I recently signed my kids up for their summer activities.
Each season, I get a little bit of anxiety brewing as I debate whether it’s too much or too little for my kids. This fear comes from my childhood.
As a child I had something to do every day after school and on weekends. Whether it was swimming, skating, gymnastics, piano, girl guides, Chinese school, or basketball, I rarely had downtime.
All of this over-planning contributed to my perfectionism, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. I was a 10-year-old high achiever who set high expectations and became self-destructive when I couldn’t meet them.
“I don’t want her life to be planned out every minute of every day, from school to class to practice to homework to sleep.”
Throughout my ongoing recovery, I have vowed to prioritize the health and happiness of my children.
I don’t want her life to be planned out every minute of every day, from school to class, to practice, to homework and to sleep.
At the same time, I want them to be exposed to a variety of activities. I want them to discover their passions and their talent; setting goals and achieving them. Or at least develop the courage to master challenges.
This is how I create a realistic balance between planned and unplanned times for my children.
Laura Mullin wonders if the thousands she’s spent tuition for her child are really worth it.
Don’t let the calendar dictate my life
First, it is about leading by example.
I think the most counterproductive thing a parent can do is tell their kids one thing and do the opposite. Children are like sponges. How they behave is strongly influenced by their environment.
Watching my kids jump from one activity to the next is conditioning them to believe that life is about checking boxes and filling schedules to the brim. In order for them to understand work-life balance, I have to show that I can manage it for myself.
As I manage my time, they will manage theirs. If I let the calendar take over my life, it will take over your life too.
Set a limit
Our children take part in no more than two to three activities during the week. And one of them is swimming. Swimming lessons are non-negotiable as it is a life skill. Until they can safely swim on their own, it stays on the list.
The other activities focus on trying new things, testing their natural abilities and seeing if they like them. They tried dancing and skating. Eventually I sign her up for soccer, gymnastics, karate and anything that piques her interest.
Another limit we set is that there isn’t an activity every day. It’s not just for the kids, it’s for our own sanity. I can’t imagine having to do all those drop offs and pick ups. My schedule also needs downtime.
Prioritize family time
My husband and I are both self employed so we have the flexibility to schedule activities just after 3pm. We make sure our family gets together for dinner most nights.
We also schedule their activities on weekdays, so the weekends are all about family time. It gives them two full days to let their mind wander, with plenty of opportunities for unstructured playtime. They can live in the moment and connect with us and each other.
We go for walks in the park and on the playground. We play board games, do puzzles and play tag. We drive over to my parents’ house, invite friends over or meet up with other family members.
Natalie Romero’s children are heavily involved in extracurricular sports, but she doesn’t want it to come at the expense of her childhood.
I actually love it when my kids whine about boredom. Rather than looking for ways to entertain or annoy them, I offer them space to get creative, test their ingenuity, and find their own solutions.
Once my daughter complained of boredom. I told her I would come up with something after I finished cooking dinner. Ten minutes later I found her in her room quietly designing a board game using action cards, paper dice, and pawns.
I also try to pay attention to what they are good at and what they enjoy.
As a child I loved to write. In grade 1 I wrote a whole series of books about a girl named Leona who dared to challenge the rules. I kept a journal, wrote poetry, short stories, a screenplay, and random ideas that popped into my head. But my parents never signed me up for a single writing class.
I passed all swimming levels with flying colors and won numerous prizes at piano competitions. I was good at my extracurricular subjects, but my interest in them paled in comparison to my love of writing. And so writing became the hobby that hid behind all the awards.
“There’s a difference between what someone is good at and what they enjoy doing.”
At school, teachers praised my essays, and at work colleagues admired how articulate and eloquent my reports were. However, it would be decades before I rediscovered my passion and turned it into a profession.
When it comes to my children, I pay close attention to their strengths and what makes their eyes shine. There is a difference between what someone is good at and what they enjoy doing.
For example, a child may be incredibly talented at golf but fear every lesson. Or a child loves to sing but can’t harmonize or be in key.
Ultimately, my mission as a parent is to help my children find activities that meet both of these criteria so that they commit to learning, master the skills, and most importantly, find joy in them.
Thinking back, I might just enroll my daughter in a game design class.