I’ve been in a “Mom Funk” lately – so much so that I feel like I’ve forgotten my good parenting instincts and am looking everywhere for help in resetting my internal compass. I surf around Internet parenting sites that I usually never visit hoping that they will give me the answer to all of my questions, even though I know in my head that no such answer exists. Last night I filled – and then emptied – my Amazon shopping cart, hoping that a dozen different parenting manuals might help.
And then I remembered the most important parenting resource I have at my disposal: other parents. And that includes you, my friends. I’m asking for your advice today.
My current dilemma? Kids’ activities.
I’ve over-committed us these past few weeks and my kids and I are showing battle scars from too much time running from here to there and too little time hanging out at home. Big Brother, especially, has been short-tempered and it’s becoming clearer to me that he tends toward introversion, needing space and alone time in his days to feel calm and contented.
I know this. I see this. And yet when flyers fill my mailbox reminding me to sign up for dance class and YMCA soccer and swimming lessons (the current bane of my existence) and library story time, I take them as a direct order: sign up your kids now or else.
Or else what? They’ll miss the chance – at ages almost 4 and 2 – to be Olympic soccer stars? They’ll never discover their inborn gift for somersaults?
I asked Christine Carter about this very issue when I interviewed her during our Raising Happiness book club. I asked her, “Like your own daughters, kids these days have an avalanche of activities that they can pursue. Given your thoughts about the growth mindset and the importance of free play, where would you draw the line between pushing kids too much and providing them with too little encouragement to try out new things?”
And she responded,
Great question. I wish I could give parents a decision tree for how to know when they are over-scheduling their kids, but honestly, the line is different in every kid and every family. I struggle with this a lot myself. Here is how I decide with my kids:
- Does my child really want to do the activity, or is it mostly my idea? Is the activity I’m considering more what I want (e.g. a kid who learns to be a great team-player through years of organized sports) than what my kids want (they are BEGGING for piano lessons, but would rather die than try out for soccer)?
- Am I being seduced by the idea that more skills and more achievements for my kids will somehow bring greater happiness and well-being? Is there a chance that adding this activity might actually lower well-being by cutting into too much free-play, sleep, or dinnertime? In other words, do my kids have some free-play time every single day? Are they getting enough sleep? Are we managing to eat dinner together 5 nights a week or more?
- Will adding this activity make ME more stressed, more anxious, or busy? Will it cut into MY happiness? Is there a way that I could make it happen without adding more to my plate?
I’m finding that very few activities meet that criteria, but when they do, they are worth it!
And this advice is really helpful, and it confirms what I’ve been seeing with my kids these past few weeks.
But I wonder: because they are still so young, if I don’t introduce my kids to new things, how will they have the chance to figure out what they like, what to ask for? How can I have a reasonable discussion about “want” with people who endlessly change their minds about which cereal to eat for breakfast?
I’ve been talking about this topic non-stop with my local friends; I even brought it up yesterday morning in the waiting room at Big Brother’s tumbling class. I know, as Christine says and is true in so many aspects of parenting, that there is no one right answer. But I’d love to know what you think, what you do with your kids.
Because just like it takes a village to raise a child, it apparently takes a village to help me make decisions for mine.
How do you decide which activities to let your kids pursue? How much is too much?