Sunday, April 7, 2013

Minimalist Time: Extra-curriculars

Hello, friends! Boy, I've missed you, but I've been thinking of you and cooking up all kinds of ideas...just haven't had any time to follow through. Now, as promised, I'm evaluating family activities and how to choose what's right for your family. 

We each have varying capacities for activity. My mother-in-law warned me about comparing with other moms. She told me about a friend of hers who could raise kids, work full-time, write a book and volunteer at church, while my mother-in-law was overwhelmed "just" raising kids. She marveled at her friend and felt less-than until the day she decided it was okay that she was different. This goes for families too. A schedule one family thrives on, would wilt another. And while we give lip-service to appreciating differences, we rarely afford ourselves or others the luxury of doing anything besides status-quo. Ask the mom who always helps with Home and School about the mom who never does. Hear the rumblings of, "We invited them over, but they've never returned the invitation..." and you start to get paranoid. I don't want to be a free-loader, counting on everyone else to do the work, but do I want my use of time dictated by programs or traditions other people feel must happen?

This is actually Easter dinner at
Great Grandma's house - so yummy!
I do not. In the flurry of family life, I've felt the demand to have kids who are in lessons and programs and play dates. I'm to shuttle them from place to place without sacrificing our family sitting down to dinner together. My neighborhood association wants me to participate, my church wants me to participate, when my kids go to school, there'll be a whole new set of demands for participation, many of which will be advertised to my kids, who's friends will be going, and why can't they? There are happy things like friends having babies which we celebrate with showers and kids having birthdays for which we'll certainly party. All of this is wonderful, but when it comes too fast and too furious, family suppers are sacrificed. We drag our kids to things that will be good for them, when an unrushed parent might be the best thing for them.

My threshold for this kind of activity is lower than others. On an introverted/extroverted spectrum, I am not quite to hermit, but my down time doesn't involve other people. I love people and being with them, but I'm a little intense and after serious interaction, I need to get into a space of my own to recharge. I first noticed this on high school trips. I'd have a blast until day three or four and then I'd be clean out of nice. From there out, I'd just bide my time til I got home. Before having kids, I worked from home, interacting with almost no one during the day and was happy as a lark, so interacting with two little people all day is a lot for me sometimes. Early on I realized I could only handle one play date a week - tops. 

So far the only lessons we've done are swimming. Since I'm not a swimmer, I'm determined they'll enjoy water from a young age. I'm almost satisfied with their skills, so we're beginning to explore other options, from karate to soccer to gymnastics. My plan is to give them a try, and see how it goes. If we wake up more stressed and constantly eating fast food in the van to make it happen, we'll have to rethink. And I'm not interested in doing these kinds of activities back to back or all year round. For us, that would be too much. 

There's a scene that happens in our "entryway" and it looks like this. I'm barking orders and my posture's threatening. My children move slower than molasses and I tell them they need to hurry because we're late! Sometimes there's an emotional break-down on the part of one child, which looks a lot like what's happening inside me. That's not the legacy I dreamed of passing down, so if the number of extra-curriculars turns out to be directly proportional to the times we enact this scene, they will have to go. 

This may sound horrible to you. You're mind fast-forwards ten years to see my kids behind their peers...disadvantaged. By today's standards, extra-curriculars seem mandatory and a well-rounded kid is synonymous with a kid who does a variety of activities. I do hope that over the course of our kids' childhoods, we'll squeeze in experiences like music lessons, sports and even computer coding, but it's all subject to thriving. If our family's over-scheduled and we want to make an activity work, something else has to go and I want to be aware of the cost. 

What I don't want it to cost is the most basic thing my kids need to learn from their years at home and that's how to love well. We don't love well when we make activities more important than the people who do them. We don't love well when our time together is a stressed blur of, "Did you bring such and such?" We don't love well when we never experience quiet times together. We don't love well when arguments don't get sorted out because we have to make it to the next appointment. We don't love well when we can't listen to our children because we're mentally running through a check-list. 

This is what I'm protecting when I think outside the extra-curricular box: a space to love well. That makes kids well-rounded. That makes kids secure. And that is why I hold family time at home so high. When there's no space for quiet sitting together or unhurried heart-to-hearts, we're doing too much. And back to the differences between families. To much for me may not be too much for you. So I won't judge you...assuming you're sacrificing family connected-ness to do all these activities and I hope you won't judge me as lazy for skipping the stuff that overwhelms us. After all, we want our kids to watch us love each other well too. : )


  1. So well said....I have had students that I worry about because I see the stress they experience as a result of their families' "go-go-go" schedules. I think some parents do don't realize that by trying to give their kids "everything", maybe they're missing out on something more important.