As moms, one of our primary job titles is Master of the Family Schedule or, in the words of counselor and educator Kim John Payne, “architects of our family’s daily lives.” In his book Simplicity Parenting, Payne goes on to say that “we build structure for those we love by what we choose to do together, and how we do it. We determine the rhythms of our days, set a pace.”
Unfortunately, it can often feel as though our daily activities have usurped the reins of control.
Between work, school, church, volunteering, sports, and music lessons, the pace of life quickly accelerates to hyper-speed. It’s a rapid spiral into overwhelm and burnout, and nobody feels the pressure more than our kids.
There was a time not so long ago when children’s lives revolved around school and home and not much else. I’m sure many of us can recall long afternoons spent roaming the neighborhood with our friends, with nothing on the evening’s agenda but a page or two of homework, a leisurely dinner around the table, and a half hour of television before bed. But somewhere within the last thirty years, a seismic shift occurred in the way families spend our time “off the clock.”
Instead of throwing a frisbee in the backyard, kids spend their afternoons being shuttled from one activity to the next.
Dinner is a fast-food burger eaten in the minivan between sports practice and theater class, and that half hour of family-friendly television before bed has been replaced by mindless scrolling of social media feeds before nodding off to sleep.
My own family has yet to enter the world of long school days followed by extended evenings of sports practices, supplementary classes, and lessons. My oldest child is only four, and since he’s never gone to preschool, our time has been largely our own. Still, I am not immune to the siren call of extracurricular activities. I’ve been known to overfill our schedule with gymnastics, soccer, theater class, playdates, and church activities . . . only to be left wondering why my preschooler is grouchy and overstimulated, and I am tired and burnt out. We’ve loved each and every activity, and with so many wonderful extracurricular options, I’ve been tempted to add even more to our plates, but we’ve also experienced the unfortunate side effects of simply doing too much.
This fall, our family has transitioned into an experimental season of quieting our daily rhythms. As I entered my third trimester of a twin pregnancy in August, I knew it would be impossible for me to keep up with my full-time shuttling duties.
So as the new school year approached, I took the bold step of enrolling my son in ZERO extracurricular activities in the coming months.
We withdrew from gymnastics class, chose not to sign up for theater or soccer, and even stepped away from our weekly Bible study for the semester. For a mom who thrives on structure and took pride in exposing my son to a variety of activities at an early age, this extreme (albeit necessary) curtailing of our daily diversions felt almost negligent.
My guilt-ridden conscience wouldn’t stop badgering me with questions like, “what kind of mother would deprive her child of so many valuable experiences to simply stay home?”
You know who hasn’t complained once about the lack of excess in our daily schedule? My four-year-old son! In fact, he is loving these days with zero agenda and nothing to do but rest and play.
We’ve spent entire days in our pajamas, building forts and Lego towers and brainstorming craft ideas. We take leisurely trips to the pool in the middle of the afternoon—not for swim lessons, but just to splash around in the water. We meet up with friends at the park without having somewhere to rush off to afterwards, and we spend hours hanging out at the Chick-fil-A playground, where my son socializes with new friends while his introverted mom relaxes with a lemonade and a good book. Best of all, we eat dinner together as a family every evening, playing guessing games around the dinner table and discussing our daily highs and lows. We aren’t simply enduring the boredom of activity-free days; we are relishing in the freedom that this lack of structure has offered!
I know that our peaceful little world will look very different once Baby Brother and Sister arrive, and that our day-to-day lives will shift again next year when we emerge from our hibernation and begin to re-enroll in a few activities. But even as our schedule starts to fill up, I hope to keep calm and simple as the overarching themes of our daily rhythms.
I want my family life to reflect our values of security, simplicity, and togetherness—not frenzied chaos and overambition. If that means stepping away from an activity or two, it’s a tradeoff I’m more than willing to make.
What are your thoughts on extracurricular activities? Has your family found a healthy balance between getting involved and doing too much?
I was just having a conversation with a friend about this topic. I’m trying to be very purposeful in adding in extracurricular activities into my preschooler’s schedule. With two full time working parents, our family time is more important than shuttling our daughter from one thing to another. I totally embrace a slower pace!