To the mom who has her child(ren) in extracurricular activities:
I see you, cheering on your child, ferrying them to practices, traveling for the competitions. I applaud you, but I have a serious question.
How are you managing this magic?
If you are like me, you may be wondering where these parents find the time and energy to do. all. of. this. I’m not judging, but I am genuinely curious. I watch the super-parents, week after week, month after month, with absolute wonder: HOW DO THEY DO IT?
Years ago, my oldest was in martial arts. His dojo was ten minutes from my house, and even getting him to class there three times a week felt impossible, especially when he started fighting me to go. At the time, my daughter was begging me for dance or gymnastics lessons, but I couldn’t imagine having to juggle both schedules, especially when I started researching local options. All of the times overlapped. My husband wouldn’t be able to assist in transporting the kids to and attending lessons due to his work schedule. There wasn’t a way to make it all work with just me at the helm.
At that point, I stepped back and evaluated why we were considering this. My son could not have cared less about achieving his black belt, so immediately after he became an apprentice black belt, I sat in his instructor’s office, crying tears of defeat, as I explained why we were pulling him. Did I want my son to have that accomplishment? ABSOLUTELY. But he didn’t.
Once he was no longer in an extracurricular activity, my daughter seemed to drop her interest in dance and gymnastics. It wasn’t that she necessarily was passionate about those activities, but she was craving, what seemed to her, the extra attention her sibling was receiving, and that was a sobering reality.
SAVE YOURSELF FIRST
Once I realized that no one in our family was happy and thriving with our packed evening schedule, we knew that the status quo was toxic to us. Giving it up didn’t make me feel like a failure; instead, I felt lighter. The weight of the expectation of having our children constantly engaged was gone. And in making that decision, our family found joy in not being busy.
In the midst of this shift, I realized just how much my family’s happiness depended on my happiness. When the extracurricular activities disappeared, so did a great deal of my discontent. Do I want to provide my children with every possible opportunity to learn and grow? ABSOLUTELY. But what good are those opportunities if their mama is struggling under the weight of all of the hats she wears?
For me, the answer was easy. If extracurriculars were killing me, then I couldn’t possibly be the best mom I could be. I had to save myself first.
You know the airline hostess is reviewing the emergency procedures prior to takeoff? They instruct the adults to place their oxygen masks on themselves before assisting others. As it turns out, I’d been suffocating while trying to keep my kids in extracurriculars.
WHAT REALLY MATTERS
Once we were free from the drudgery of thrice-weekly lessons that felt more like punishments (FOR OUR ENTIRE FAMILY), I realized that my kids didn’t actually need, much less want, to participate in innumerable after-school activities. That expectation was a product of what I thought every other parent in the universe was doing for and with their children. Once I’d let go of that vicarious FOMO, our daily lives became much less stressful.
Suddenly, there was time for unstructured outdoor play and family game nights. Gone were the battles associated with attending lessons. My husband and I, hell- my child and I, argued A LOT less. Afternoon bike rides through the neighborhood turned into play dates with newly-made friends. We were no longer rushing through homework and dinner and bedtime routines in order to squeeze in all of the EXTRA.
I don’t condemn parents who are able to manage it all; instead, I applaud you. I stand in awe of your time management and your willingness to sacrifice for your children. Yet, I refuse to feel guilty anymore because I’m not willing to sacrifice my mental well-being at the altar of extracurriculars.
Are there times when I wish my kids were more involved and had the opportunity to form friendships via those extras? ABSOLUTELY. But I also know that my two aren’t in an isolated bubble of fun-suck because mama drew the line. And you know what? They are surviving and thriving just fine.