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Mum and Dad

5 reasons I wish I had restricted my kids' afterschool activities


Tara Shafer

posted in Parenting

Can we spend a few minutes considering extracurricular activities and the pitfalls therein? I am incredibly aware of the fortune of my life in that I have wonderful children to whom I can give time.

I remind myself of this as we schlep all over creation finding their passions.

I do not mean to be flip. I do love it. And cultivating interests in children is a very great pleasure that can deliver a lot of joy, friendship, confidence and all the rest.

Still, it is my sincere belief that we are starting our kids too early with too much and not enough perspective on what it all means.

I don’t cast back often about the many mistakes I’ve made as a parent. I’m too busy. Also, I feel as though my many mistakes are rooted in love and are therefore a little more forgivable that they might otherwise be. (At least that is what I tell myself).

Here are 5 things to consider when thinking about kids and activities.

  1. Time commitments grow as children grow. Meets, recitals, and tournaments involve a good deal of driving, and often take place over the course of an entire weekend. This can be a lovely experience – but it isn’t always. Such experiences provide opportunities for close talks and early morning diner stops. The flipside is the growing anxiety that children may experience as they learn to compete. The chances of producing a Katie Ledecky, a Lindsey Vonn, or a Simone Biles are less than miniscule. Of course, we do know this. But it matters how we, as parents, comport ourselves in a competitive environment — and how we model sportsmanship to our children.
  2. As children get older things also get astronomically more expensive. This is really something to consider, especially if you have more than one child. Gear, costumes, clinics, and all the rest add up. And while it is one thing to know that kids can’t have every opportunity, it is quite another thing to actually tell them that to their face.
  3. Parents can get sucked quickly into handler-land or start “momaging” a good deal too much. This means keeping track of things (so many things) and trying not have to buy them over and over again. The temptation to make lost ballet slippers into a life lesson only kind of works because you already signed up for the class. And they do need them. It’s really hard to resist packing their bags in an understandable effort to combat the global entropy that is parenting. So the life lesson does often become about trying harder the next time — while you buy the ballet slippers yet again.
  4. When kids are wildly overscheduled they get really tired. Too many turns on a dime and quick pivots can cause family low-level mayhem on a good day, and chaos on a less-than-optimal day. This forces one to ask why we are doing this in the first place. Exhausted kids with epic loads of homework can turn into mini-adults who can’t set a table or make a bed because racing to the end of the day and guarding sleep becomes the ever-elusive and receding goal.
  5. Kids risk having no time to be bored. Boredom means imagination. The summer days of my youth felt endless. I remember feeling bored but I remember learning to embrace the boredom — which was not that hard when there are no alternatives.

I’m not saying that there is no merit in extracurricular activities. There certainly is. I am only saying that it is useful to be mindful and keep things in perspective.

The best part of extracurricular activities is watching my kids learn the things I cannot teach them from positive role models. Currently, there is one coach changing the life of my son — and the lives of many children — in a swimming pool. She makes it worth every second and every cent.

That’s all for now — I’m off to gymnastics just as soon as I find my daughter’s scrunchy.

How do you manage kids and extracurricular activities?

Photographs courtesy of I-Stock. Used with permission.

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