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Back to School, Back to Busy

By Hildie Westenhaver

Last week I was at Target minding my own business. I came around a corner and beheld a sight which hit me like a bucket of cold water: back-to-school-supplies. We’re just barely hitting our summer stride and it’s already time to think about it ending? We’re thick in the middle of popsicle-eating and complaining about being bored. It took a great deal of self-control to not curl up in a fetal position right in the middle of the aisle. It’s not that I have an aversion to loose-leaf paper or pink pearl erasers (Actually I dislike pink pearls. I much prefer the rectangular white erasers.) Despite wanting to run out of the store shrieking, I practiced my yoga breathing and bought my daughter a new backpack, lunchbox and pink pencil case. As any on-the-ball mother can tell you, the good backpacks, lunchboxes, and pink anything are gone early.

My problem with the end of summer is that back-to-school=busy. I came across a phrase in Plan B by Anne LaMott: “If the Devil can’t tempt you he’ll keep you busy.” That thought has been swirling around in my brain all summer. My favorite thing about this time of year is how aimless we are. Spend the day at the pool? Sure, why not? Cereal for dinner? Sounds good to me. Make Shrinky-Dinks at 10 pm? Yeah, OK.

Why does it all change when the kids go back to school? I know we can’t sleep in late or spend the day having fun, but why do we turn our lives into a crazy treadmill of things to do? I, for one, am not into extra-curriculars. We do some piano lessons and church stuff (scouts/young women’s), but I try not to do more than that. I just hate being busy and feeling like I’ve got too much going on. I think my children learn more from being with each other and spending the afternoons playing at the pond down the street than they do at Little League. They can learn teamwork by sorting the laundry together, or making up obstacle courses in the backyard.

I’ve seen a lot of parents go to extremes. In our last ward, we had a dreadful turnout at all activities including Enrichment. These activities were actually pretty fun, but the reason that most of the ward members didn’t go was because they were too busy. Usually sports/dance were the main culprit. I’ve had friends who have one child who is gifted in some way, and the rest of the family revolves around that child’s games and practices. How fair is that to everyone else? I love the talk by Dallin H. Oaks in Oct. 07 Conference about good, better and best. Some of the hardest choices we make in life will be giving up some really good things for even better things.

“The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth. . . . However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.”

It’s not just things we do with our children that can keep us too busy. I’ve been known to volunteer for quite a few things at school. Plus book clubs, plus being the block captain of our neighborhood. Add in a few visiting teaching appointments, church meetings and orthodontist visits and my life starts getting pretty chaotic.

How many times have I reached the end of the day exhausted? There is no way I have the energy for reading my scriptures and I end up falling asleep in the middle of my prayers. Why is this? What am I sacrificing my spirituality for? Ocassionally it’s for something like being in charge of an Enrichmant meeting. But most often I’ve just had a crazy day of small things. Things that won’t mean anything to my life in six months. Some of them have to get done. But how many don’t?

I’ve decided that my children won’t play any sports during the school year unless they really, really want to. They pretty much have to beg. Many times. I feel like my job is to make them spiritually sound. It’s not popular to say in this age of making sure our children are #1 at everything, but I don’t care if they ever take ballet or play soccer, or march in the school band. If they have a passion for it, then fine, sign us up. But so far we’ve had a lot of starts and stops of passing whims.

This world is getting to be a scary place. Take a stroll through an average high school and you’ll see what I mean. I feel the need to gather my chicks around me. I don’t believe there is anything they can do on a field or in a studio or even in the classroom that will be as life-changing as our conversations over the dinner table or the games we play during Family Home evening.

Now, don’t be too quick to send me a mean response wherein you bear your testimony of Tae Kwon Do or cheerleading. If that stuff works for your family, then good for you. But as for me and my house, we’ll just stay home.

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

36 thoughts on “Back to School, Back to Busy”

  1. Jennie, I LOVE this!

    I don't hear your perspective often enough. I mean, we hear it in conference talks, but I don't see it applied very often in this way.

    I really want to be this kind of parent when our little one is old enough to have options. My head spins when I listen to some friends talk about everything their children are doing. Multiply it by six kids, add a high profile calling or two, and I can't imagine how it's done. Or at least how it's done happily. (But like you said, if it works for their family . . . )

    I realize it's easy for me to have an opinion about it without having multiple kids in school (or multiple kids period), so I wonder how our life really will look in a few years. Time will tell, and with this as our goal, I hope it looks at least a little like what you describe.

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  2. My kids are in piano lessons only because the piano teacher lives down the street. If it required me to get in the car, they'd be out of luck.

    I'm with you honey. 100%.

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  3. This post = my thoughts. As my children have gotten older things have gotten even more busy. We operate on the "really really want to" plan. It is nice to read about someone with the same feelings, sometimes it seems as if we are the only ones.

    I'm not saying that all activities are bad, my kids are involved with all kinds of different things, but I have more then a few kids(8), so even one activity per kid can have us running all over the place.

    I agree that there are some scary things in this world, and we need to fortify our families, give them the strength they need to stand up against the things that will try to break them down. It is hard to fortify the family if we never have family time.

    I like your motto, I'd like to adopt it.

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  4. Really appreciate your post. My husband and I talk about this often. We know of many children who have started a myriad of activities only to quit them not too long afterward. I've heard some argue that this is teaching them adaptability and is giving them exposure to life. But I do not agree. I feel the same that you do, I really don't like my life to be too busy. There's nothing more that I love than staying home and hanging out with my family. The things we have for our girls are sleepovers with good friends, neighborhood BBQs, and visits to family member's houses. They seem plenty happy to us. But, I personally love the school year because I feel mentally more organized when there's a more predictable structure to the day, i.e., the kiddies going to school. This also gives them experiences and knowledge to share with us when they come home. I will say that I think there's too much homework for kids, especially considering that they're in school for 7+ hours a day. But anyway, love your post and am glad to see that there are other parents out there who haven't bought into the whole Soccer Mom thing and don't feel bad about it!! Amen, sister!

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  5. What a courageous and well-thought out approach to the temptation of busyness. I believe you have it managed well and will be blessed for it. What are Shrinky-dinks?

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  6. What are Shrinky Dinks? Boy, are you missing out! They're sheets of plastic that you decorate with colored pencil, then cut out and put in the oven for a couple of minutes. They curl up then shrink to about 25% of their previous size. I don't know why they are so cool, but they are. It's the only craft I completely love to do with my kids. Now that I think about it, I probably like them more than my kids. They were popular in the 70s-early 80's and are now back in action.

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  7. Several years ago we decided to take our life back as well. We started doing more things like hiking or camping on the weekends. I do sometimes feel like I've jipped my kids out of certain experiences, my daughter has major dance envy. It's hard to develop all the different sides to a child. The "not so involved" approach seems to be working for us too.

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  8. Thank you Jennie. I agree with your words completely. I'm surrounded by families, in our ward and not, who run themselves ragged every day, year-round, because of their kids crazy schedules. I just can't do it. I won't. I limit my kids to one sport per year. Plus piano if they want. That is it. Elder Oaks "Good, Better, Best" talk really spoke to me as well.

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  9. I can relate. I have always felt this way. I HATE running around like crazy. It stresses me out. Piano and cub scouts are about all I can handle during the school year. That's already 2 nights a week so that is enough for me! I prefer my kids to do sports in the summer (swim and baseball). My oldest has never done soccer and #2 just barely did it for the first time at age 7. I feel like a freak because they haven't done soccer continually since age 3, but spending every Saturday at a soccer game would drive me nuts! Saturdays are too precious since Sunday is for worship. Each family needs to do what they enjoy and less sports works for me.

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  10. I really struggle with the SURETY that my daughter is the next world's greatest dancer/cheerleader/soccer hero/American's Next Top Model/physicist and what if I am ruining her life by not putting her in something? (She is three, by the way…)and I came to the following decision. I made a pact (covenant, if you can use something so trivial with such a tremendous concept and term) with Heavenly Father–I will keep praying about her. And if He needs her to be something extraordinary from something extracurricular He will let me know. Otherwise we are just hanging out at home and having fun times.

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  11. La Yen, I wondered about that too. But they way I figure it, Heavenly Father knows me. He knows perfectly well that I'm not the mother who will be taking the child to ice skating/lacrosse/acting practice at 5:00 am. If my child has those talents, well, he/she is in the wrong family. Besides, if they really are prodigies of some sort, it should be perfectly evident. And, to put it nicely, there has been no sort of evidence with my offspring. It's just about having fun.

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  12. I am one with a crazy schedule. Not as crazy as some, but enough. My son and I have tae kwon do twice a week each, son has piano and school choir, daughter has piano, husband has mutual plus bishopric meetings. I feel stretched during the school year.

    But. My son and I really enjoy tae kwon do. We're not athletes in my family here. When someone throws a ball at me, I duck. If he's going to get any kind of athletic skills, it won't be unless someone besides me teaches him. And the tae kwon do has been amazing for me as well.

    Music he absolutely loves. And my daughter loves her dance. So there you go… things may change as my kids get older, though, and as I have more. And I am loving my summer break.

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  13. completely agree! i am not a great carpool mom, therefore, one activity per child at a time. that and i don't have a million bucks to pay for all of their extra activities!

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  14. I'm just wondering how many here have teens? I love the idea of us always being together, but let me tell you, if they don't participate in anything, they become bored – and that's where trouble starts.

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  15. I have teens, and it is not that they have done "nothing". We just don't encourage them to do "everything". I have had friends who's kids have played every sport they can, or every type of dance, music etc. Life is spent at games, practices, and in the car. Smaller children spend all their time here and there and not at home.

    I just believe in setting limits on how much each child can do.

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  16. Our family has been doing taekwando for nearly a year. Three kids plus one husband all doing it, phew. We're there nearly every day and boy is it expensive. I can't wait to get out of it when our contract is up in a couple of weeks. My problem, my hubby and son like it a lot and my son has been doing really well; our budget has not being doing well because of it. Hubby knows we can't keep up an expensive hobby like this, but he is miserable, and I don't know look forward to letting my son know that, once again, lack of money will be depriving him of something he really wants to do. Sucks living paycheck to paycheck. Even if money wasn't an issue, I'd only want one week a night to do extracurricular stuff. Hate driving around too. Now if I could just get hubby to read good, better, best.

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  17. i like to be as stress free as possible. sometimes it just equates to selfishness on my part when i don't sign the children up for piano lessons and we have a piano gathering dust in the living room. but i realized a few years ago that not having them play the piano was by far NOT the worst thing i could do as a mother.

    well said, jennie.

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  18. I'm actually having a panic attack this week as I try to formulate the car pools in my life. I have always been a disciple to this way of thinking, however, this year is different. We are enrolling our kids in 2 fantastic schools, in two different towns from where we reside. Then there's the one in preschool, in our town. Then there's my husband who travels, which means my carpool will start at 7:00 AM on the days he's gone. Which means, I have to have the baby fed and changed in the car with the other 4. Throw in football for one of them, and I'm having a breakdown just thinking about it. I've got 2 more begging for various and sundry lessons, but it ain't gonna happen. The only consolation I have is that the school atmosphere is the REASON I'm doing this to myself. I just keep thinking how easy it was to just watch them walk out the front door to the bus. Where they learned ALL SORTS of educational things. Ok. I'll stop whining now.

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  19. I'm the second of five kids, and by the time I was in high school all five of us were involved in activities (band, swim team, Little League, etc). I think one thing that helped was that most of walked to things, especially those of us in high school. We lived in a community that was walkable, and we were close to a park and only a mile from the high school. And my parents didn't come to all of our performances or competitions. I know that's caused some resentment among some of my siblings, especially since the youngest one was home by himself and got Mom all to himself during high school. Anyways, I'm rambling. I think it's possible for older kids/teens, especially if they are involved in getting themselves to activities. I know that if I wanted to be on swim team in high school, I had to get myself to practice and to earn money for equipment. I don't know what we'll do with our kids since they are still so young. I do know that I'm a bit more lazy and will probably go the route of moderation as much as possible.

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  20. Great post Jennie. I have had the same attitude about not overscheduling children–if my kids want to do something, they pretty much have to beg. That said, it's unbelievable how much time even one sport or music interest can take–especially once they get to high school. But if it's something my kids are passionate about I will support them. There are many great lessons my kids have learned by being involved in choir, band, softball and baseball–how to be a team player, discipline, time management, and even how to support each other in their various pursuits.

    I agree with FoxyJ–moderation seems to be the way to go.

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  21. When I was coaching speech, I always tried to be aware of my students' other activities. My students were involved in EVERYTHING, and we often had discussions about moderation, but the pressure some of my high school kids felt to do every possible activity was unrealistic.

    To accommodate all the varying schedules, I was at the school most days for 12-14 hours. Almost every year I ended up canceling at least one tournament and assigned me and the kids a "down" day instead. I wish some of their parents would have stepped in at some point and said "no" to one or two activities. Now that I'm back at the same high school after a 2 year hiatus–and not coaching speech–I am looking forward to having more time to just…be…so thanks for the ideas in the post and comments!

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  22. Here Here!! It can get tiring to resist the tidal wave of child overinvolvement. Overscheduling children can create a selfish child who believes the world revolves around them. Children need to learn how to self-motivate, how to take a quiet afternoon and create soemthing, to direct their own thinking. For the child to know they have the power within themselve to accomplish much good- without a team, a sponsor, or a lesson. Honestly in the eternal scheme of things how much good will years of soccer have done for my child when compared to the valuable time invested?

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  23. Hmmm, I agree with moderation. I have strong feelings against overscheduling, but I also believe that every child needs the opportunity to nurture a talent. I want my kids to have something that's theirs, something they can excel at. I'm a musician and teach privately; I see the value that comes from working at something like the piano. The same could be said of a sport, or of dance. I would just hate to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It's a delicate balance.

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  24. Let's not be too quick to throw piano lessons under the bus. Its expensive and inconvenient, but we do it because piano players are needed in the church. It is one of the ways I serve Heavenly Father.

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  25. Bravo!

    There are so many things that take my time and are really not of any worth later.

    I'm also feeling that pull to just be, to just enjoy and cherish and strengthen our family.

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  26. Last winter we evaluated all our activities based on the "Good, Better, Best" scale. We dropped competitive swimming, Karate and ballet. Yesterday my daughter was dancing and I said, "You miss ballet, don't you?" "Yes," she said. "Do you want to go back?" I asked. "Yes," she said. Oh, why did I ask that? It has been so nice to cut down the busy times of just driving and not have to rush to do homework and jobs around the house and fight for time to talk. I just need to remember that I am the mom and not let my heartstrings be pulled by princess twirling.

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  27. I am struggling with what "overscheduled" actually means. I have 5 kids and am panicking a little looking at their upcoming fall schedule. When I look at each individual child no one seems "over" done but taken together it is going to be a real challenge. How do you manage the needs of each child with the needs of the family? My husband and I decided a long time ago that music education in schools was not entirely adequate for what we considered a well-rounded education. Our kids know that they are in piano for the long haul and can even recite "speech #17 it is an important part of your education and we supplement because you don't get it in school!" Prodigies? no, but they are all conversational in music, thankfully, they get out early one day a week and just walk over to their piano teacher's house. Now each kid is taking on an additional activity (something that they choose)Some of these things are not what I would choose (I hated sports as a girl!) But I know they need exercise and if they love it I try to make it happen. I guess I'm struggling with helping each child find his or her own niche and not just be part of the family. On the other hand I want them to understand that the good of the family often supercedes the good of the individual. Obviously I'm struggling, I want to give them each a chance to be an individual but I want down time too to just hang out.

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  28. I haven't read all the comments (someone may have mentioned this already) and I don't remember who said it (Pres. Hinckley??) but SOMEONE of some importance reminded mothers that we are raising missionaries, not professional soccer players. We are raising mothers of zion, not professional ballerinas. I love remembering that when I feel guilty about denying my kids extracurricular stuff. Our purpose should define what our day to day activities are, right? Isn't that how our Savior lived? How our prophet lives?

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  29. I agree that we are raising mothers and fathers of zion – but how will they know what brings them joy and makes them feel whole if they don't try things? I have wondered all along what the right answer is.

    My oldest is 20 now. I signed her up for dance, Jr. Jazz, art classes, piano, singing groups and, I can't remember what else, when she was little. She hated it all. And I hated running her everywhere. By Jr. High I let her decide what she wanted to do. And it was nothing but choir in school. By high school she wanted to play volleyball. So she did team and club ball, but was sick of it after two years. Then she found sewing, and student gov't. She also worked in the counseling office and now is studying social work in college because she loved it so much. I asked her about all the lessons – if she thought any of it was worth it – and she said she was happy she had at least tried and found out what she liked and didn't like.

    My second child just graduated. She also took piano, Jr. Jazz, singing group, and many different dance classes. She absolutely thrived in dance. She loved (and still does) all types of dance. Much to my dismay, I have paid for and driven her around to every kind of dance class I could find. She did choir and ballroom in Jr. High and then choir, modern dance, ballroom, jazz and ballet in high school. She even found she loved to be in Theatre Productions. This is a child who has struggled her whole life in school, been tested for ADHD (another long story), and has been able to find herself through dancing and performing. It is amazing to watch her come out of her shell when she performs. Now on to college where all she says she wants to be is a mom and a dance teacher! Hmmm.

    My last child is 14. I did not sign her up for anything except a singing group as a young child (because her sisters were in the same one). I decided I could not handle all the pressure. Well, when this child was five she decided she wanted to learn to play piano. I kept putting off getting her a teacher, because it hadn't worked out so well for the other two. One day she marched across the street and asked our neighbor (an older lady we know) if she could teach her piano because her mother wouldn't sign her up! Embarrassing to this day! This wonderful woman taught her until I could find a teacher. I have not pushed this child into anything – she has researched everything on her own – and cajoled me into signing her up for: modern dance (which she hated), tennis (she liked ok), ballroom (it's ok), jazz and hip hop (she loves), pottery (loves), watercolor (loves), and now she is trying out for volleyball and choir in high school. She wants to do everything. I have told her she can only do two things at a time, so she picks what is the most important to her. I also told her once she decides and starts, she is committed, no quitting until the season, or session is over.

    I guess what I'm trying to relate is that every child, and every situation is different. It is up to each of us to find out what works for us, and only us. I may have some strong opinions on certain things, but that's all they are, my opinions. It has taken me some time (and soul searching) to let my children become who they are, and to let them find out who they want to be. All I know is that each one is unique. And as a mother I think it is my job to help them figure out who they are, and what is important to them.

    I will say that I often instigate "family day" when no matter what they miss it is our time together. The girls actually love this, because they can blame it on mom, and they get to take a breather. Sorry this post is so long, I've been thinking about this all week.

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  30. I appreciate Tonya's point about letting our children discover what they love even if it means you hit and miss a few times. My oldest was completely lost throughout high school (once they get to high school it can be so difficult to be a boy who is not an athlete), until he got serious about choir. Choir changed his life. I know the influence of his choir director and the spirit of the music he was exposed to were gifts from God and experiences he was meant to have.

    We are also encouraged to develop our talents and to seek out good things. We've been counseled to read good books and enjoy good music and art. That's not possible if we are not also raising up artists, musicians, dancers, writers and even athletes. It's a personal decision and, as Tonya said, can be very different for each kid. It's our job as parents to use wisdom and, I'll say it again, moderation.

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  31. Thanks for this post. I am the type to not over-schedule. And to have lots of hanging out time. But to also see that talents are a gift that should not be buried. Isn't it great that we each have access to the Spirit to guide us as mothers. Don't forget that! And when you feel crazy busy, remember to seek it. I am preparing a lesson on Repentance for Gospel Essentials and one line in the lesson said to wake up each morning and check to see if the Spirit is with us. That helped me refocus, reading that. How many times do I forget that?!!!

    Sorry to preach. (we're probably all good at that, huh?) It is great to read each of your thoughts and be reminded of what is most important.

    One more thing: I love to dance–was a dancer in college (mostly modern), and my daughter has taken dance since she was three (but not hard core, just lessons at the school). Still, I look at the lifestyle of dancers and see that the gospel is hard to fit into it. So, would I want my daughter to be a professional dancer anyway. No. But, exercising and having fun can be worthwhile goals too, I guess.

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