A family’s decision to say yes to what matters most to them

My friend Jane (not her real name) has three children (7, 5, and 2). When Jane was pregnant with her third child, she and her husband made a decision to restrict their children’s involvement in non-family activities, things like music lessons and sports.

“We’re not a taxi service,” Jane explained to me. “We like spending time with our family, we don’t like constantly running around town to lessons and practices. After two years of the kids being involved in every program you can name, we’d had enough.”

Jane and her husband decided that each child can be involved in one non-family activity. This means that this year her oldest daughter in second grade had to choose between being in Brownies or gymnastics (she chose gymnastics). Her kindergarten-age son had to choose between t-ball and karate (he chose karate).

Once a week, Jane’s mother comes to the house and gives the oldest two children piano and violin lessons. Everyone in the family sits in the same room and reads or does something quietly during the lessons so that they can even spend that time together.

Jane told me that when her children reach high school age that they might increase the number of activities the children can join. But, she said that decision will be a family decision and it won’t be just up to her and her husband. At that point, her children will have developed time management skills and be able to weigh in on the decision.

“People think we’re weird,” she confided in me. “I don’t particularly like people thinking I’m weird, but this is the best choice for our family.”

At the top of Jane’s list of what matters most are her marriage and her children. As a result, she and her family spend evenings doing things like playing games, watching movies, and riding bikes together. On weekends, they go to museums and zoos and have friends over for dinner.

By saying “no” to the things that don’t matter to them, they have the ability to say “yes” to what does.

I’m not suggesting that the way Jane and her husband choose to restrict their children’s activities is the only way or the best way for families to do things. Rather, I mention this story because I think it is a terrific example of how one family clears time clutter to make way for what matters most to them.

It’s easy to talk about focusing on what matters most, but actually doing it can be difficult — it’s different and it’s not what everyone else is doing. Are there things that you can say “no” to so that you have the ability to say “yes” to what matters to you? I’m interested in reading about your experiences and reactions in the comments.

107 Comments for “A family’s decision to say yes to what matters most to them”

  1. posted by Daniel on

    I grew up thinking this was the norm, until I found out that parents today really are a taxi service for their kids.

    I look back on my childhood and remember how easy it was to entertain myself without all these activities, so I don’t see any sacrifice at all.

  2. posted by The Countess of Nassau County on

    I see a direct connection between the stress level of the primary care giver and number of activities the child is doing. I know that sounds contradictory, if the kids are busy at Brownies/viola/dance/karate/gymnastics/religion/sword swallowing then Mom will have more time for herself and hence is less stressed. Wrong. I’m not quite sure of the hows and whys, all I know is that almost without fail this is the case in my community.

  3. posted by Juliana on

    I have read that kids today experience stress very much like adults due to over scheduling.

    This was the norm when I was young and I am better for it. Hopefully, my kids will be too. They have time to play and be kids, time to get to know each other, and time to know that they are a valuable part of a family because they experience it.

  4. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I agree with Jane. Best to have your kids focus on one club/sport/hobby that they really enjoy instead of plopping them into many — which is costly both in terms of money and family time. Jane’s plan is less stressful, much more family friendly and I bet they’re all much happier as a result.

    Kids today don’t know how spoilt they are. Growing up, we were put in one sport and that was it due to money constraints as well as our parents’ time. They were too busy working to be trekking the globe for activities. We didn’t get to do everything under the sun and we understood that fact — and were fine with it. I wouldn’t have changed anything from back then. We did what truly mattered & had plenty of time together as a family.

  5. posted by Cathy on

    I really resented (and probably still do a bit:D) having to choose between brownies and ballet aged 7, I think some element of what your child wants to do should also count. I know of many pushy mums who are carting their kids around to activities the kids don’t really want to do, but if your child really wants to and enjoys more than one activity then why not let them do it?

  6. posted by Amanda on

    As a qualifier, I don’t have any kids, but I agree with Jane’s decision. It allows her and her family to spend more time together.

  7. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    I hired a piano teacher to come to our house for both kids. It was slightly more expensive than us going to the studio but I saved so much time in traffic and was able to make dinner while listening. Also, the kids listened to each other too and learned even more.

    It was worth the extra money!

    Bonus points: Grandparents also Skyped in to hear the kids practice as they paid for part of the lessons!

  8. posted by Natalie from Western Australia on

    @ Jacki – great idea, might look that up for us!
    @ Jane – well done. Well done for knowing what matters for your family, well done for caring about what your kids NEED (a family)above what they might simply want. My kids have swimming lessons (an essential in Western Australia when we live less than 2 kms from the ocean)on Monday nights and go to a kids club on Friday nights. Time inbetween is for homework, housework, playing with friends (if you can catch any of them inbetween their busy schedules)and spending time with each other. I dont know how people fit in anything more than that without going nuts. We have tea on time most nights, and the boys are in bed on time without having to fight over getting homework or chores finished. Works for us.

  9. posted by Donna on

    It’s easy to have restricted activities when you grow up without money. That was my childhood, and I don’t feel I suffered for it. I got to try different things, but I wasn’t able to do them all at the same time. It’s flat out ridiculous for parents to schedule several activities for their kids, particularly if they have more than one child. It becomes impossible to enjoy any sort of life outside those activities.

    The only thing I regret is that we didn’t have money for piano lessons. We didn’t have a piano, but I would have really loved to learn to play.

  10. posted by Sarah on

    While I do think it is incredibly important to limit the family chauffeur service (especially since such a family dynamic can lead children to believe that the world truly does revolve around them), I think it is a bit harsh to force a child at such a young age to choose one activity. Childhood is about exploration. It becomes harder and harder to try new activities as you grow older. By restricting a child’s activities so early on, you in effect restrict her ability to try new things.

  11. posted by Sairey Gamp on

    As a single mom on a tight budget, I necessarily limited the extra-curriculars my son was involved in, usually to school-sponsored sports. And we spent a lot of time together, just the two of us. He developed a strong ability to amuse himself for hours at a stretch, which gave me the chance to do the same.

    Jane should be aware, though, that when her kids reach the teenage years, family time is likely to morph into torture for her kids, who will want to be with their friends. This, I’m told, is developmentally normal, though it’s small consolation that my son, now 15, will choose his peeps over me every time. I’m adapting.

    To keep herself and her husband in the kids’ loop, her best bet might be to have the kind of house, and the kind of household, that her childrens’ friends can hang out in. Meaning not just enough room (a den, a finished basement, or whatever) and a full refrigerator, but a welcoming atmosphere. Which means they’ll be keeping open house to all the neighborhood kids for years.

    The payoffs, though, are many. I know all my son’s friends, and most of their parents; I know where my son is, most of the time; and since his friends all think I rock — even though my house rules are fairly strict! — my son doesn’t think I am quite as lame as he would otherwise.

  12. posted by Jessica on

    This is how it worked in my family while growing up (I’m 28), and I was glad for the unstructured time I had as a kid. Also, most kid programs aren’t year round so you still get exposure to doing different things. Softball for 6 weeks, then a dance class, then something else. My coworkers are always rushing their kids around to multiple activities and they all seem super-stressed and on auto-pilot. (The kids too.)

  13. posted by Consultant Calamities on

    Good for her!! While we only have 1 child, we adopted this philosophy too (only 1 activity at a time for him), b/c we didn’t want to be running all over the place and rushing all the time. I don’t understand people who overschedule their children, then complain about how “busy” they are, and how they feel like they are a taxi service!

  14. posted by mmr on

    This sounds so suffocating. If it works for her family then god bless her. But I grew up where each week presented a new schedule, and new opportunities.

    You may not want to be the personal driver of your kids, but you can’t put them on a schedule that is tailored to you. You don’t have kids to live a life filled with certainty, that is one thing you can be certain about!

    Instead of my parents asking me what I wanted to play they assumed that I should play the Violin (how many kids seriously play the violin a decade after they take lessons as a kid?!). Had they presented me with options I may be that much more musical now. Granted, it sounds like their mother knows the piano and the violin, but still. In today’s day and age I think the guitar or drums are more practical.

    Everyone has their own style, but if I was a kid I don’t think I would want to go on a playdate to this house. What would the snacks be? Celery sticks and baby carrots?

  15. posted by Amber on

    I agree that many of today’s children are over-scheduled, however recent research shows that one of the major problems with this is that children don’t have as much unstructured time — where they learn to regulate themselves and set their own rules. It sounds like Jane’s family is still very structured though. That being said, it’s much easier to excel in an activity if you focus on it primarily, which might make it more rewarding in the long-run.

    I may also be reading between the lines here too much, but this arrangement sounds a little insular. I get the impression that all the activities are exclusively for the family and friends are only included for dinner on the weekends. While family is indeed most important, I think it’s also important for people (children and parents both) to have a chance to develop other meaningful relationships.

  16. posted by Dawn on

    One reason why our family restricts our son’s activities to only one at a time is because I personally think it can be overwhelming for a young child to split his time between too many different organized activities. It’s over-stimulating. Managing school work, church, karate, swimming lessons, playing with neighbors, vacations, family time, etc. seems a bit insane for a young child – it’s like having the schedule of a 25-year-old adult!

    Personally, I think a child needs some “down time” – a time when they can play quietly in their room or just relax without having the constant pressure of keeping up with a schedule and rushing to get from one practice to the next. How can a child give his/her full attention to a special hobby or sport when they’re juggling 3 or 4 at a time? Seems to be too much for a child to deal with – even if they think “love it all”.

    One of the other reasons we stick to one extracurricular activity is financial – the financial obligation to support multiple activities all year around is overwhelming. I feel that part of being a good parent is showing our son how to budget and prioritize time and money.

    This was a great topic today – thanks for sharing this story!

  17. posted by gail gray of a fresh start professional organizing on

    I appreciate what Jane has done for her family. She is true to her priorities. It makes me think not of what she is doing, but what I am not. Where do I show my children the values I hold near and dear. Is it by giving in to everything they ever wanted…no! I think limits are necessary for children and this is just an example of setting limits.

    Thank you for sharing!

  18. posted by Christina on

    What works for this family works for them I suppose. The one thing I would gently suggest to these parents is that they allow one sport and one activity. Because its really hard to go back to a sport when older – you just don’t have the experience playing gives you. And sports set you up for such good habits later in life. If the daughter had chosen Brownies, for example, in three years she wouldn’t be able to change her mind and go back to gymnastics.

    I will say though, my parents raised me letting me try all sort of things and I really loved it and wouldn’t have traded it for anything – I was expected to figure out carpooling though so my parents didn’t spend all their time driving. Plus, it made for good conversation at dinner. I actually pared down during high school when schoolwork became more important.

  19. posted by mjh on

    I have 4 children. And the problem with most activities that they participate in, is the expectation that the parents also fully participate. When I was a kid, I rode my bike to baseball practice. My parents came to the games. But now, it’s seems uncouth to drop the kids off and go pick them up later. So, if you have 4 kids, each in one outside the house activity, it’s not very hard to spend 4-5 hours per week on that activity (including travel). That becomes 20 hours that the kids spend in activities PLUS 20 hours that one of the parents must also spend in activities. That’s a full time job spent entirely on activities. If each kid has 2 activities, that’s another full time job.

    I really could not agree more with the limiting of activities for the kids. But the best part of what this family is doing is getting the kids to choose their activity. That involves them in the process and makes it less about the adults who imposed this restriction, and more about the kids making decisions that help allocate the limited resources (time).

    I say, “WTG, Jane!”

    @mmr: you are relating to the kids in the story. I’m guessing that you don’t have any kids of your own. If that’s the case, maybe go babysit 2 active kids for a week, then see if you relate more to the adults. $0.02.

  20. posted by L on

    My childhood was like this for financial reasons. However, when I got to high school, many of my classmates grew up with money and had been in several activities since they were children. This meant that if you wanted to be on the baseball team or the dance team or in orchestra, you had to have been involved in the activity outside of school since childhood. If you hadn’t been, you’d probably not make the team. If her kids’ school is anything like that, she’d better prepare for some disappointment when they get older.

    Frankly, this lady seems a bit selfish. 2 extra curricular activities is nothing compared to most children these days. Has this lady ever heard of carpooling?

    Also, being in Brownies and gymnastics is hardly that much outside of school. Brownies meet at most once a week. I’m disappointed to hear that her daughter had to quit Brownies. You learn so many skills and make such good friends in Girl Scouts. It builds character in a way that most extracurriculars don’t.

  21. posted by Beth on

    My parents limited the number of activities we did, for time and financial reasons (and to spend more time with us too!).

    I didn’t consider having to choose to be a hardship, and I don’t resent it now. It’s easy for people to say “shoulda, woulda, coulda”, but I think it’s a good thing that kids learn they can’t have everything and can’t do everything.

  22. posted by Mike Dunham on

    I agree with Sarah and Christina. I think Jane has it exactly backwards. Kids should be allowed to try many different activities when they’re younger, and then encouraged to focus on the ones they really care about as they grow older. That way, kids learn about *meaningful* sacrifice – a conscious decision not to do one thing *because* it allows you to do another thing better. Sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake – and in this case (not to be harsh) apparently just for the convenience of the parent(s) – teaches nothing.

    I agree that over-scheduling is bad. But I haven’t seen the compelling argument that a child with two extracurricular activities is ipso facto over-scheduled and a child with only one such activity is not.

    I also wonder if many of the “stresses” of being part of a “taxi service” couldn’t be alleviated with a little more planning. If nothing else, I have to believe there’s a carpooling arrangement or two that could be made here.

  23. posted by mjh on

    I’m curious as to the commenters who agree with this strategy and those who disagree with it.

    Is there a correlation between having kids and agreeing with this strategy? What about the opposite correlation? If you don’t have kids, do you tend to not agree with this strategy?

    Maybe it’s an age thing? Do those who are younger relate more to the kids and hence disagree with the strategy? Do those who are older, and tend to relate more to the adults agree with this strategy?

    Disclosure: I’m 41. I have kids. I find myself agreeing with the strategy.

    What about you?

  24. posted by Adam on

    I know in my part, my childhood was pretty similar. I’d have a winter sport and a summer sport (hockey and baseball), and until I was about 12, Scouts as well. That dropped when it conflicted with hockey.

    Other than that, I eventually started scheduling myself into more when I was in high school (sports, theatre, music, etc.) but that was my choice and I was more responsible for getting myself there. My parents helped quite a bit, but the bus also became my friend.

    I agree, I see some people now with an activity or two every day of the week, and well, we have to actively try to avoid that as an adult, why would we do that to our kids?

  25. posted by RCcola on

    @mmr: Fundamental Assumptions Incompatible. Baby carrots are delicious. Produce, ever! Twinkies, Never!

    ::begins process of killing morning quirkiness with caffeine::

  26. posted by Lynn on

    My sister-in-law and I were just talking about this. Her daughter is 3 1/2 and her son is 2. I have 2 1/2 year old twin girls. I said my kids are going to choose 1 thing to be involved it besides piano lessons which I will “make” them take (love the idea of the teacher coming to the house since there will be 2 of them). If that activity happens to be the same thing for my girls, then I will request them to be on the same team. No way will my husband and I be driving all over town for different activities. I grew up in a borough of NYC and I was only involved in Piano and activities at church. We played stickball/baseball/kickball almost everyday in the street and there were no soccer/baseball league type things. Only “rich” people went to dance or swimming lessons etc. We moved to the burbs of NJ when I was 10 and I was shocked that people actually played in organized activities like softball, football, baseball, gymnastics etc. Now it seems as if kids are completely overscheduled and I will not do that to my children.

  27. posted by RCcola on

    @mjh I agree with the strategy in Jane’s post overall (with the caveats that I would limit them to one sport and one other activity and that I would allow plenty of family-free alone time for introverted children). I am newly 26 and have no children. Frankly, I do suspect I identify more strongly with the children than with the parents, but as a result I agree with the strategy on the grounds that the children will be less stressed, more sane, and less self-centered if not allowed to be over-scheduled and over-indulged.

  28. posted by Kathryn on

    When the mom was pregnant with baby #3 they’d already had 2 years of running around in tons of activities with their then–what, 3- and 5-year-old? It sounds a little like they went from one extreme to the other.

    Well, responding only from personal experience, I think my childhood would have been somewhat diminished if I had been restricted to one “outside” activity. I did Campfire Girls starting in first grade, played league softball in the summers, and started on my musical adventures with piano in 2nd grade. There was even a little bit of gymnastics thrown in there, although I think I could have lived without that. It helped, I suppose, that we lived in a small suburb and by 3rd grade or so I was able to transport myself to some of my activities, carpool with neighbor kids, and drive times for all the rest were 5-10 minutes to most places.

    I certainly didn’t feel like I unduly sacrificed “family time” to spend a couple extra hours each week socializing with peers and developing diverse talents. After all, there were potentially 6 hours of “family time” every afternoon and evening on weekdays, and 14 hours on weekends! Family time is important, but once a child gets to a certain age the balance starts to tip toward socializing with peers, developing independence, and developing a sense of commitment and drive toward mastery in certain areas.

    This policy basically means that if a kid gets “serious” about something, they have to say no to everything else (until HS, I suppose). And I’m not sure that’s the right message to send.

    As far as the practicality of violin or piano–I’m not so sure the point is whether you’ll still be playing at 25 or 30. I think it’s more about making a personal commitment to the mastery of something, and also in middle-school/high school about having a “hook” to hang your identity formation and social circle on.

  29. posted by RoaringSilence on

    How about getting those kids bikes, so they can take themselves where they need to go? Or maybe even use public transportation?

  30. posted by mjh on

    @RoaringSilence I would love for the kids to be able to take themselves where they want to go. As a kid, I was inseparable from my bike. Unfortunately, suburban life dictates car transportation for many circumstances. I have no problem sending the kids anywhere w/in our neighborhood on their bikes. But I have a big problem sending them on the connecting roads around our neighborhood where the speed limit is 45 mph.

  31. posted by Cathy on

    @mjh I have 2 kids and don’t agree with Jane’s way – I’ve worked hard so I can afford to give my children opportunities and to let them pursue hobbies, interests and activities. I don’t agree with them being out every night, I just think some balance is important and I don’t think Jane’s balance would work for us.

  32. posted by Anita on

    Wow, we’ve come down to seeing kids as clutter! Good job, everybody…

    I’m sorry, but having kids and expecting them to fit neatly into your schedule is a bit too much for me. Let me ask all you over-scheduling parents a question: do you expect your kids to have a single ounce of creativity or initiative when they grow up?

  33. posted by working on uncluttering my life on

    When I was in middle school, I was taking ballet lessons, piano lessons, and swimming competitively. Plus, I’d left the Girl Scouts in 5th grade. Additionally, I went to an extremely academically rigorous prep school. As my younger sibling began the same hectic schedule of extracurricular activities, my parents instructed us to choose one out-of school activity.

    I’m glad that I did because it allowed me to focus on school and on one other activity. I don’t think that my parents’ rule deprived me of any experiences; rather, I was able to try out a few different things when I was younger, and then I could decide what was important enough for me to focus on (which also allowed some degree of responsibility for my own decision-making at the age of 13 or so). I think that when I have my own children, I’ll probably do the same thing.

  34. posted by michelle on

    I agree with most of the posters and with Jane that family time is important and parents’ lives should not revolve around extra-curricular activities. I’d caution Jane, though, on a couple of things:

    1) If the kids’ activities are restricted in favor of family time, the parents should restrict their own activities outside of work as well. Serving on boards, book clubs, poker night…these are the adult version of extra-curriculars and I hope that Jane and her husband are restricting these activities for themselves; otherwise the kids are likely to resent the perceived unfairness.

    2) If the kids are restricted to a single activity, I hope the parents check-in often and make sure that the kid is still enjoying that activity. Kids need to explore to figure out what they enjoy and are good at. If, after a few weeks, little Bobby isn’t enjoying Karate, let him know it’s ok to move on to something else.

  35. posted by working on uncluttering my life on

    @Anita:

    It’s not that the *children* are clutter — it’s that all of the activities are clutter, and thus preventing the family from really spending time together. The point was to eliminate some of the things that are unnecessary so that the family can focus on what’s really important.

    Something else that I’ve learned from this blog is that what’s clutter to one person isn’t clutter to someone else. So the real message (in my opinion) seems to be to make sure that families get quality time together, and that perhaps children be allowed to explore the world on their own sometimes, rather than in strictly structured environments.

  36. posted by Melissa on

    I agree completely! I have 3 girls 9, 7 & 4. We do the same things. It’s no good to be running all the time. Plus my kids like being home.

  37. posted by Sue on

    I am a little worried that Jane seems overly concerned that other people think she’s weird. So what?

    That aside, I think it’s a bit harsh to limit the kids in that way – what if the boy loved both t-ball and karate? I certainly don’t advocate overscheduling children, but being overly limiting is the opposite extreme.

    Of course, this wouldn’t be as big of a problem if we learned to build our communities in ways that allowed children to get places on their own. I used to bike to swim practice in the summer. I had to cross a busy road to get to the pool, but it was at a traffic light. Neighborhoods now are so isolated that the Mom Taxi Service is a necessity. And so we perpetuate the car culture.

    I was out for a bike ride the other day, wondering what will happen to bicyling as a sport, when kids no longer seem to have bikes or seem to be confined to their riding them in their driveways.

  38. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Anita — I know Jane doesn’t see her kids as clutter, quite the opposite. She does EVERYTHING she can to spend more time with them. I tried to describe this in the post by saying that her family is what matters most to her, but I guess I didn’t do that very well based on your response.

  39. posted by JJ on

    I was limited in activities as a child; money and distance were both huge concerns. I think I am all the better for it. The sibling relationship is the longest most people will have throughout their lives. My parents tried to encourage good relationships among my siblings and the three of us in our 30s (31, 34, and 38) are close.

    I have two children at home, 11 and 14 years old. Our priorities are similar to Jane’s. Family is first, then church, then outside activities. The children have a Wednesday activity with their separate youth groups/scouts, and are in karate together (at the same time).

    @mmr: speaking from experience, piano is a far more versatile and useful skill as an adult than drums. I was in honor bands during HS for percussion and have only used the skills a few times in community plays etc. You are pretty limited in opportunities unless you are in an orchestra or some sort of band. I do play the piano daily for my own enjoyment and have since learned to play the organ, enough to get by at church and funerals anyway. Hence, in the fall I will formally start teaching my children piano. Up to this point they have simply played around and peaked their own interest.

    I agree with Jane that family is important and over scheduling can be stressful for both parents and children, but she seams to have taken family time to the extreme. I may be incorrect, but I get the impression that they are together ALL the time. There should be opportunities for solitude, which also teaches important skills, like entertaining oneself. I would have died if my father and brothers were in the room when our piano teacher came over.

  40. posted by Dawn on

    @Anita – So, let me get this straight. Over-scheduling your kids really encourages creativity? Cramming in multiple activities into each week of their lives promotes initiative, huh? Having your kids juggle several extracurricular activities is the best choice for a young mind and body? Seriously? Wow…

    I see it completely opposite. A child whose mind and body isn’t being pushed and pulled in multiple directions (whether it be the child’s choice or the parent’s choice) and can focus on a single hobby, interest or sport at a time (with the option to change periodically if so desired) IS the type of child who will be full of creativity and initiative. He/she will have the freedom to explore and enjoy without being overly stimulated, overly pressured and overly stressed from his/her juggling act.

    And I don’t think a single commenter above EVER acted as though a child is clutter – parents are simply trying to determine the best course of action for their child.

  41. posted by Brad on

    Just to play devil’s advocate here, my wife is a triplet and has a third slightly older sister, and her parents didn’t allow them to do many extra-curricular activities because of the difficulty of shuttling them all around. Now as an adult, she is often resentful of the experiences she missed learning teamwork, an instrument, etc. When she was older and was able to pursue many of these activities on her own, she was disappointed that she had not had those experiences and practice when she was young.

  42. posted by Brad on

    Forgot to mention that we have two young children now and we are careful not to involve them in too many activities, but will continue encourage them to explore the sports and interests that they want to, and then choose for themselves what they want to pursue long-term.

  43. posted by mjh on

    To those who are bothered by Jane’s strategy, if this strategy also means preventing kids from exploring on their own, I don’t agree with that. I’m a fan of Free Range Kids (http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/).

    IMHO, the strategy that we practice in our family (similar to Jane’s) isn’t about restricting the kids. It’s about not allowing the kids infinite desires to dictate our finite schedule. My kids are encouraged to explore and live life and take risks and succeed and fail (within reason). But we also encourage them to take those risks without imposing on other people. They get to practice by not overly imposing on us. When they leave the house, we hope that they will continue to live their lives without imposing on others.

  44. posted by Andy on

    I guess I am unusual, but I never had any desire to do any of these activities. My parents at various times made me sign up for: karate, keyboard lessons, guitar lessons, soccer, etc. But I always wanted to either do things by myself (read, video games) or just to hang out with my friends. *shrug*

  45. posted by brooke @ claremont road on

    This is a great story of a family’s personal experience — thanks for sharing. I don’t have kids so I can’t quite relate, but I do think it is important not to over-schedule kids so much that they can’t just be kids and have fun with no structure sometimes. Of course, as Brad said above, it is important to still allow them certain experiences, and it sounds like Jane and her husband will reevaluate once the kids are older and more likely to want to be involved in other things.

    To answer your question: “Are there things that you can say “no” to so that you have the ability to say ‘yes’ to what matters to you?” I have a problem with this sometimes… I am a graphic designer, so I have the ability to take on extra freelance work whenever it comes my way, and my husband is currently laid off so it’s really hard for me to say “no” to projects that would bring in extra money. But at the same time, since he is home more now we have the opportunity to spend more time together (we are still newlyweds of 9 months), yet I’m busier with freelance work! Hopefully he will find work soon and it will be easier for me to say “no” when projects come my way in favor of spending more quality time with my husband… but at the moment, it seems crazy for me to turn down work. Double-edged sword.

  46. posted by Julie on

    I think that the key here is really figuring out what works best for each family and each child. Having worked as a nanny for numerous families I do believe that in most cases young children don’t need many organized activities. Given the option between an extra activity and quality time spent with parents I honestly feel that each child I’ve cared for would have picked time with mom and/or dad. Now that doesn’t mean take the kids out of activities and leave them in the other room with the TV on every moment they’re home.

    Also, something I don’t particularly agree with is a system of exact numbers/limits on everything a child can or can not do. For example a strict limit on activities or a pre-determined age before a child can do/participate in a particular thing. In the families I’ve enjoyed working for most and the children are happiest, the parents are involved and flexible examining each new thing with an open mind and re-assessing their arrangements frequently.

    @ mmr- My husband plays the violin in a band and has since the age of 8. Initially it was his parents decision and he couldn’t be more grateful. But I can say listening to members of his band as well as many others the musicians often state being grateful for having learned piano first because it helped them learn additional instruments easily later. Maybe in your case your parents could have encouraged another instrument (your choice) later? And, perhaps you should sign up for guitar or drum lessons now?

  47. posted by Julie on

    Pardon the typing errors in my last post, I thought I was “previewing” the post not submitting it!

  48. posted by Kazza on

    I can see Jane’s point of view. One thing I would suggest though is to increase the activities during school vacation. The children have both chosen sports as their activities and have no involvement in more social (eg Brownies) activities or hobbies outside of the home. Some external social events without their parents present where they meet many different types of people would help the children build good conversational and social skills – skills they’re going to need to make the most of their opportunities in future.

  49. posted by Mike Dunham on

    @mjh – I’m not sure age or have-kids/don’t-have-kids would be the controlling variables here. I would guess you’re more likely to see proponents of this strategy include those with two parents employed full-time (as they have fuller plates than households where one parent doesn’t work or only works part-time) and folks living in places where getting from place to place is relatively more difficult/less convenient. FWIW, I am 32 and have a 4-year-old, and I disagree with the strategy.

    @Erin – When a blog called “unclutterer” writes *anything* about parent-child relationships, you’re going to get reactions like Anita’s. Don’t beat yourself up, you did a good job with this article (judging by the number and length of comments so soon after posting).

  50. posted by Quicklinks - Starting Balance Young on

    […] at Unclutterer had a post this morning about one family’s take on their children’s […]

  51. posted by Katie on

    If this was an article about restricting children’s activities so that they are not overwhelmed, I would understand. I wouldn’t necessarily agree (I think a variety of activities are important, especially because it’s hard to get into a lot of those activities later on in life) but this reads that Jane restricted her kids activities so that she could spend more time with them in time that is just as restrictive as any activity they could have been doing. I’m guessing that Jane’s children are going to grow up resenting the fact that they have no free time, not even when they have their piano and violin lessons. Kids need free time away from their parents, whether structured or unstructured, to develop their creativity and individual identity outside of their family- but if you want stifled, selfish children, then by all means do it Jane’s way.

  52. posted by Anita on

    @Dawn: On the contrary, over-scheduling your kids stifles creativity. But by over-scheduling I don’t just mean “having them involved in too much”, I also mean “structuring and scheduling every minute of their day.”

    I agree that pushing kids into too many activities is awful, but so is restricting them to one interest. As Sarah said, childhood is the time to let them explore, rather than restrict them to one path from an early age. As they grow up (past age 10, I’d say), it’s more reasonable to ask them to stick to one or two extra-curricular activities, but before that I think such restrictions do kill some creativity and possibly also a lot of potential in areas that you didn’t think they might enjoy exploring.

    Also: just the fact of assigning a time slot for every single activity in a child’s life is over-scheduling. Regular meal times, school schedules, and practices are one thing. But I think giving your kids a bit of time to themselves goes a long way, even at a young age. Just because you need to know what your kid is doing doesn’t mean you need to impose a schedule on them. Instead, as Sairey Gamp said, create a home environment based on that kind of trust and openness and your kids will be more family-oriented, instead of trying their best to shut you out of their life in their teens.

  53. posted by Anita on

    @Katie: Bravo, my feelings exactly, though much more eloquently and succinctly put 🙂

  54. posted by Viv on

    My kids were allowed two activities at a time, but they are close in age, so were usually on the same team for at least one activiity. I found that if they ever had more than two (such as when spring soccer overlapped with the end of winter basketball) we all started to feel the stress. My husband was away on business a lot, and two kids with two activities was all I could handle.

    I don’t know how parents with three or four kids each in three or four activities ever keep it straight.

  55. posted by Anita on

    @Erin: My “kids as clutter” reaction wasn’t so much directed at you as at some of the comments which, it seemed to me, went beyond the scope of the article.

    Granted, I don’t have kids and don’t want to have any, in part because the kind of lifestyle I want would make it hell for both myself and any potential kids. But if I were to change my mind and decide to raise a family, I hope I would have the wisdom to change my life and cut down my own “extra-curricular” activities as much as I expect them to adapt to my lifestyle. A mom’s need for freedom shouldn’t result in restricting her kids’ freedom to explore and live their own lives. That’s all I’m saying…

  56. posted by Krys on

    I apologise for not reading all of the previous comments before adding my own, but my first reaction to this post is that Jane has done a great job of determining “opportunity cost” for her family. This is something I’m striving to do for my young family (we have a 4 month old), so that when our kids are old enough, my husband and I are already accustomed to making decisions based on our family goals and values.

    Thanks, Erin, for sharing your friend’s experience!

  57. posted by Dawn on

    Heck, who can even afford to have a kid or several kids in multiple activities constantly? Piano, karate and t-ball? Yikes! Ballet, girl scouts and clarinet? Wow! We would need to work another job to afford multiple activities just to let our child supposedly be creative and not ruin their lives by enjoying 1 activity at a time * Note the sarcasm 🙂 *

    Seriously though, having one outside extracurricular activity seems just fine. Perhaps that activity (let’s just use t-ball for example) might have 1 or 2 practice sessions each week and then a game on Saturday. That seems like plenty when you’re talking about a child’s time (let’s just say a 7-year-old).

    But then you throw in piano lessons once per week and karate once or twice per week and geez, what’s left? What about school work? What about religious activities? What about visiting grandparents or playing with the neighborhood kids? What about chillin’ out in their room reading a book or doing a craft project? There may not be much time for that when their days are filled with practice and appointments and meetings and recitals and games.

    Spontaneous, free time with no structure of practice can be the best times of all – setting up a lemonade stand on a summer evening or deciding at the last (free) minute to go out for ice cream or trying to round up the neighbors kids (who might already be sitting at their third organized activity for the week) to go swimming at the community pool or going for a nature walk in the park could spark creativity and imagination and potentially the happiest memories of all – all thanks to having some free time!

    @Erin – I feel this is one of the most interesting articles posted and I appreciate you inspiring your readers to think about their family time.

  58. posted by mhb on

    For financial reasons, we were restricted to one sport at a time and scouting when I was a kid. My mom is a lifetime Girl Scout, so joining brownies was just expected for us… and I have to say it pains me to read that Jane’s little girl had to choose between scouts and a sport. I view scouting as a way to hone life skills. For girls, especially, being involved in a positive, all-female environment led by strong, capable women is very healthy.

    My sister and I are both Adult Girl scouts and are still involved in scouting in our communities, thanks to Mom’s example and our childhood/adolescent experiences as Girl Scouts.

    I applaud this family clearing out the time clutter in their lives, but I would have had a much less rich childhood without Girl Scouts. Just my $0.02.

  59. posted by Hannah on

    No one is really going to argue that spending time with family rather than over scheduling activities is a bad idea. But the reality is, when most families restrict their kids’ activities it’s because they can’t afford the activities. The alternative to outside activities is sitting at home in front of the TV, because both parents are at work. Getting to make the decision Jane made is a luxury, and good for their family. But for kids who aren’t going home to family time anyway, after school activities can be great.

  60. posted by Rebecca on

    When I look back on my childhood, I see I got to try many different activities of my choosing – gymnastics, for example, but more of my mother’s choosing – ballet, piano, a diving team, church activities I was forced to attend in the evening, etc. I not only longed for time to just relax and be alone, I vividly remember being in elementary school and crying on several occasions as I looked at my toys while I was coming or going. My father asked me why, once, and I told him I was sad because I didn’t have time to play. By middle school I was frequently up until midnight doing my homework because I had to go to things I didn’t even want to do (mom’s picks) from after school until nine or ten at night. I would have given an arm and a leg to be able to sit and play with my dollhouse, and I think it’s a healthier choice to let your kids be kids.

  61. posted by Jared Goralnick on

    I really like the point about having a piano teacher (grandma or paid) coming to the house, and I think that kind of an approach can be a solution to a lot of our time management issues.

    In our efforts to be frugal we often don’t consider paying extra or going out of our way a little bit up front to avoid travel time that adds up. For instance, I’m spending the summer in Barcelona and wanted to get in some Spanish lessons. But rather than take the classes that required a commute to get to, I opted for a private tutor. On its own that might’ve been kind of expensive, but I instead used the local equivalent of craigslist and found lots of qualified instructors willing to come to my place 3 days/week for a price that’s roughly equivalent to what the group classes would’ve cost in the beginning.

    Obviously there are many activities that don’t lend themselves to this sort of thing, especially for children. And there are times when the socializing (or socialization) is part of the experience. But it’s worth looking into options like this as it can save time, money, and maybe even make for a better education.

  62. posted by Christine on

    My parents allowed me to do one or two activities at a time until I got really serious about a particular one. Then I’d devote my time to that particular one (for me, it was karate). I was never drowning in extracurriculars and was grateful for it. I loved being able to focus on one activity and do it well, opposed to being semi-good at three or four.

    The down time that I had as a kid is where I discovered my life’s passions: Music, art, and writing. I didn’t need twenty different after school activities to teach me this – I just needed the room to breathe. Sometimes kids want to take on too much at once, not understanding the consequences of doing so. Should we let our children make decisions that they may not be wise enough to make? I am not a parent yet, but when I am, I hope I’ll know what’s best for my children.

  63. posted by mjh on

    @Mike Dunham: Not sure I agree on the wage earner thought. We only have 1 wage earner in my family: me. That doesn’t mean that we have only one worker in the family. Just because my wife doesn’t earn an income, does not mean that her schedule is wide open. Child and house care are, by far, more time consuming than my income producing job. That said, I’m just one data point. Hard to draw interesting trends from such a small sample.

    Although I do agree with the idea that if you live someplace where time spent in transportation is high, it would be different than someplace where transport time is low. If each activity implies a 33% transportation overhead, then in the same amount of time, you’d only be able to do 2 activities compared to 3 activities in someplace where transportation overhead was near zero. As the transportation overhead goes up, the number of achievable activities must go down.

  64. posted by Anca on

    For trying to write this post from the point-of-view of “Jane”, you certainly made her look controlling and shelfish, though I assume unintentionally. As someone said, Jane went from one extreme to the other. The parents over-scheduled the kids and then made the kids pay for the parents’ mistake by being forced to abandon certain activities. If the kid was forced to choose between Brownies and gymnastics, why wasn’t she also allowed to choose between Brownies and the forced “family-time”?

  65. posted by Tabatha on

    wow i didn’t do any of this stuff as a kid. and i don’t feel like i was deprived at all. me and my brother just played out side, built forts, or went to the park.

  66. posted by infmom on

    I don’t think this is weird at all. We had absolutely no money for any kind of pricey extracurricular activities when my kids were growing up. My son was in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts (which didn’t cost much, and his dad was the Cubmaster and Scoutmaster) and we did manage to scrape together money for piano lessons for my daughter by the time she was in junior high (she had already taught herself to play the piano wonderfully well and we thought professional instruction would be frosting on the cake).

    My parents didn’t have any money for that kind of stuff when my brothers and I were growing up either, plus my dad took the one car to work every day, so if we’d been involved in anything it would have been our own responsibility to get where we needed to go. I don’t think any of that hurt any of us in the least.

  67. posted by Jennifer on

    The constant running around from activity to activity has to be draining on kids and parents alike. People need to rest once in a while and I don’t see that happening a lot in today’s modern family. I support Jane’s strategy to tone it down.

    I’m not a mother, but I used to be a kid. 🙂

    My parents let me try things here and there but it was usually never more than one or two activities at one time. I played softball for a while, got sick of it, and quit. I took violin lessons for a while. I did the requisite Brownies stint too. When I grew tired of that, I started writing. I had lots of opportunities to try things but they weren’t all at the same time. Finances had something to do with it, sure. But I think also my mom wanted to retain some of her sanity and have a day or two of relaxing at home. She deserved that.

    I was able to find plenty to do without a structured activity. I am in no way a less creative individual than someone who had structured activities every night of the week.

  68. posted by cdelphine on

    I didn’t read all the comments but the only thing odd about this to me is that it treats all activities as the same as opposed to choosing a time/commitment level for total activities. When I was little I had to choose between cheerleading and swimming because they both required an everyday commitment but I could still do girl scouts because that was just once a week. Does that make sense?

  69. posted by Christy on

    This is our family – one thing per kid per school year.

    We tried doing more when my kids first started school – swimming, kids club, music, gymnastics. But the kids were gettin g more ornery and tired as the year dragged on and the constant shuttling just became too much. Plus bedtimes were later after supper, activities, baths, homework and time to wind down.

    Then our daughter asked for “more time to play” and we realized less is more. We decided to try one thing per kid per school year and it has worked great for us. Our kids are less tired and enjoy the things they are doing more because they have prioritized what they really love.

    School is structured all day long – down time is important. Way to go, Jane,

  70. posted by boots on

    I’m always conflicted on this question. When I was a kid there were several activities I *chose* to be involved in–music, art, etc.–and then there were things my parents nudged me into because I was a chubby kid and they wanted to make sure I exercised: soccer, swim team, karate, etc.

    I didn’t enjoy the sports, nor was I good at them, but I think my parents were nervous if I didn’t have structured exercise I’d never get any exercise at all.

  71. posted by OogieM on

    Sounds overly harsh to me. The whole point of being a kid is to explore and investigate and try out stuff. By limiting choices they are limiting what the kids can learn and perhaps missing out on something they would really love doing. WHile the parents don’t have to become a taxi service for kids doing hundreds of things just 1 outside activity is stifling IMO.

  72. posted by Greg on

    I’m 27 and have no kids, so I don’t necessarily have the parenting perspective, but I really value the opportunities I had as a kid to participate in all kinds of things. I participated in soccer, baseball, running, speech, theater, basketball, golf, gymnastics, piano, and a whole host of other things. I was absolutely terrible at some of them, decent at others, and quite good at others. I would never have discovered that if I hadn’t been given the opportunity to try them all. In fact, I never would have started running if I couldn’t have done it on the side along with playing soccer and I ended up becoming an NCAA Division I track and cross country runner. It would _not_ have been my first choice growing up or even in high school, yet it turns out it’s what I was best at and is still a central part of my life. I also still play the piano and enjoy it very much. Sure, I still can’t shoot a basketball to save my life or hit a baseball well, but what if those were the only things I’d tried?

    I’m very grateful to my parents for offering me a buffet of opportunities from which to sample and find my favorites. I hope that when I do have kids, I’m as gracious in letting them explore.

  73. posted by dana on

    I wish my parents had me do a wider variety of things when I was little and there was no pressure to be “good” at them – we do most things that interest us with our 6/7 year old (b’day this month), knowing that we’ll narrow it down to things where she has real interest and aptitude as she grows and matures. We have piano, scouts and a sport at the max. One sport at a time.

    Of course, I am married and my spouse does his share – he covers piano, I cover scouts – we both do the sports. We have one younger child without her own activities (yet).

  74. posted by Mletta on

    A bit torn by this post. On the one hand, agree that overscheduling can be problematic for the kids and the family. Because in reality, the kids schedules dictate family life and not always to the betterment. It’s not just the shuttling kids around, it’s the level of involvement (financial and time and resources) expected of parents today with kids’ activities (sports in particular).

    On the other hand, depending on the family, and we have only the writer’s word for it, this could be quite stifling.

    Spending time with family is good, but a big part of life is socialization. Especially as kids age, but even from the time they are little.

    The world is diverse and most of it will NOT be like your family. I guess my ideal of a “good” family is one that creates opportunities for bonding but also encourages you and supports you as you “fly off” to engage with the outside world. THey don’t limit or restrict you to a cocoon called family, no matter how nice.

    Something about the writer makes me feel she’s trying to prove something and it just puts me off.

    She never mentions anything about having other kids over to her house to share in family activities. Perhaps if she talked aobut that it wouldn’t feel so strange.

    One of the great illusions of life is that families all like each other and want to spend time together. Ah, if only.

    You can’t force people to get along by limiting their outside access. That, to me, seems to be an undertone to what this woman is saying. If she felt OK with it, she wouldn’t care what others thought. And she clearly does. So I think she has some doubts about her approach.

    And I agree that kids need to explore. Some stuff will stick, some won’t. The whole point of being young and a kid is to “try it on” without the obligations of adulthood.

    I have found that adults who had little time to explore options as a child, become stuck as adults in many ways.

    As the only child and latch key kid (we weren’t called that then, but only in retrospect) of a single working parent, I didn’t know anything else other than coming home right after school, where I spent hours on homework (catholic school) and read. To me, that was normal.

    Then, as I aged, I started hanging out with other kids, who were allowed to join things and who lived very differently than I did.

    Although I learned how to be on my own, and am ever grateful for that, I never really learned to socialize and even as an adult, prefer my own company to others with the exception of very close friends. I loathe parties and most social gatherings (the only one’s I’ve ever mastered are those for business where I assume a role).

    So, I may be biased in my take. Kids need to be OUT there as well as at home.

    Parents’ role is to groom kids to fit into society. IMHO

  75. posted by JJ on

    I’m pretty split on this thinking. I know a lot of kids from ages 12-18 who had parents that kept them at home more than getting them involved in activities. These kids never learned teamwork, trust building, and the necessary social skills to handle unique and new situations. I understand the taxi thing, but I really think so many children nowadays have such a closed notion of the world, despite having the ability to have a much more open view. On the other side, I know kids who play 4-5 sports a year, and that’s all they know. There needs to be balance, which I fail to see in this decision. 1 activity (especially something like Karate which isn’t a social thing) can be very limiting. Maybe 1 spring/1 fall, or 1 summer/1 winter?

  76. posted by Karen on

    Homeschooling, for us, is a de-clutterer of time. For several reasons:

    1) I’m not stressing about bedtimes because my kids don’t *have* to get up at a certain time to get to the bus/get driven to school. I remember getting up at 6 am for high school, to catch the bus across town. Crazy.

    2) I’m not stressing about rushing them through breakfast and out the door. We get up, we have a nice breakfast together, get chores done together, and then settle into our schoolwork.

    3) I’m not running around packing lunches in the morning or looking for lunch money.

    4) I’m not worried about my kids while they’re gone from home for 8 hours a day.

    5) I don’t have to drop everything or interrupt the youngests’ naps to pick up the oldest from school.

    6) My kids get the benefit of spending time with their siblings. Yes, this is important. Others have commented that our kids rarely seem to fight. I’m inclined to think that kids separated from their siblings all day long get too used to being around kids their own age, and don’t learn how to be around younger kids. Or older kids. This is important for later living.

    7) I actually have about the same amount of paperwork, as a homeschooler, as I see other parents have with kids in the public or private schools. No lost papers, no teacher conferences, and our schedule is ours to make.

    Activities are chosen when the child has an interest. My son wanted to learn to ride a horse; we found a horse camp nearby and he went to that. If he expressed an interest in any activity, we’d research it and sign him up.

  77. posted by Mia on

    I have not read all the comments. Just wanted to share what worked for me..every kid did #1 school, #2 a sport, and #3 an ‘other’ activity such as music or drama. Yes, we were incredibly busy. Yes, we also volunteered in their activities. Yes, we worked. Yes, we went to all school functions. It can be done. It pays off later. Mine are well rounded, enjoyable, interesting people who function well in a lot of situations. It helps to have BOTH a Mother and a Father to have this situation. That way you can go in several directions! Time does go quickly. Don’t waste a minute of it.

  78. posted by martha in mobile on

    Does anyone else feel that “taxi time” is actually a great time to talk with kids? My child and I have some of our best conversations on the way to school. Somehow it is easier for her (an almost-teen) to confide in me when we are both facing forward. I call it “heart-to-heart, one mile at a time.”

  79. posted by Cat on

    @martha – yes. I am in my 20s and STILL enjoy talking to my mom in the car when I visit. She drives my high school age brother to school and back because “that’s when he really talks to me.”

    reaction to this philosophy in general: I think one activity only is a little harsh unless that activity consumes a great deal of time! Thinking back, I usually had 2 at a time as a kid (Scouts and piano lessons, then piano and swimming/tennis lessons, then in high school a variety of music groups (although they didn’t overlap much, if at all) and a job on weekends). Let me explore what I liked but left plenty of time for friends, relaxing with a book, homework, and family time (usually about an hour a day for dinner and cleanup, then another hour of watching TV or doing something else together).

    I would worry that Jane’s approach will leave the kids resentful of family time and would suggest having a “family dinner” time, but not going overboard on the staying in one room. Partly it will depend on the kids’ personalities – as a loner kid, I would get fussy if I didn’t have some quiet time to myself at the end of the day.

  80. posted by Jessica on

    I am 32 and have a 2 year old son. I grew up with very little money for extras– would’ve loved music lessons, but we could never afford it. I did play sports, and then became a debate/drama/math team dork in high school.

    I liked Julie’s comment about being flexible. It may be easier to make a rigid rule in the short term, but it may force you to go back on your rule or be unreasonably inflexible in the future. I agree kids shouldn’t be “overscheduled” but that word means different things for different kids/families. One child may prefer to do no activities, another may be perfectly able to balance 2 or 3. In any case, I think the decision should be based not only on the parent’s ability to support the activity (which is, of course, crucial) but on the child’s desire and ability.

    Just as we shouldn’t live vicariously through our kids’ activities (forcing them to do dance because we always loved the ballet, for example), I also think we should respect the fact that they may have different interests and energy levels than us (preferring to socialize with other kids when we’d rather be at home with a book, for example). There’s no right answer– I just don’t think the same formula will work for every family.

  81. posted by Yodder on

    My take:

    I have a nephew who, from an early age, has been extremely gifted in art. This is an individual pursuit. He also needed to learn to socialize/share/play with others. That meant sports. His two siblings were in very similar situations. Their parents strove to bring up well-rounded kids. I think it can be traumatic or wrong to limit a child to one outside interest. This can potentially limit their exposure to a lot of interests/things/cultures/norms they will need later on.

    For myself, I had interests in several of the arts which my mother did not see the worth in, hence I never was able to pursue until I was on my own. By then it was too late to make any real progress (if you want to dance, you gotta start early and keep at it). Perhaps there was no money. I was never given a reason. I spent hours and hours alone in my room, lonely and bored. I have had to deal with lifelong clinical depression due largely to my isolation and inability to cope. On the plus side, I’m an avid reader and will always choose a book over socializing.

    I’m all for letting the child contribute to the decision on activities – he/she gets some ownership and responsibility that way. I NEVER got to choose and hated/deliberately failed at virtually everything I was forced into.

    BTW: Being together didn’t give our family ‘cohesion’. The three of us kids don’t speak to each other and we all struggle with mental illness or personality disorders. Forced time together does not make a family.

    I am 50 years old, unemployed, and always regretted and resented not having my “formative years”. Perhaps I’d know what I wanted to do if I’d gotten a chance to try things.

    Jane: Don’t do this. Your kids will hate you later for it. You are being selfish.

  82. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    Fascinating discussion. Thanks, Erin, for bringing this up. I’m 42, no kids and none to come, involved aunt to a teenager and a preteen, plenty of friends with kids.

    I participated in a few activities outside of school growing up (swimming lessons, art and language classes, youth group), but it wasn’t a constant barrage of activity. I had plenty of free time to read books and play with the neighbor kids and ride bikes and build forts and just be a kid. I turned out just fine and still managed to learn teamwork and build social skills.

    We had all kinds of experiences as part of school — art, music, gym class, volunteer tutoring. I don’t feel like I missed out on any opportunities to be exposed to something new. When I did want to do more than what was offered in school, my mom was encouraging, and we’d get a library book or find a class. Maybe today’s kids don’t get that range of experience in school, with all this focus on testing.

    Personally, I feel sorry for overscheduled kids who don’t get enough time to explore in their own way and at their own pace. What kinds of things are they missing out on discovering because they’re too busy standing out in right field AND waiting in line for the parallel bars AND being chauffered hither and yon every day? I learned a lot about nature by poking around in creeks and woods and helping my mom in the garden. When I hit junior high school biology and even physical geography in college, it was really helpful to have that real-world experience behind me; the classes and books explained in scientific terms what I intuitively knew from observation.

    On the other hand, I think having some extracirricular activities is valuable. Part of me wishes I had taken those dance lessons in junior high that seemingly all my other classmates took, and learning piano might have been fun.

    I think there is a happy medium that every family must find for themselves, based on available time and interest and cost. I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all situation. As long as activities don’t become too stressful for the kids OR the parents and the kids still have time for free play and exploration, there’s nothing wrong with taking on as much as you want to handle as a family. For some, it will be one. For others, it might be four.

  83. posted by Starla on

    As a piano teacher, I have to agree with this. So many kids come to me for lessons but turn up week after week without practice because they’re so overburdened with activities. swimming on monday, brownies on tuesday, piano on wednesday, dancing on thursday (tap and modern!), and drama on friday. i don’t know how they get time to do all the homework schools seem to be setting them these days. piano lesson becomes another miserable chore in the round of other chores these kids have to do. i’ve one girl who turns up each week who could be a talented pianist but who has dark circles of tiredness around her eyes because she’s so busy. she’s only 9.

  84. posted by Erika on

    What a brilliant phrase:

    “By saying “no” to the things that don’t matter to them, they have the ability to say “yes” to what does.”

    Can I keep it too? 🙂

  85. posted by Amy on

    Each of our children play one sport at a time, and I’ve never considered that “restricting” anything! Soccer – which is relatively low-commitment – is two 60 minute practices per week with one 90 minute game on the weekends. Multiply that by two kids and add homework, reading time, and the need to get them to bed at a decent hour, and I can’t imagine adding another activity. I can’t imagine how any family with children would think it strange to have them choose one activity at a time.

  86. posted by Nadia on

    It seems a lot of commenters are assuming that if the kid isn’t in a specific extracurricular “activity” then the kid isn’t being exposed to anything else. There are plenty of different things a kid can do at school or in “family” time that will expose them to other things and allow them to develop other interests. Why all the opinions that only structured time is teaching them new skills?

  87. posted by Tammy on

    Only problem I see here is that Jane is deciding what’s best for her family, but her children aren’t going to be given the chance to find out if they’re interested in those other activities.

    You don’t just have to be a taxi. It doesn’t have to be non-family time if your children are learning new skills and becoming more well-rounded.

    When I was a child, I learned that I liked guitar, karate, and I didn’t like diving. My parents didn’t know how to do any of those things, and they couldn’t have taught me without me attending classes. My father watched the lessons on the sidelines, and at home he helped us practice what we had learned. By the time I was in high school I was more interested in chatting with friends than learning new skills, but afterwards, I’ve really appreciated knowing those skills, because I’ve drawn on them again.

    While I appreciate Jane’s sentiments, I think that the development of her children (and her ability to feed their curiosity) is very important.

    It’s a shame to think that learning (skills or facts) is a waste of time.

  88. posted by [email protected] Frugal Girl on

    Tammy, I don’t the idea is that learning is a waste of time. It’s that running around to a bazillion different activities while grabbing dinner on the run isn’t good for a family.

    My parents had us in very few outside activities, but we did a lot of stuff together as a family…biking, reading, swimming, canoeing, making music, and so on. It wasn’t stuff that isolated us.

  89. posted by Crystal on

    Being a single mother, I think this idea is essential to survival. When my son (my oldest) was younger, I lost site of this and soon realized that we had somewhere to be almost every night of the week. We were never able to come home from work and school, have dinner in a calm way, do homework, prepare for the next day, and go to bed. Every night of the week was a race to the next thing. I stopped it and only allowed him to do a sport that met in the summer when we were both off (I was a teacher).
    Now, I have three children and have found myself getting caught up in the rat race again with my daughters and their dancing. Feeling overwhelmed and burned out, I have begun to make moves to reduce our running around. Unfortunately, it has been met with much opposition from her dance teachers and our friends. This article was just what I needed to help me stay focused on what I know is right.

  90. posted by mary b on

    In our household we tend to follow a similar plan with our 10 & 5 yo boys. We spend a lot of time discussing with our 10 yo what is coming up for sports, what the commitments/schedules will be and then make a mutually acceptable decision. Some seasons he chooses nothing because he wants a break.

    Our rule is if you join a sport you must go to all your practices and games. We do not feel it is fair to your team to have to choose going to a game in one sport over another. It is terribly disappointing to the children that show up for a game only to have to forfeit because “Johnny” went to play a soccer game or perform in a concert, instead of being at their baseball game.

    It is funny my son chose not to try out for the All Star baseball team this year, and he has been called numerous times to fill in because someone else wasn’t fulfilling their commitment to the team to be at a game.
    I think parents need to do what works for their own families, but also be sure their children are able to fulfill the commitment to their team or group.

  91. posted by Deborah Marchant on

    There are A Lot of comments here! It appears many have been kids and this article triggered some memories and – well – some opinions. Here’s one more. Mine. When I did my thing as a kid I liked my family to Leave Me Alone. I still do. My best works have come from being just with myself. So, I am of the opinion that the idea of having to create while being in the physical presence of a group – like a family – and a group that is not even working on the same project, is, well, stifling for me to even contemplate. The question when even planning such a nightmare for someone like myself is to ask why do this? What is the result you hope to create? What are the needs and fears of each individual group member? Different needs and fears can include such motivations like having to be right, helping others, being admired, feeling special, understanding the world, never feeling abandoned, having fun, being strong, or creating peace. You can check out the Enneagram for more info about basic human needs and fears. This info may help you figure out how to parent enough and tend to the different needs and fears of individual children. But first – I have one caution. Know Your Own First.

  92. posted by Shalin on

    Always a fan of quality over quantity – this seems like a wonderful life practice. Although, spending time in the same room quietly doing different doesn’t strike me as spending time “together”, ya know?

    –S

  93. posted by Merry on

    I actually have read all the comments.
    What’s fascinating to me is all the people who read Jane’s situation and read into it their own life story. Because you didn’t react well to this sort of lifestyle is not to say her children won’t. Or maybe some of her children will be fine with it and others not. It depends on the individual personalities of the children.

    Yes, I was restricted to one activity growing up. (One activity at a time, anyway.) I was fine with this, as it left me with more time to read, write, paint very bad pictures, and play with my friends. My sister deeply resented having to choose only one activity, and blamed my mother for being so cruel as to be unable to afford all her desires.

  94. posted by Queen Lucia on

    I agree with Nadia – it’s interesting to me that people who disagree with Jane’s rule seem to think that extra-curricular activities are the only way kids get exposure to things. My daughter is allowed one activity at a time (swimming lessons now in the summer, then dance or gymnastics this fall). Aside from that, our daughter participates in activities at our local children’s museum occasionally, we visit other museums and take her to children’s theatre, we regularly schedule play dates with friends and visit local parks, we go camping, we read every night, she has an extensive crafting collection that she uses almost daily, she attends school and its activities, she attends a day care with an emphasis on art and paricipates in their activities…. One outside activity does not assume a dull, uncreative life.

  95. posted by Kara on

    We do one “extracurricular” activity per kid during the school year too. It has a lot to do with time (we both work full time and want to spend downtime hanging out with them), finances (activities are getting really expensive, and our kids – 9 and 11 – get bored of some things and want to drop out if they aren’t clicking), but the MAIN reason is the kid’s stress levels. they are both in special school programs for the highly gifted – so there is just so much schoolwork. We always have “family day” on Sundays – hiking, the aquarium, movies, etc. One day per week for an extra activity seems about perfect for us. On hectic weeks, our 11 year old (girl) will tell us that she is very stressed out (!).
    Also, growing up i had school 5 days, Sunday Hebrew school, saturday art classes, wednesday night soccer and spent sundays with my Dad (parents were divorced). I used to always complain that i just wanted some “hangout and bike ride” time with my friends.

  96. posted by Rae on

    @mmr “You may not want to be the personal driver of your kids, but you can’t put them on a schedule that is tailored to you.”

    Since when? And how is Jane wanting to spend as much quality family time together forcing them to adhere to her schedule?

    Way to go, Jane. I’m sure there is no right and wrong in this situation, and what works for her may not work for others, but in this society of self-entitlement, it appears that she has well-adjusted, relatively happy children, and a close-knit family. There is no magic number of activities, and making hard choices is part of life. People that are so completely broke that they can’t afford for their children to attend any outside activities surely have kids that grow up to be fine, so I don’t see the issue with Jane having her children pick just one.

    Nice article, Erin. Thanks for sharing.

  97. posted by Kris on

    Personally, I think there’s a huge difference between “one activity” and “one activity at a time.” The latter provides more freedom for the kids. If it’s the former, then of course he picked year-round karate over summer-only t-ball.

  98. posted by Jessica on

    Way to go, Jane. My husband and I have already agreed that we will adopt the same strategy when we have kids. A lot of the commenters against Jane’s decision seem to think she is “selfish.” But how is it selfish to prioritize your marriage and unharried family time? Ultimately, a strong and happy parental marriage is THE GREATEST GIFT you can give your children, and family time is a close second! Perhaps the child doesn’t “get what they want” in the short term. But a happy family is a much greater gift in the long term.

  99. posted by Brad on

    Crystal (the person who only lets her kids do anything in the summer because she “knows what’s right”):

    What are your kids going to write on the “extracurricular activities” section of their college applications? “Hung out with Mom”?

  100. posted by Katharine on

    We have limited to one regular extracurricular outside my daughters’ church groups. They get to pick, and have found that summer camps and limited-duration activities (i.e. one-day dance clinics and two-week swim lessons) have been a great way for them to try out different activities to find the one they really want to focus on for that year. Even better, both my kids have had some activities (swimming or music) available as part of their day care, so they can do them without the shuttling. If one of the kids was really serious about more than one activity and wanted to do more, we would try to figure out how to make it happen.

    @Michelle-You make an important point, though. If parents are limiting their kids’ activities for the sake of family time and well-rested family members, they need to be willing to do the same. I had to quit my local Rotary club and some other volunteer activities, in order to clear my schedule to focus on being a mom. Now, I have one, Weight Watchers, which I justify as it increases the healthfulness of the whole family. Work takes us away from home enough, so limiting activities helps us stay connected as a family and reduces stress.

  101. posted by Jay on

    Interesting choice that this family has made. They went from “two years of the kids being involved in every program you can name” to one non-family activity for each child.

    As the Greeks suggested, “Moderation in all things.” Perhaps there is some middle ground between every program and one activity.

    While family activities benefit the kids and the family, inflexibly and arbitrarily limiting the non-family activities to one seems unnecessary. Two non-family activities that meet once a week, require no practice, and are nearby may be less time-consuming than one non-family activity that meets daily, requires practice, and is far away.

    Also, keep in mind that some lessons can only be done outside the home. I don’t have a gymnastics facility or swimming pool, so gymnastics and swimming lessons, if my wife and I opt for them, will be outside the home.

    In addition, sometimes, to ensure “well-rounded” kids, parents encourage or expose their kids to activities that will bring out other aspects of their personalities or development. The kids would never choose these activities themselves. Limiting non-family activities to one would eliminate these potentially beneficial activities.

    By the way, my wife and I have two kids, ages five and two.

  102. posted by Organizing Your Way | Surfin’ the Net: 7/5-7/18 on

    […] A Family’s Decision to Say Yes to What Matters Most to Them, Unclutterer […]

  103. posted by EngineerMom on

    First off, these kids are still really young. You don’t have to start playing t-ball at age 4 in order to make the baseball team in high school. Michael Flatley didn’t take a single Irish dancing lesson until age 11. If you have the talent, it will emerge in its own time.

    I’m 27 and the parent of a 1-year-old. My parents restricted us to 1 sport (mandatory) and 1 other activity (optional). The sport was mandatory to keep us active and teach us how to be active adults. I did everything from soccer to basketball to volleyball to swimming to biking to running to weight lifting to discus/shotput to marching band (and if you think that one isn’t a sport, clearly you have never been in a top-ranked marching band!). However, I never did more than one activity at a time. Today, I play pick-up games of basketball, volleyball, and soccer. I lift weights. I can’t run much (messed up knee and foot), but I speed-walk and bike still. I swim three days per week at the local community center.

    I also did math club, theater, Rainbow Girls, and a few other things. Again, no more than one at a time.

    Our family was unusual because we actually ate a sit-down, homecooked dinner together every night. My friends loved coming over for homemade pizza night on Fridays. We frequently invited other families over for Sunday dinner after church. Because we weren’t running around like crazy people, we had time to actually get to know each other, and for our parents to get to know our friends.

    I want that for my husband and kid now, too. I love lazy Sundays at home with my husband and son, just enjoying each other’s company. We love our relaxing Friday pizza-and-a-movie tradition (carried over from my parents’ house!), to which our son’s friends will always be welcome (he’s only 1 now).

    I intend to give my child the opportunities to learn whatever he wants to learn, but within reason. Family dinners and relaxing Sunday afternoons are too important to sacrifice on the altar of false opportunity.

  104. posted by EngineerMom on

    @Karen – I love the concept of homeschooling as a way to declutter time. It’s one of the reasons I’m looking at homeschooling my son. I remember so much wasted time in school, especially elementary school just getting everyone organized and on task. I remember visiting an art museum in college and thinking how useful it would have been to bring some of my old high school classmates here to make the Chinese history they were learning less dry and more “real” (they had a special presentation of Chinese art through the dynasties).

  105. posted by Julia1060 on

    Great post. I work with overstressed college students who struggle mightily with time and with learning to let go of doing too much (usually not well) in order to focus on nurturing what they love. Too much is not a gift to children; discernment is. PS I love the idea of enjoying music lessons as a family.

  106. posted by Family Briefs » Blog Archive » Extra, Extra, Extracurricular on

    […] much stick to TaeKwonDo, ballet, scouts, and church. Many days, I think that’s too much. Poor Jane (not her real name) apparently gets mocked more than we do because she can’t even use her […]

  107. posted by Kelli on

    We made a similar decision when the activities of our four children made it actually impossible to get them to all the places they wanted to go at the same time. Because we lived in a neighborhood with good sidewalks and bike paths, we told them they could choose only one activity that required car transport – and one other if they could if they could get themselves to it by their own steam. In response to complaints about X’s family driving THEIR kids across town to Y, we responded calmly that there are good and bad things about every family, that we’re sorry they don’t like this one, but hopefully the good will outweigh the bad for them (every realistic mother’s hope). Recently, my now-adult daughter commented on the happy memories she has of riding her bike and walking to girl scouts, soccer practice, etc. So it didn’t kill them anyway… And it has given us time as a family to enjoy each other before they leave for good.

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