Imagine if there was a secret trick for you to save tons of money each week. And this trick also magically reduces your family’s stress levels, eliminates complex carpools, causes your children to be more creative and productive, and promotes healthy development. Would you sign up?
Judging by the urgency in which we “sign up” for extra-curricular activities for our children, I’m guessing most of us would be enticed, lured by the promise for something “better” than where we already are. Well, it’s your lucky day, because I am about to reward you for reading my column by sharing this “trick” with you.
Stop signing up for everything.
It’s really quite simple. For some reason, we have become engulfed in this culture of do more/ try more/ learn more, and we are pushing our children into stressful situations that they do not need to face. I can start quoting psychologists and books that I have read on this topic, but then I will probably lose you as a reader because it will seem like I am doing a thesis or maybe even just a book report, and that might be boring1. I will then regret sharing my secret with you, so early in the column. So I’ll stop. But trust me, when it comes to kids, less is more2.
Three summers ago, I was caught in a stressful cycle of shuttling my kids from day camp to swim lessons on a daily basis, and by the time we would arrive at the lesson, it was half finished. So we would go through all the trouble of changing, scarfing down a quick snack, using the bathroom/parking lot floor if nobody was looking, and racing to get to the class, all while my own heart was pumping, my stress was flowing, and my kids were not having any fun. They also did not learn how to swim.
When we would come home, I would admire the clean state of my house, loving that our toy closet was never opened, and felt self-assured that I was doing the right thing for my kids, despite the actual difficulty of getting ourselves there, and the slightly scary mommy that would sometimes emerge when I’d realize how many dollars our lateness translated to.
“We never get to just…play,” my daughter said to me one afternoon as we wiped away the cobwebs that covered the family room. Her words resonated in the clutter-free halls, and I realized later that night that her complaint was valid and I had missed something as a parent in my quest to be the “best mom.” Kids need time to just “be,” to dig through drawers or a muddy puddle outside, to use their imaginations and have unstructured freedom, especially after a rigid day. To unreservedly mess up the house. To be bored. And so I began to cut back.
If my kids had résumés, they wouldn’t be long. I let them focus on one extra-curricular activity at a time, so they are not spread too thin, so I am not drowning in schedules, make-up sessions, and hiring babysitters to participate in those carpools. They can explore the world later, when they are ready and are more independent, like in college, when their thirst for knowledge is palpable and not just “a cool thing to do.” And if my child misses out on being a world famous ice-sculptor because she didn’t take the class or have the private lessons, that is fine with me. At least we had many peaceful moments to enjoy together instead.
1 You see? Very unreadable.
2 This is also true when it comes to footnotes.
By Sarah Abenaim