When Are We Overscheduled?

At what point do we say that the kids are overscheduled and it’s time to cut back?  Even when the family meal is shot to hell and the transportation is problematic, it isn’t always an easy call.

Today was one of the typical Fall school-is-back-in-session days.  Each child had somewhere to be and the timing was peccable. 

  • Middle had a theatre practice with pick-up at 5 pm and a fifteen minute commute places him home at 5:15.
  • Youngest had baseball practice at a remote field at 6 pm and a twenty minute commute in the opposite direction means that he leaves at 5:40.
  • Eldest was babysitting down the street at 6:30 and won’t be home until late.

This means that if we want to have any kind of family meal, then we have an event window of about twenty-five minutes and that assumes that everybody is washed up and at the table immediately.

But are we overscheduled?  And are we bad parents if we refuse to let our kids participate in an activity?

The reality is that kids today have far more options than we had when we were younger.  There are more scholastic female sports and there are more non-sport activities for guys as well.  We want the kids to have the opportunity to try different activities and that means a commitment on our part.  Even if we limit them to a maximum of two activities through the course of a calendar year, then multiple kids means that the parents and family are going to stretch farther than would’ve happened in the past. 

In the PracticalDad household, we try to hold each child to two concurrent activities at one time.  Because a sport schedule involves multiple practice nights in addition to games, we limit each child to one sport per season.  Each of the kids was, or still is, a scout which means that it’s a year-long commitment in addition to the sport that they select.  And even with these restrictions, the typical weekly schedule can border on the insane.

I don’t believe that refusing to let a child join an activity is bad parenting.  In previous conversations with our kids, my wife and I have pressed home the following lessons.

  • Life is a matter of choices and as an adult, you won’t be able to do everything that you would like.  So these are important lessons in making decisions.
  • There are more in the family so you have to look beyond yourself and consider others.  Would you like to spend as much time in the carseat as your little brother will have to spend in his?
  • What’s the practical impact of an activity on other aspects of your life?  Will it interfere with schoolwork – from whence all benefits flow in the PracticalDad household – or will it mean that you’ll be splitting time with another activity?  Is it fair to your teammates to only show for half of the practices and not be fully prepared for the game or activity? 
  • It isn’t the end of the world for a child or teen to stop a sport or activity and then go back to it later.  These years are  important for kids as they try to find their likes and skills and a season or year out typically won’t make a major impact.

We’ve used all of these talking points with the various kids as we manage the individual and family affairs.  The response hasn’t always been what we wanted but with some thought, each child has responded decently.

And we’ve had to reconcile ourselves to the notion that multiple children simply means a busy life during the school year.  So each side sucks it up and makes the best of the situation.

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