college, I couldn’t tolerate them anymore. (I had a similar hilarious incident with my clarinet when I picked it up years after stopping music lessons.) I don’t know why I didn’t just keep them as memorabilia (I kept enough other more random stuff than that), but anyhow, that day just illustrated how dance had been a good part of my life, but that my life was changing, and it would also be good. And I know my dad was pleased to save some of that money previously allocated for classes, shoes, practice leotards, tights, and costumes also.
When I was a Nanny for a family, and with other families I’ve known, the extracurriculars five nights a week took the place of parenting. The parents scheduled things from after school until 6:30-7 every night so they didn’t have to have childcare every day. The kids picked a few activities, but some were scheduled just because they lined up with when the parents were still at work. In most cases I saw that the activity was cheaper than paying me extra, or had better income-adjustment than an after school program. A number of the parents I knew also expected things like martial arts to teach manners, skills , discipline, etc. to the kids, which the parents didn’t have time for, and this made me really sad.
Oh, wow, Alice, that is sad! And I don’t think it’s that uncommon, either, especially in super wealthy, busy families.
I think activities can actually add to your family life if it’s something you do together. I played competitive, year round sports growing up because my dad was a coach and it was such an amazing time for us to spend together. I even coached one of the younger teams when I was a senior in high school and I LOVED it. Such a great learning experience and I know it helped me get into a top college.
Our kids now play a lot of sports, and we just weave it into our family time. If we spend all day at a tournament, they take turns watching each other’s games, and the little siblings all play together on the sidelines. The parents have become friends and we hang out in the stands. Hubby & I swell with pride watching them do what they love and get better at it. We all
Really enjoy it so aside from the driving, it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice to be down there several nights a week.
I will say I believe it’s important to let kids take the lead on their level of involvement. We don’t pressure them at all. A lot of their friends are in private lessons to try to get an edge, and we don’t do any of that. If they get tired of a sport, they are allowed to quit at the end of the season and try something else. I’ve been surprised watching some of the other parents pushing their kids to play sports they don’t love. Or play multiple sports in the same season so they have to go straight from one practice to the next. You can see the burnout on those kids’ faces and it’s really sad.
I think if you’re all involved as a family, that’s totally a different thing. Of course, then you have to have kids who all like the same thing and have the same talents! But I can see that being good for family time if you’re all involved.
And, yes, I often do see parents push kids to do sports. Katie always said that so many of those girls in skating didn’t actually like skating. A lot wished they were allowed to do it just one night a week like Katie did. That’s sad!
This is one thing I loved about my homeschooling education- my music (piano and voice) lessons were during the day and close enough to our house that I could walk and bike by myself once I hit about 10.
I think the one thing that I had was dance classes which I loved, but those were always after supper. I definitely think running around every day sounds ridiculous. Especially if your kids are already stressed out with more school than is really age appropriate for them! That being said, my husband definitely wants to let the girls choose one thing each because he never had any opportunity for extracurricular activities and really missed it.
Yes! Our kids did music during the day, too. Swimming as well. And group skating! It was amazing.
WE have young boys, 7&5, 2nd and Kindergarten. This will be their second year of bowling on a kids league at the center that my in-laws own. The oldest has done 2 seasons of YMCA baseball, and they both have had a 2-week session of swimming lessons during the past 2 summers. That is enough to keep them interested and learning, but not so much to stress them out (or us as parents).
The struggle we are having is fitting in my interests and hubby’s with the needs of our family. I like to run / walk, but my boys and sometimes hubby are reluctant to join me. The boys have bikes, but this summer and fall they are not interested in learning to ride without training wheels. Or ride in general, most recently. We have a great bike trail nearby and it’s so beautiful, I wish they would join me in running/walking/biking more often. I tend to work out when they are at school. I’m a SAHM, looking for a part – time job, so that may have to change soon. Which means I’ll need to go to bed earlier and spend less time with hubby.
Hubby loves sports and doesn’t want to really “work out”, so he is in a bowling league during the school year (1 night), plays softball in the summer, fall, and spring (1 night in fall/spring, 2 in summer), and sometimes/occasionally plays basketball in the fall/winter in a league or with friends as pick-up games.
I guess what I’m saying is that I want us all to be active and healthy, but finding activities to do together is sometimes challenging. It seems only 2 of us want to do a certain thing, and the other 2 dislike / are unwilling to cooperate. One of my children loves to do what he wants, and gets upset if it’s not his idea of fun. Suggestions for setting expectations / teaching flexibility / learning patience to deal with disappointment / sometimes putting others first?
That’s a really good question, Kayla! If it’s any consolation, I found those years really hard, too. Eventually the girls did learn to bike, but they couldn’t keep up with us until they got bigger bikes! when the kids hit like 9 & 11 it’s so much easier. It really is!
Maybe I’ll try to come up with a post on how to stay active and have fun as a family? It is a great question!
I LOVE THIS! I have five children and one of the reasons we chose to homeschool was so we could have more time together. When one of our daughters was entering 9th grade, she decided to go to “regular” school. We want her to be involved, so we encourage sports and clubs, but it is SO hard to see her with her practice schedules.
One of the things I really encourage young families to consider is the age at which they start sports or activities. We let our girls play soccer when they were really little and if I had it to do over again, we would wait until they were 9 or 10 and asked to play. When they reach an age where they really want to do something, they can find their own shoes and pack their own equipment bag and water bottle, and it is much less stressful for Mom. I listened to a great Podcast on not specializing and it was encouraging kids to not just play one sport exclusively from a young age because they burn out and don’t learn other skills. So if you do decide to allow sports, let them try lots of different ones and exercise different muscles and parts of their brain until they get older and have to choose one or two instead of a variety.
So I have a little bit different perspective. I actually earned a college scholarship playing a sport. I have a couple of children who will be able to follow suit if they desire to. I am a strong advocate for kids being in sports especially girls. It doesn’t need to be club or select. Our kids when they are elementary age play Rec sports. It’s affordable and it’s a chance for them to find an area they love. When they get older they can choose a club sport to play. They don’t have to but they can and they can only play one club sport. My older ones have also chosen to also play a rec sport as well. As a result my kids are not scared to try anything. They aren’t worried they will fail or look funny. I understand the problems that can come with busy kids. However, all of my kids are playing sports and we all have dinner together at least 5 days a week. Sometimes we may need to eat at 5:30 sometimes 6:30 but I can always make it work. I as their mom also have to be willing to pull them off a team or league if I think a coach is being unreasonable for their age and or ability. I unfortunately have had to do that many times. However, I think the benefits are huge especially for girls. Girls who play sports have a much lower rate of teen drinking and they are more likely to leave a partner who abuses them to just name a couple. I have had a lot of self confidence, I am not timid and I have positive body image due to sports. I was always told I was smart, strong and powerful because I was the daughter of the King of Kings. I knew that I could do anything. I also know first hand that youth group isn’t enough of a deterrent to sexual activity. The joke was and still is according to my teens that non Christians are expected to “put out” on date 2, Christians have a delay until date 3. Sexual activity is not much different inside the church than outside. My daughter when asked what she thinks about sexual pressure will laugh and tell me that she is not interested, her body and mind are her ticket to play her sport in college. She says it makes it much easier to follow God’s rules for sexual purity. She has practical knowledge of how it could mess with Gods gifts for her.
It is true I do not still play my sport. However, I am still at the gym 4 days a week doing the cardio and weightlifting that would be required to play.
Just another side of things….
That’s a really interesting perspective on daughters! One thing I’ve seen with families whose kids are on sports teams, though, is that at least half the weekends are taken up traveling to tournaments, and they lose so much weekend time (plus it’s a HUGE expense). How do you get around that?
Well we have had to set some firm rules. They can only choose one “club” sport and we make sure that the traveling part of their sport only occurs for one season. The rest of the time they play locally and usually this means leagues not tournaments. So, they only play on Saturdays not both days. We also make sure that we do our homework and don’t choose one that has outrageous travel costs. Also, the kids know up front that by playing this sport that costs $ we don’t spend a lot of money on movies etc. When the kids are local we put our foot down and tell the coaches etc that we don’t want the kids to miss church services. We went to a pretty great church for a number of years that had a lot of services options so we rarely had to choose. If a game did conflict and it wasn’t a huge final playoff game etc our kids missed the game. During their travel season they were able to stream their youth services live while we were out of town. It did require us as a family to be flexible. We couldn’t always go to the 2nd service. However, in the long run that has been good for all of us. We have shown the kids that you can be obedient and still be flexible with service times.
These are some good points. This year I’m trying going to only one service because I don’t like our whole Sunday morning being apart but definitely value the age specific classes and teachings.
I don’t think it is fair to dismiss activities like soccer, hockey, dance, etc. just because they aren’t likely to continue into adulthood. Kids learn the importance of being *active* and THAT is a skill they carry into adulthood. Maybe your child won’t continue playing soccer on an adult league but may choose to apply those athletic skills by taking up cycling or joining a running group, etc. Maybe your ballet dancing daughter won’t do ballet throughout her life, but she may enjoy applying those skills in a zumba exercise class or by taking up ballroom dancing with her husband.
But I agree with the general sense that families are way too busy and kids are way to pressured to excel in extra-curricular activities. When my girls were young, our general rule was “two activities each week.” We had a wonderful town recreation center that offered low-pressure, low-cost afternoon classes in swimming, sports, arts, dance, etc. Each girl could do two activities each week — they got to choose one activity and then I chose one activity for them. (Hint: I always chose swimming lessons for them so they would be safe swimmers!) So, in those early years, my girls learned to swim and they also dabbled in soccer, gymnastics, dance and pottery and we had a ton of fun. We were always home with plenty of time for free play and family dinner.
Now that both of my girls are in high school, their extra curricular interests have become more focused. One daughter runs on her high school team in the fall, winter and spring and the other daughter is very busy with equestrian activities. That means they can no longer dabble in other activities because we need our family dinner hour! One daughter loves to sing but did not have time for the demanding schedule of the high school choral and drama program. So, she joyfully sings with our worship group at church instead.
Life is all about making choices and learning to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to the most important things.
Sounds like you’ve found a great balance.
I always chose swimming, too. And then, without me intending it, both of my girls ended up being lifeguards and made so much money teaching swimming from ages 15-18 that they didn’t go into debt for university!
We have had kids in recreational sports and competitive/select sports. We never push them, but let them decide how much they want to do. They were also in music and band.
I really get upset when people start attacking select/competitive/travel sports. What if the kid is REALLY good, REALLY loves it and is smiling and making lifetime friends? What if that kid is good enough and gets recognized by college coaches and offered scholarships? Are we supposed to take away a possible career path and something of great joy to the child?
The one child of ours that did the most competitive option possible is in college now playing that same sport and getting a scholarship. He told me the other day it was the best thing he ever did. It taught him how to struggle, how to fight for what he wanted and how to make himself better. He also learned how to be a good person, support the team and pickup players when they were down. He was the go-to guy on the team for everything, but he started out a little scared boy who had talent, but no self confidence.
We made a family decision to turn the long trips to tournaments into mini vacations. We toured museums, amusement parks, and just general sight seeing by going a day or two early or staying a day or two later. If we only had one game scheduled that day we got in some adventures.
Now that he’s in college sports we plan on making every single home and away game, including those all the way across the country. We love it.
We also did the high school band thing. Do you know they practice more than the high school varsity football team does?
There is another side to this too (although all of what you have said is true/important).
Parents need to keep an eye on their own schedules too.
This goes both ways — those in full time employment with a long commute or additional after-hours work (some jobs do need it: my brother-in-law, for example, is an undertaker, so when the Death Phone rings at any time of the day or night he has to just get his suit on and go…). And ALSO those who are self-employed who in theory have the option of working when it suits the family but in reality have to take the work when it comes even if it is an overnight trip on the kids’ first day of school, because otherwise there’s no money. I have seen both have an impact on the life of the family.
Other things worth a mention:
1) family breakfast time is a viable alternative to family dinner (preferable, impo, especially with a no-TV-before-school rule, because if you get up at 6 and don’t need to leave until 8:30, that’s two and a half hours of family time to eat a hearty meal and also play and pray and chat together, and that’s ages longer than most family dinners, and no one has to interrupt what they are doing to come join together, AND that family time is less likely to itself be interrupted).
2) I get that choices need to be made, but I also think that the impetus should be on churches to make church services available at other times of the week than just Sundays (and not, like, a poor-man’s copy with only two hymns, but a lively, would-mistake-it-for-Sunday worship service at least once, preferably twice or more, in the rest of the week), rather than the entire impetus being on families to sacrifice Sunday morning sports to come to church. Because it widens the chasm between church-going families and non-church-going families, and means that current non-church-going families who do Sunday morning sports will not even consider coming to church if they are invited.
My daughter is an early bird and gets up between 5 and 5:30 on school days—no alarms needed. One reason we have to cut down on late night activities is because of her natural early to bed, early to rise tendency. It also makes for a really wonderful morning! We get up to all kinds of things before our walk down the street to school. She gets to do a lot of her favorite hobbies, too. I’m not a natural early bird but am thankful to have her to spur me on because, after getting used to it, I don’t like the idea of slugging around until 9:30 or 10 anymore!
> > I also think that the impetus should be on churches to make church services available at other times of the week than just Sundays
Great idea! My church (it’s a mega-church, so we can get away with it) has three services on Sunday and two on Saturday.
We had a family friend who always changed sports almost every year. He was very gifted and a natural at all sports. Unknown to me (or I suspect him) at the time, his mum changed sports for him every year or two so he never got so involved/competitive that it took away from family or church time. And he was happy because he learnt so many skills (and was gifted enough he was one of the better players even without years of experience). It also kept him quite humble as he never thought he was that much better than others. Crazy, but it worked.
That’s pretty funny! Smart mom.
I live in an Asian country and they have managed to take things to the next level and not have their home life be hectic and crazy – most have just eliminated home life altogether. Once children leave the house for school in the morning, most (even the youngest) do not return home until between 9pm-11pm. Every club and extracurricular activity they join comes with door to door bus service, so they go from school to music to tutoring to sports to more tutoring, etc, with little private buses picking up and dropping off at each activity. From the hours of 2pm to 11pm, the streets are filled with thousands of buses driving to and fro across the city, shuttling children about. They make it home just in time to go to bed and then wake up in the morning and start over again. The latest statistic is that fathers spend an average of 6min/day with their children. For many mothers it would not be much better. It’s a sad state of affairs but the parents love it because it eliminates all the transportation stress in their lives and allows them over 14 hours a day kid-free. Just imagine this scenario playing out for the next couple of generations and what the end results of this social experiment will be.
Oh, my goodness! That’s terrible! But how does everyone afford this, too? That sounds insanely expensive!
Which is why they have one of the lowest birth rates in the world and face possible extinction as a people group in the next 30 years – because people can barely afford one kid, let alone more.
Wow. Is there any backlash against this? Like any parents standing up and saying, “no more?” What’s it like among Christian parents? I can tell by your email (that others can’t see) that you’re talking about a country with a substantial Christian population. Are they standing out and being countercultural here?
My two cents: From what I have observed as a teacher and with my daughter’s classmates who are of Asian heritage (especially first gen), doing a lot of formal training from a young age is a cultural value. They are proud of it, it is well supported and deemed “what’s best” for kids, and it is not the same cultural approach to parenting that we North Americans have. There are other parenting differences, too, but I don’t have the depth of knowledge I would need to really understand why those particular cultures hold those values. I think it runs deeper than the typical North American assumption that parents just want to be away from their kids any time the kids are part of an organization or activity. I would be interested in someone raised in such a culture chiming in.
Because you asked – there is a little bit of backlash in the larger (capital) cities in the form of homeschooling and two families in our small area that have decided to go that route for the first time just this year (it is technically against the law but there have never been any prosecutions for doing so, but it is still a risk). As Karen pointed out below, I there are vast cultural value differences and I should have been more precise in saying that MANY moms seem happy to ‘have their lives back’ as soon as possible after having children but I’m sure not all. Unfortunately because the families get caught up in the rat race and get used to a two income family, getting their lives back often includes returning to work to keep up the self-imposed high standard of living. But what i hear most from local friends and neighbors isn’t lamenting time lost as a family – culturally getting ahead and nurturing child prodigies and getting the top grades is priority. Just last week my neighbor decided to switch schools for her daughter, which meant our children wouldn’t be in class together. When I asked why, she said she found another school “with less vacation days”. It made me sad. This is the same mother who admitted she works 12 hours a day because she likes their high-end lifestyle. And like thousands of parents here, babysits her 5 yr old child via web-based TV while she’s at work, leaving the girl at home alone if there’s no schedules activity to fill the time. This is common for many families. There are lots of cultural forces at play for sure!
Sheila, I appreciated this post, but I do have to agree with other commenters that if something isn’t continued into adulthood that it’s not worth trying. I had a very boring, isolated childhood and I wish more than anything that I had been able to try something. I discovered music in my teens and stuck with it, and I also tried volleyball and basketball. I wasn’t great at them but I enjoyed the experiences of bonding with friends, disciplining my body and mind, celebrating both wins and losses as a team, learning how to respect teammates and opponents, etc. I don’t necessarily think that there should always be busyness in life, but that there will be busy seasons and that’s ok! Prioritizing God, family, and other relationships, and learning how to balance those is key. I have one son in piano lessons now, as after 3 seasons of soccer he told me he didn’t want to do it anymore but he wanted to try music instead. (Our family is very musical, and I can see he has potential.) my youngest son will be trying out fall soccer for the first time, and I can already see that he’s got athletic potential (which is why we’re trying it out). I have no problem being busy for a short season (6 weeks of soccer, and weekly piano lessons for the unforeseeable future), but making sure we are still spending time together as a family at home, going to church regularly, keeping up on homework, and eating healthy meals (using meal plans and my InstantPot). I just feel that it’s hard for children to develop likes and interests if they aren’t allowed to try different things sometimes. I hope this makes sense! Overall, you had some great points that I will definitely be mulling over the next few weeks! 😊
Overbooking with extracurricular activities is definitely a strain on time and finances! I agree that it can put undue stress on a marriage. This same sort of overbooking stress hit me hard as the stay at home mom of three preschoolers, too. At one point I was the member of FOUR mom’s groups. We were out of the house almost every day leaving the house in shambles, me too run down to do much about that, dinner unprepared, and my husband very unhappy with the state of things in his home. After a personal meltdown on my part and a, frankly, very loving and patient response by my husband, I quit a bunch of things and set out learning just how many mornings I should be out before things deteriorated. The answer for me is two max (including medical appointments). Thankfully the kids are a bit older and we have replaced morning outings with “golden afternoons.” It’s much more fun getting out when all of our work at home is done and my oldest is home from school. We do one early activity max but really don’t like to book up our family fun time.
That sounds lovely!
I think the issue isn’t so much how many activities as it is how much time do you have? I homeschool (and was homeschooled all of my life). My oldest two are in elementary grades, and all of their school work take me about an hour to an hour and half. The rest of the day is free. But if you have a child in school for 6-8 hours/day (who then bring home an hour of homework), then any imposition on your evenings or weekends is going to drastically reduce your family time.
Yes! We did so many activities during the day–skating twice a week; swimming; music lessons; track and field in the spring. But we were done by 3, and then we still had the evenings. That was key. If the kids were in school, we would have had to cut back on some of those things.
I like the extracurricular activities actually. I find that there are plenty of very meaningful conversations that happen because of them and a lot of ways to incorporate God throughout each one. My daughter really only has Monday and every other Wednesday off right now. She’s in her school’s choir and garden club (she had joined student council but I haven’t heard of a single meeting since the first), and she also does dance outside of school both recreationally and competitively. I like that she can focus her energies on something productive and engaging as opposed to being at home and mostly just playing video games. For example I think gardening shows her about work and community and the school allows parents to participate too. Choir and dance show how to hone talents and work as a team and help teach how repetitive tasks can yield favorable results. We have so many conversations about the people she interacts with everyday and she has fun in so many of her activities. There are days where she can get tired and I always make sure to take her to have just regular old fashioned fun like at the park or on a play date. I think balance is important and definitely family is a good solid ground. I get that parents can also be worn down but I suppose I have more flexibility since I make my own schedule.