I sat at my desk, staring at my computer screen last week with my family’s upcoming semester laid out before me on a calendar - a collection of dots with different colors representing each member of my family.
The calendar included appointments, schedules of after-school events and activities, dates, times - everything except who is picking up and dropping off the kids at school. The details are normally ones that I keep in my head or scrawl on my desktop calendar that I look at every work day. But in an attempt to communicate better with my husband and loop him in more on what is going on with the kids - rather than assuming he can just read my mind with all of the bajillion things that are going on from month-to-month - I signed up for an organizing app that allows us to collaborate on the kids’ schedules, along with to-do lists and grocery lists.
But as I sat in front of the computer screen, looking at all the pink, purple and blue dots representing our three kids and all their activities - I had to wonder, how did we get here?
I remember not so long ago, promising myself that we would not be one of those families who chauffeur their kids from one activity to the next. It was only a few years ago that I swore we would not be one of those families who played several sports at a time or spent multiple hours every weekend at the ball field. I’d let my kids choose an interest, and we’d sign up for soccer or softball or ballet. But we weren’t going to over-commit, I said.
And then life with three kids happened. As our kids have gotten older - they are 4, 8 and 10 now - they have gotten more involved. “Just” being involved in soccer turned into soccer and Cub Scouts, or scouts and basketball, or soccer, scouts and oh by the way, now we are doing theater, too.
It’s hard to say no as a parent, because you want your kids to be well-rounded. You want your kids to have as many experiences as possible. But you also want to prevent burn-out at a young age, too. And you don’t want to become burned-out parents, either.
Sure, we hire babysitters who are a godsend when it comes to getting the kids to after-school soccer practice, which would otherwise be impossible with our work schedules. But there are so many other activities that occur later in the evening now.
While our 4-year-old only has ballet once a week, plenty enough of an extracurricular for her at this age, her older sister, in fifth grade, has activities five days a week. Some of our fifth-grader’s activities last from 3:30–8:30 p.m. with only a short break for dinner in between.
Luckily, so far we still have been able to make dinnertime a priority. We eat together most nights, even though our meals may be simple and aren’t always home-cooked. But last week, as our oldest daughter didn’t get home until after her normal bedtime, my husband asked, “How is she going to keep up with schoolwork like this?”
The key, I think, is going to be organization and routine. And thus the calendar. This may be the semester that breaks us, when we finally decide to cut back the activities. Or maybe all this planning will pay off. The only way we’ll know for sure is to try it out.
Here are some de-stressing tips for kids and for parents with busy schedules from strong4life.com:
1. Keep meal times positive. Serve a healthy meal with no electronic distractions at mealtimes, and talk to your kids. It will help children feel better and feel more connected to their families.
2. Regardless of a busy schedule, make sure kids are staying physically active, at least 60 minutes a day, whether at home or at school.
3. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. A child age 6-12 years old should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep, and a 13-18 year old should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a day.
4. Regular routine is key. Routines help kids feel secure and in control, including regular meal times and bedtimes.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.