Last week was my oldest son’s first week of kindergarten. On Monday, I received an e-mail from one of his friend’s moms. She was asking if he wanted to join a local soccer team. On Tuesday, I received an e-mail from another of his friend’s moms. She was asking if he wanted to join a local theater and improve class. On Wednesday, I ran into another of his friend’s moms. She asked if he was planning to sign up for soccer in the spring. And on Thursday, I got sent the school’s official afterschool activity roster, with options including everything from drawing to yoga to learning how to play chess.
That same week, I received the following e-mail from one of the alums of the Mindful Return Course, asking if I would please cover the topic of activities in my Saturday Secrets newsletter:
“I’m a first time mom to an active 14-month old boy. I’m just beginning to look into signing him up for a formal class or activity, like swimming or gymnastics. We’re all away from the home during the week – he at daycare and me and my husband at work – so that only leaves the weekend, which already feels cramped with chores around the house, family obligations, and some social commitments.
We try to do story time each night and a visit to the park on the weekend, weather permitting. But I feel like we should be doing “more” with our son, perhaps in a more organized or formal way. I know there is a trend to over-commit kids and tightly pack their schedules from activity to activity. I’m looking for guidance as we start out on what’s healthy, what activities make sense for my son at this age, and how to fit those in with what already feels like our own tight schedules as parents.”
Sigh. The string of activity requests (by others, mind you, not even once by my son) made me stop and think. “Wow, I’m really IN this school-age phase.” But then receiving my new(ish) mama’s e-mail related to her 14-month old reminded me this is a question that comes up pretty much from the moment you give birth.
Don’t get me wrong. I love having all those great, high-quality activity options. I’m grateful to live in a place where all of these possibilities are literally down the street. But there are only so many hours in a week. I am a deep believer in the notion that kids need their down time. And those first few years of being a working parent are, simply put, exhausting.
I don’t claim to have “figured out” what to do about kiddo activities, and I think this is one of those issues that parents need to re-assess frequently – probably until those very same little kiddos leave for college. Here’s how my husband and I have navigated this question to date:
Aside from baby-and-me yoga (which was truly for me, not for baby), we simply didn’t do any formal “activities” or “classes” with our kids for the first few years. They both went to daycare during the week, where they had plenty of structured activities and socialization. My husband and I have other parent friends, so we didn’t feel the need to join activities to meet other parents. Instead, on weekends, we did things like ride the metro (to any random stop and back – we called it “riding the train to nowhere!”), or spending the day watching planes at the airport. Were these outings “organized” or “formal” in any sense? No way. Did the whole family love them? You bet.
The first organized activity we signed up for was swimming, when my boys were about 2 ½ and 4 ½. My husband and I were both in agreement about the importance of our kids’ learning to swim and not being afraid of the water. We view it as a safety issue. And we decided to commit to a ½ hour lesson for them once a week, on the weekend.
To date, that’s all we’ve done by way of classes and so-called organized activities. Minimalist, perhaps, by some of today’s parenting standards. But sanity-saving, to be sure, for our family.
I’m sure the number of activities will indeed go up over time, and that’s fine with me, as long as the choices are thoughtful and intentional. We have plenty more years to add things to the docket.
If you’re struggling with a decision about a given activity, particularly when your children are really little, ask yourself:
- How do YOU want to be spending your (precious) free time?
- What is motivating you to consider signing up for the activity?
- Does it bring you joy to take your child to the activity?
- Would your child enjoy the activity?
- Does your child need additional social opportunities?
- How will that activity affect your child’s amount of downtime or unstructured play time?
- How will that activity affect your family’s stress level?
- Are you craving an outlet to spend time with other parents? If yes, will this activity provide you that outlet?
- And finally: if your reason for signing up is that you “should” do it for your child, where is the “should” coming from?
Take the time to dig deep into these questions. Perhaps journal about them. Talk through them with your significant other.
In writing this post, I realized that a number of other really critical subjects I’ve blogged about in the past come into play in making these decisions. Here are a few:
- Comparison is the Thief of Joy: Is the “should” coming from a sense that “everyone else” is doing it?
- A Thoughtful Formula for Saying No: You can turn down invitations with grace, not burn bridges, and leave the door open for future invitations.
- A Mama’s Boundary Setting Tutorial: Setting boundaries for your children around your free time is a healthy way to protect something truly valuable. As Brené Brown says, “choose discomfort over resentment.”
- Saturday Meeting and Saturday Basket: In the weekly meeting my husband and I have, one point on our agenda is making sure our weekends aren’t too packed for comfort.
And finally, perhaps the most sage wisdom I’ve found on making choices about how to spend our days (which is, as they say, how we spend our lives), is from Greg McKeown’s awesome book, Essentialism: “If it’s not a ‘hell yes’, it’s a ‘hell no’.”
What’s your strategy for coping with this kid activity conundrum? Please leave your own stories, thoughts, and insights below in comments, so we can learn from one another.
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