The air is slowly starting to get a bit cooler and the days a bit shorter (well, maybe not in Texas…but I know it is in some parts of the world), and I know it can only mean that fall will be soon approaching. Fall approaching in the Northern Hemisphere also means school starting, schedules to follow, and the onset of after school activities.
I don’t know how it is in your part of the globe, but here in Texas, some children start playing tackle football from the time they can walk (it seems). If they aren’t playing football, then they are playing year round baseball and look like mini major league players. A few months ago, I was talking to a mom of a girl in my son’s grade and she was telling me that both her girls are in ballet two times a week, gymnastics one day a week, one takes piano and the other takes violin lessons. And the same daughter who takes violin lessons, gymnastics and ballet also has to swim four days a week at 7:30 pm at night to be able to compete on the swim team. Her daughter is only going into second grade!!!
I remember looking at her and she could tell I was in total shock…all I could think was how does she do it?? I must be doing something wrong! Am I a bad mom?!
I am struggling with my two children and one just starting school full time. I thought having them in one extra activity and my son attending church class once a week was good.
How can my own children compete with the little ones who have been playing sports almost every day of the week since they were born? Have I somehow failed my own children? Was there some hidden talent that I hadn’t noticed (dragged) out of them?
Why was I feeling like I was back in grade school comparing myself to the “pretty girls” and feeling like I would never be good enough? I felt that pang in my gut which was identical to one of the “cool” kids telling me I didn’t have the right clothes. Why was I feeling like my kids weren’t doing enough?
And then, I heard my own son asking me when he was going to have a day after school when he didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything. He was happy with what he was doing and didn’t want to add any more, but I was insecure about myself as a parent.
It is so easy to fall into that “rat race” parent trap. You may know the one…the one where you think that you are somehow failing your children because you think you aren’t giving them all the opportunities and advantages that they should have. After I caught my breath (and my mind) from talking with that lady, I realized that there was no way I could ever have the energy (or the sanity) to have my own children involved in so much. Even after doing homework and one extra after school activity, my son was asking me when he could have some free time. Between his activity and church class and my daughter’s activity, there was still only one night a week that we had nowhere we had to be after school.
Over this summer, I didn’t enroll my children in any activities. I took them with me up to Michigan for six weeks to spend the summer visiting family and to stay at my parents’ lake home on Lake Michigan. Some may think I am crazy not to enroll them in anything over the summer, but they were never bored. Between spending time with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, swimming in Lake Michigan, long walks, looking for special stones in the lake and late nights staying up learning how to play the old card games like Crazy Eights, War, Michigan Rummy and Hearts, they were able to discover things they liked and ways to keep themselves busy without the need for an organized activity to keep them “scheduled” through the summer.
I am not saying organized activities are in any way detrimental to children. I will be enrolling my children in one activity each when school starts, but I started thinking about how much is too much for children to handle on top of school and homework and chores at home. There is so much pressure on children to perform on tests at school and find that special talent which may get them a scholarship to go to college. It is so easy to get caught up in the “Rat Race” of trying to over schedule our children.
How much is too much, and when is it not enough?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that when I start to feel that sense of panic and anxiety, I need to tell myself that I am doing the best I can with the time I have and the needs and wants of my children. Listening to my son asking me when he will have an afternoon not to have to go anywhere told me that we could not add any more to our schedule.
My rule I follow right now (that works for me) is one after school activity a semester during school. My children can only choose one and then if they want to switch to something else, they can switch at the semester. This thought process may not get either of my children a sports scholarship, but I think they may grow up to be happy, well rounded adults.
How do you handle the “rat race” of activities with your children?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog written by Meredith. You can check out her life as an expat living in Nigeria and her transition back to the U.S. through her blog at We Found “Happiness”.
Photo credit to the author.
Meredith, I am so with you,. Our eldest son (11.5 yo) has piano, field hockey and swimming each week and the hockey will finish soon. Our younger two boys (8 and almost 4) only do swimming each week,,,,even then our days seem far too busy and I worry that they don’t have enough time to just chill out and be kids.
I passionately believe that the skills children learn through free play and when adults aren’t teaching or otherwise in charge, are the skills that will really hold them steady through their teenage years and into adulthood. I really worry about the children who seem to spend every waking hour in organised activities.
This post resonated with me as well. My daughter attends ballet but less because of the rat run but more because she enjoys it. And it was only once a week, on Saturdays. She is starting school, and maybe she will continue the class. It’s not too far from my home, it’s not that expensive and it’s just once a week and has the additional benefit that our friends’ little girl is also attending. Otherwise, I would find it difficult to have my child attend so many activities- I actually like being at home and it would be far too stresfull. I think we should consider what works for the whole family and not care so much about what the children should be doing…
I am the same way Meredith! I let my son (who is starting the 1st grade in Sept) choose a sport after school, and if he wants to change then we change it the next semester. He also has Hebrew school once a week, and potentially guitar (but he hasn’t decided on that yet). I specifically leave 2-3 afternoons free for free time/play dates. I think kids learn a lot from the organized activities, but just as much or even more from imaginative play and alone time.
Between Melanie’s post from Japan the previous day and your post, Meredith, we have a theme going on here — mothers are feeling like their kids need more play time!
I enrolled my 6 year old in 2 weeks of camp this summer. One was only 9am-12pm for 5 days of basketball. The other was 9am-3pm for 5 days at a nature camp where she got to go on long hikes, catch frogs and learn more about the animals that we share the planet with. I think 2 weeks of camp is my limit, so she can have play time!
This is the first year that my daughter will be in school for a full day. Instead of signing her up for something that is the full semester, I signed her up for things that are only once a week for 4 weeks, and when that ends, something else. So, she still gets a variety, but not overload and she can choose the activities that interest her most after having a sampler!
I love your honest posts, Meredith!
Good to know I’m not alone in this peer-pressure-rat-race. Whether you are 7, 17, 27 or 37, we often compare ourselves to others, consciously or not.
When I’m 7, I find that I’ve not enough colour pencils, I have 24 colours but my neighbour have 48 colours. When I’m 17, I have 2 pairs of jeans & a handful of cute blouses, my friends have a full closet loaded with pretty stuff & a credit card from daddy to spare. When I’m 27 my kids are in elementary public school (government funded schools), my friends have their toddlers enrolled in exclusive private schools.
Now I’m almost 37, I’m still asking myself, am I a good mama? Are my teenage kids happy with their abilities & achievements? I’ve not enrolled them into swimming, music or ballet lessons, but they are keen in reading & handcrafts, so I let them be. Organised activities are good once a while, I usually enrol them to a 5day camp during the 7weeks school break. I know 5days is short, but they’ll be homesick by then, is like a year for them for not hearing mom’s nag, hah!
As I’m writing this reply, I realised that the ultimate objective I want to achieve as a mother is that both my kids are happy & healthy in their everyday life whether they are 13, 23 or 33 years old, life pressure is inevitable.
Meredith, my kids do not attend to school but I am already at fear that when they do they will HAVE to do all the after school activities, only because this is what kids do these days, and because, as you did, I am afraid I would feel I don’t do enough to prepare them for their future.
Sometimes I do feel like I am going to have a panic attact just thinking about it. I do not like this “rat race” and I would not want my kids to participate in it.
Thank you for your post!
My son is not school-aged yet but I also stress about this. Here in Korea, children are scheduled from morning to night with school, more school, activities, etc. Clearly not the model I’d like to follow. Within the last few months I read somewhere that First Lady Michelle Obama has a rule for extra-cirricular activities that I thought was very reasonable. Only two activities, the girls each get to choose one and she chooses the other for them, and they have to see them both through to the end of the season/term/etc.
I loved this statement: “…the one where you think that you are somehow failing your children because you think you aren’t giving them all the opportunities and advantages that they should have.” I can so totally relate Meredith!
I will sign my kiddos up for what interests them….but within reason of what I can manage with drop-offs/pick-ups and balancing between two different kids. I think the best you can do is, as you said, stop and listen to what your kids are telling you!
Thanks for sharing 🙂
I really try to not overschedule my kids. Similar to you, they get one or two activities (depending on time commitment of the activity). When my son played tball, that’s all I would enroll him for because they met several times per week (and he was only 5!). Now that he just does karate once a week, we were able to add in piano lessons once per week. Each is 1/2 hour and leaves lots of time to play and decompress, which he needs.
I did a lot more with my older son in terms of classes and activities because it was just us and I felt like I needed to offer him that stimulation and socialization. But with my younger son, we have spent a lot more time unscheduled, and it’s been great. At 3 yrs old I just finally enrolled him for a Mom & Me soccer class that’s just one morning per week.
Good luck to you with sorting out all the scheduling stuff. You know your kids best 🙂