Towards the end of last year Sarah James and I filmed a Mama Said episode where we talked about the pressure to put kids in competitive extra-curricular activities. If you watch, you can see I have some Big Feelings on the matter, and at the time I had resolved to resist the pressure to put my kids in a million activities, because I feel like inevitably it becomes too competitive and time-consuming for my liking.
I haven’t changed my views since the video, but I’ve done a 180 with my behavior, in large part because I started feeling like I was not giving my kids a chance at excelling at sports or music if I didn’t throw them into the quickly moving stream of other children with tiger moms. I had noticed my boys were behind in basketball after taking a year off, and it frustrated them. And as much as it annoys me that I need to put them into leagues at ages 6 and 8 in order to keep up, it’s just a reality here. They have natural ability and I don’t want to squander it just because I don’t feel like spending weeknights and weekends on the sidelines. So, at the beginning of this year I put the boys into a football league. But then I also feel like I want them all to be adept at music, in case that becomes an interest. And India likes dance, and I want her to be on target if she gets serious about that, too. And it sort of snowballed from there.
It feels like a lot of “what-if”. As Sarah mentioned in a conversation we had about this last week, it’s sort of like we are throwing spaghetti at the wall, trying to figure out which activity “clicks”. Problem is . . . my kids like ALL OF IT. Nothing is emerging as a clear frontrunner in terms of passion. And really . . . should it, at this age? So I feel like we have to stay well-rounded, which means having them involved in a variety of things so that when they decide where they really want to focus their energy, they aren’t lagging behind the other kids who have been training since they were 3. And even as I write this, it sounds ridiculous. But it’s there. When I was young I enjoyed a wide range of activities, from sports to dance to piano . . . but things were so different then. You could just kind of hop into a sport at the high school level and still catch up. It feels so much more competitive these days. India has peers in her class going to cheerleading practice 3 times a week. IN KINDERGARTEN. I fear the days of just doing stuff for fun and being mediocre are over, because you no longer have a chance of being on the team if you haven’t been working at it since preschool.
And honestly, it’s not even that important to me that they be successful athletes/musicians/whatever. I just don’t want my ambivalence to ruin their chances later on if it’s important to them.
So, for the time being, this is what our schedule looks like:
On Mondays, India goes to ballet. Then we take the boys to football practice, then India goes to cheer practice.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, India takes a mixed-media art class. The boys take karate, and Karis takes a soccer class.
On Wednesdays, the three older kids have guitar lessons, then Jafta goes to a scouting program.
Thursdays Karis has ballet.
On Fridays, the kids do Academic Chess and I pick them up and we head straight to football games (while India cheers).
I know this all sounds insane. You do not need to tell me that. I am living in the fullness of how insane it all is. The back of my van is a hodge-podge of cleats, bows, smocks, and guitars. We are failing at family dinners in the midst of practices. I am TIRED and can barely keep track of where we’re supposed to be any given day.
And yet . . . the kids are having fun. They are bummed when I suggest they give something up. In fact, they are regularly asking me to do more. India is asking to take hip-hop and yoga. The boys want to do drums and basketball. Karis is bereft that she can’t do cheerleading yet.
I suppose this would all be easier if I just picked one specific activity for them, but I want them to really choose their own “Thing”. When I see the kids who go full-tilt into one thing at an early age (like gymnasts or ice-skaters) I always feel sad that they probably didn’t get to try their hand at other things or choose for themselves. The result is that I feel like we need to moonlight activities so they can try it all. (And don’t even get me started on the musical instrument thing. I’m already twitching that we’re not doing piano lessons.)
Hello, my name is Kristen, and I am overscheduling my children.
I don’t want to be that mom. But I am struggling with how to balance this nagging pressure to a) let them try everything, and b) learn enough that if they love it, they have enough skill to make the team/band/whatever.
If you have kids, how do you negotiate this? Do you choose for them? Run around like I am? Or opt out altogether? Is there a secret to all of this that I’m missing?