I have just done my most radical act of parenting so far in my fifteen-year career of raising six children: I have pulled my children out of all extra-curricular activities.
Even piano lessons.
Last year I spent just about every afternoon driving little people to various lessons, games, practices and rehearsals. There were the accompanying happy experiences: pride and excitement as my daughter performed onstage for the first time; my sons becoming more flexible and strong through Kung Fu; the sense of accomplishment my oldest two kids felt after finishing well in a golf tournament.
But there was the ugliness of all the extra-curriculars too: the fact that I spent very little after-school time helping kids with homework and just being there; the nagging and quarrelling about practicing, the lack of decent dinners (I always meant to do something in the crock pot, but it just never seemed to happen).
This year instead of becoming more accomplished we are going back to the basics: we will be working on eating good meals together and getting to sleep early. That’s our after-school curriculum now.
If you have school-aged children then you know the pressure to do everything; to try everything. What if you have a future world-class gymnast on your hands or a budding concert violinist? How will you know unless you expose them to everything, right? It has finally dawned on me that if I have a world-class anything, I’ll know. A prodigy’s talents do not hinge on a ballet class taken in first grade.
I’ve had to admit to myself that my children aren’t particularly gifted at any of the activities they have been involved in. And they didn’t really love them. I want them to be passionate about the things they do. I want them to soar and become wonderful. But after a long hard look I realized that most of our activities were just taking up our time and money.
The constant busy-ness has been strangling me. I don’t have a go, go, go personality. I like things calm and unhurried.
There would be lots of tears and complaining, I imagined, when I announced our new plan to not do anything. But no. It seems that we were all pretty fed up with the crazy schedule.
We’ve spent the last two weeks since school began hanging out with each other. I’ve had the time to make a nice meal every night. We’ve enjoyed leisurely dinners together full of laughter and conversation and then gotten to bed at a decent time. The simple life has ended up being pretty lovely.
We still continue to do Scouts and church activities. We’ll probably phase things in slowly. But I plan on keeping the extra-curriculars in check. If a child loves something, that’s fine. But the days of signing kids up just to do something fun are over.
Long live simplicity.