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Tiger Mom Fail

By Shelah Miner

It starts innocently enough. The kids in the neighborhood are starting a soccer team, and they need just one more to make a go of it. Can your four-year-old play? And you say yes without thinking that you’re signing away the next three months of Saturday mornings, not to mention all of those weekday afternoons where you’ll find yourself hunting for shin guards and yelling, “Where did you leave your cleats?,” before hauling your reluctant preschooler to another practice.

Maybe you’re a pianist, like my husband. Maybe your mom spent thirty minutes or an hour sitting on the piano bench with you every afternoon of your childhood and you now sight read music like you were born doing it. You just want the same thing for your kids– it’s not too much to ask, is it?

Then, a dozen years later, you find yourself writing blog posts while sitting at a playground in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, where you and your preschoolers are killing an hour in between your third and fourth (of five) trips to the dance studio that day. This gives them a break from fistfighting in the back seat of the car for a little while.

You want your kids to be involved in extracurriculars. You worked in the admissions office of a highly selective university for a few years, and you know how important it is to get involved in something and demonstrate a relatively serious commitment to it. As a young mom, you were desperate for something, anything, to break up those days at home with little ones when the hours until Dad came home stretched out longer and longer as the afternoon progressed. “When he’s old enough to take swimming lessons, at least there will be something to do besides stare at each other,” you said on the 400th hour of four o’clock.

Now he’s in high school, and last year you decided to put those swimming lessons to good use. Soccer was a disaster, and team sports don’t seem to be his thing, so you steered him toward swim team. But not just any swim team; he goes to the school where the team wins at the state meet every year, where the coach has won more than any coach in Utah history, and where practices are intense. This summer, he swims 20 hours a week– the equivalent a part time job. He loves it, has miraculously managed not to be intimidated by the kids who have been on swim team since kindergarten, and he’s thriving, so that’s good, right?

But the driving is killing you. He turns sixteen next spring and you’ll do anything to ensure that he gets his license on his birthday, up to and including buying him an obnoxious beater of a car in yellow or bright blue. It will be worth it if you don’t have to drive him to and from practice four times each day.

You start your next swimmer at age eight so he won’t be behind the curve when he gets to high school. He doesn’t swim at the same time as his brother, but what’s two more trips to the high school?

Swim team. Scouts. Clarinet. Piano. These activities would be manageable with one kid. Maybe two, or even three. But you have six. And you feel like you can’t deny the younger ones the opportunities their older siblings had just because you’re old and tired now.

When you moved to your town a few years ago, you put your oldest daughter in a low-key neighborhood dance studio, which (you don’t know this at the time) is trying to transform itself into the Abby Lee Dance Company. Pretty soon you find your weekends filled with dance competitions, and you’re driving to the studio ten times a day (literally), and paying for private lessons so your kid can keep up. She loves it and has a real talent for it, and when the studio politics get too crazy, you agree to let her move to a new studio that’s only a little more expensive, only a little more serious, only ten minutes further down the road, and you’re sunk even deeper.

Your fourth child, a daughter, begs for violin lessons. You know you’re not cut out for the parent-intensive Tiger Mom Suzuki model, but you can’t find a teacher within a reasonable radius who teaches any other method. So you endure the teacher’s glares and snippy comments when you’re less than attentive during the lesson (texting the kids you left at home to fend for themselves) and smile and nod when the teacher tells you what you need to do to help your daughter to practice at home (your contribution to practice is to helpfully set the timer for her before zipping off  upstairs to fold a load of laundry or running to the pool yet again).

The Tiger Mom model simply doesn’t work when you have half a dozen kids. Even if you have the money to pay for the private dance lessons and swim team warmups. Even if you don’t work full time outside of the home. Even if you try really hard.

You managed to write two novels, back in the day. You used to blog every day. You used to write essays and to spend time working with the journal you edit. Now you feel guilty every time you open your laptop and see the journal homepage load because you don’t have anything left to give when you get home at the end of the day.

You remember how much you hated the moms of teenagers who would see you struggling with your cart full of babies and toddlers in the grocery store, shake their heads, and say, “You think it’s bad now, but the teen years are worse.” You wanted to punch them, and vowed that you would never say that to a young mom who sees every day as a marathon. You assumed that they were talking about how the kids were emotionally difficult, but now you realize that they’re actually talking about the driving, the juggling, the way you are trying so hard to hold on to the daily schedule in your mind that you can barely remember your kids’ names. It’s a different kind of endurance you need these days.

So what do you do? Cancel everything except church activities? Tell each kid they can do one thing so you have time to write another novel? Tell them they can do anything they want to do as long as you don’t have to drive them or pay for it? That’s what your parents did.

You want your children to have experiences where they feel successful, where they shine. It feels especially important in a big family where it can be hard to distinguish yourself from your siblings. You just don’t know how to do it for all of them and still retain your sanity, your memory, and a semblance of yourself.

How do you keep the extracurriculars from spiraling out of control? Have you cut back? Have you leaned in? Does it get better once the kids start to drive? Please tell me it does.

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

42 thoughts on “Tiger Mom Fail”

  1. I am the sixth of eight children and was involved in many extracurriculars while growing up, especially in my teen years. I think it was too much. I am still learning how to prioritize what is important to me, you know… the good, better, best philosophy from elder oaks. I am still learning how to say no. I grew up thinking everything was important and struggled to fit it all together in the puzzle of my life.

    It is a mental struggle for me to identify what is best and then i have the never-ending challenge of sticking to my guns and really putting those best decisions into play.
    I am expecting my sixth child now, so I know a little about raising a large family, but we have not officially hit the teenage years yet.

    We are extremely careful about what we commit to, we consider each commitment a family commitment, because it effects us all. My husband and I look back and all of the time, the hours and hours we devoted to sports and think it is ridiculous. America puts school sports/extra curricular a way out of proportion with actual education. I think the best way for my children to spend "extra" time is in the real world, in their community and church, in their family, investing in skills and communities that will last throughout their life. Highschool does not last forever and too many people spend their life looking back at highschool as the high light of their life.

    Our motto is: your future is greater than your past.

    It is never to late to learn to do what you love. Keeping my sanity is always the best choice for me.

  2. Speaking as a YW leader, it seems many families are putting extra curriculars ahead of church. We have YW who do dance, cheer, volleyball, etc. The 2 who regularly show up for Mutual are the ones without a ton of extra activities, and we end up tailoring activities around what they would like to learn.

    My kid is only 10, and we have recently dropped dance for golf, and will hopefully be starting piano again soon. We leave Wednesday nights open because that is Activity Day (they have to do them at 6:30 because so many girls are in dance) and Mutual. That is also Daddy picks up a pizza for dinner night.

  3. You answered your question yourself —
    "Tell them they can do anything they want to do as long as you don’t have to drive them or pay for it? That’s what your parents did."

    I'm the 5th of 10 kids. I walked from school to my piano lessons and did housework for my teacher to pay for them. You're helping them shine, but if they really want something, they'll find a way.

  4. yes, it gets better when they can drive because they can drive younger kids as well as themselves. But then kid #2 leaves for college and you realize how stupid you were to leave a three year gap between kid 2 and kids 3/4 (twins) because now you're back to the craziness of doing all the driving by yourself. It's going to be a long year for me.

  5. What great questions! I'd love to insert some answers, but as you know, this is so individual to each family, each child. Here is some of what we did, for better or worse. As my nest empties now of all but the last, some of it worked, some of it didn't. We used extra curricular activities to teach life skills–piano, swimming, catching or kicking a ball, learning rhythm–rather than as a way find their "gift" and pursue it. Some of these turned into interests, and we allowed measured following of those interests, to a point. Although, I did discourage regular commitments to team sports, where the coaches often began dictating our family schedule and what should be a priority (namely–you need to support the TEAM). Along the way, when we found we were too overloaded or the budget needed a break, we had "Good Better Best" meetings where we evaluated what was on the plate of all in the family. The most important thing I learned is don't start too young!. Extra curricular activities for the pre-elementary and elementary age group are time intensive and easily burn out families with little benefit going toward the reason we do them in the fist place. If personal development and college entrance is the goal, time is better spent on these activities as children grow older. At that point, the teens themselves see the need for "balancing it all" and learn to select out what's really important. High school is where my non-sports playing son took up rugby, my daughter excelled at knowledge bowl, and another daughter found her place in musicals and NHS. They all play hymns well enough to accompany in church and have found ways to lead, learn and grow without killing themselves and us. It's possible to do without some of it.

  6. My third kid played a couple of seasons of Saturday-only soccer when he was younger, but other than that, he's had no extracurriculars until this year, because he has joined the city's youth choir.

    My 12yo has three now: youth choir, Girl Scouts, and irish dance.

    The 15yo is in student government, choir, and JROTC, which has its own extras. Orienteering and drill team are both on his list.

    The 7yo has a talent for math, and if it works with my husband's schedule, will do pentathlon this year.

    But we built all of this up slowly, and told them from the beginning that no one gets to be an elite athlete/dancer. I did dozens of extras, all free through the school, and walked/rode my bike to all of them. You can't do that in TX schools, especially athletics, because many of the teams take school period time to practice. Football takes TWO, plus after-school practice. You can't shop around to find your interests because of that.

    The kid who gets to explore her interests the most is my homeschooled 12yo. She gets art classes, she gets extra dance classes if she wants them, she gets to try her hand at film-making. It all happens while the rest are away at school.

    The schedule you describe would break our family.

  7. I have no answers, only that when I think of signing my youngest two up for anything I feel tired and don't want to, because their older siblings keep me busy enough as it is. Evenings are crazy, and I don't even do a lot of things per child. But if each child does just two things (one music, one sport) it adds up fast.

  8. I agree with Teresa both as a parent and as a speech language pathologist. My profession is all about education learning and growth. I believe it is just as important to teach life skills such as studying, working, organzing and balancing your life. I saw a lot of roomates and friends"crash" once they hit college. I had roomates that have never cleaned , done laundry , studied , or worked hard physically or mentallyat at something they didnt like. . They didnt know how to get along with each other either. I think enrichment is important but less importnant than family time and learning to work hard at both school and developing life skills.

  9. I tried to bunch them — i.e. 2 kids back to back at piano lessons, 3 at swim lessons at the same time, etc. I think you have to pick what is vital (to me, everyone needs to know how to swim and at least try to learn to play a musical instrument) and then let the older kids decide on any extras, within the parameters the family sets — 1 self chosen activity, e.g. A driving teen does help, if they're willing. Your description of your family activity schedule sounds so like a first world problem that it got me wondering (again) about my fantasy family life on the road, or in the outback homeschooling, or any other much, much simpler way to live and learn. I never did figure out how to pull it off long term, not with professional jobs to consider. Homeschooling helps a lot, since you can custom build your curriculum. But I'm guessing if you're not up for Suzuki lessons, homeschooling might be a stretch. I used to homeschool, but now that I'm on my 6th and final kid, I LOVE having my day back when she goes off to high school every day. I think it's time for a good sit-think-and-pray session for you. Take a whole weekend if you can. I have an extra room.

  10. I only have two, and I still feel a) overwhelmed with the errands for supplies and taking ton and from as well as b) guilty that I am not letting them do more because I feel frazzled.

    I talk myself of the edge by recognizing this truth about my life: I am now 53 years old, and since leaving home I have developed a TON of talents, skills and interests well beyond what my mom could (or would) support. My son is a senior in high school this year, and he will go on to travel more, do more, learn more, develop more than I could do for him. When he was very young, he probably watched too much TV while I prepped and graded. But he has his whole life ahead of him to develop further beyond my mortal limitations (time, money, energy as well as my dysfunctions limit him).

    Same thing with my daughter. I'd tell you more, but I have to drive her to summer band practice. (Snort, but really, I do. Bye.)

  11. This is really a quandary that every parent faces. We took our kids out of most everything until they were old enough to drive themselves to it. I really feel like when you have a big family like we both do, that it's not a question of what is best for each child because each sport/class/activity affects the entire family. It's a matter for what works best for everyone because there is truly a ripple effect.

    I finally decided that what is most important for our family is that we have dinner together every night. You know all those studies that say that the one thing that determines whether kids will got addicted to drugs or get pregnant as a teenager or whatever is whether the family eats dinner together; not whether they take Tai Kwan Do.

    It's also important that we have leisurely Saturdays where we can go out to breakfast or go do something fun together. Or laze around the house. Whatever. It's just really important to me to have freedom. I HATE my schedule being dictated by classes and lessons.

    Another thing that is important to me is that kids learn teamwork. And I mean REAL teamwork–as in Team Westenhaver. Not some dumb soccer team. They're in a family and that means that the house and family come first. That means that chores come first, not practices. Learning to mop a floor properly and to help make dinner are going to take them a lot further than learning to do an arabesque.

    I think it boils down to deciding what you want for your child. Most people are concerned about what is best for the child in the short term ("Ashley should be on the dance team because all her friends are on the dance team and I don't want her to be left out."), or maybe parents look a little further out ("If Ashley keep dancing all through High school maybe she can get a scholarship."). But that can be really iffy because who knows what interests kids will have in four years. I like to think of what my kids do in the really long term ("Ashley is probably not going to be doing ballet in 15 years, but it's conceivable that she'll still be playing the piano so maybe that would be a better activity to pursue .") If it's something that my kids really seem to love then we might stick with something, but so far that has only happened with one of my six kids. (And no, I don't think kids need to try everything to find out where their interests lie. They can spend the rest of their lives doing that.)

    It seems that kids really start coming into their true interests in their late teen years. Which is also when they start driving, so it has worked out that I tell them that they can do whatever they want once they can get themselves there. In the meantime if it's something they're passionate about they'll find a way to make it happen.

    FYI, my oldest daughter got a full ride scholarship to BYU without having played a sport or taken a dance class EVER.

  12. You're at the worst of it right now, top of the bell curve. Yes, the driving and time demands on you might ease off when the oldest starts driving. But not by much–high school teens are busy these days with school, not as free to drive younger siblings as they were a generation ago. The busy driving eases off more as the kids start peeling off away to college.

    You're also at the worst of it right now for time of year I bet, as summer draws to a close and the windup begins for school start. You won't be driving everyone everywhere all day when they're all in school for five hours.

    It is a totally worthwhile goal to support your kids in those activities where they can feel successful and shine. If you have the financial means, if you don't have commitments of paid employment, go ahead and give your kids the opportunities to have those experiences.

    If you live in a college town, and your husband works away from home above 65 hours a week, some of my work-smarter girlfriends have hired a college student to do some of the driving, or prepare some of the weeks dinners if you like doing the driving.

    The family being able to attend some of the competition/games a kid is in, having the family picnic dinner at the practice before you drive off other child to other practice, then swing back to pick up first child: those count as family experiences too. The family gets to support each other with physical proof.

    And sometimes a child or children has activities that really can't be dropped: necessary therapy/intervention, medical care for ongoing conditions.

    You can do this, and make it work for you too. And it is not a stupid choice. It is a worthwhile and legitimate parenting style.

    And tip: google calendar on all family member's phones.

  13. p.s. With some of my kids I feel a deeper need to find things that they will be successful in. My 9yo and 14yo did swim team this summer too, and for 9yo it was the best thing ever, and worth the hassle of daily practice. 14yo has never been on a sports team by choice before, and did great. It was fun to watch them succeed–not just fun, but satisfying.

  14. I'm going against the grain here, but I think juggling all the activities is worth it, if you can manage. And just to counter the view that kids can find their passions later in life and be just fine: I didn't get to pursue my passion as a kid/teen, and now as an adult it is still my passion, and it kills me that I started so late (in college). The fact is, starting late means missing opportunities for excellence in some things. That hypothetical Ashley might love ballet forever, and if she starts as an adult, she'll likely never get in point shoes. (Beginning point just isn't taught to adults.) So if your kids love something and you can swing it, I say go for it. Sure, they may change their minds. But the opportunity to pursue something they love is an end in its own right. Family bonding can happen in the car/ on the field/ at the pool/ during the performance/ wherever. Chores are not rocket science-they can figure those out when necessary. (Yes, my children do chores-they even make dinner-but I can't imagine telling any of them they have to miss an activity to mop. I'd rather have a dirty house.)

  15. This is such a tough topic to work through. I don't know that there's one right answer. One thing that helps me is being ok with the fact that things don't have to be "fair". Not everyone has to be in the same type of extracurriculars, or do the same number of hours, or start at the same age, etc. Two of my kids are really into martial arts, and they spend 3-6 hours a week at that. Thankfully, they are in the same class… We also chose a place close to the gym where my 12 yo does 20 hours of gymnastics a week… It helps with the driving. Kind of. I have lost count of how many times I have talked to my husband about whether we should take the 12 yo out. However, he is crazy passionate about the sport, as well as talented. It would crush him if we said "no more". He absolutely loves it, and I have never had to bug him about going to practice. Not once. What gives? The 7 yo, youngest of the bunch, does an hour of homeschool gymnastics a week. I have no desire to start anything else with her, fortunately she seems ok with that. So far. Three of the four also do piano (the oldest was allowed to quit after a few years). I think music instruction is super important, so it's part of our homeschool. Fortunately, the teacher is one of my really good friends, we can go in the mornings while her kids are at school, and I can just hang out at her house while the kids take turns. And whoever doesn't have their turn works on schoolwork I bring along. Homeschooling definitely helps alleviate some of the craziness, but with two in elementary, one in middle school, and one in high school, it takes a fair amount of time planning, grading, etc. You win some, you lose some. I also happen to teach 6 a.m. seminary in my home, and my husband just got called to be bishop. So yeah, sometimes I have a very strong urge just to drop everything extracurricular, sit on my couch, and read all day. But then I remember all the opportunities I wish I would have had as a kid, and so I let the kids pursue their interests, and support them as best I can…

  16. I'm in the "less is more" category when it comes to activities, and I have only three children. I think children need down time, time to play with friends. I think in general American children are too busy, their lives are too structured. I think high school is the time to do lots of activities. In our family, no one does extracurriculars in early childhood. Early childhood is time to play, not time for organized soccer, gymnastics, dance, music lessons, or anything else. No one starts any outside structured activity prior to about age 7 or 8. And then it is usually one activity, an activity of the child's choosing. Maybe two activities, depending on how time-consuming each one is. For my son, it is soccer. He also does scouts. My daughter has chosen horseback riding. I'm going to teach her piano myself. i do agree with the above commenter who said that there are some opportunities that will be lost if you wait too long, so I think it is important to be prayerful about the things our children are involved in. Heavenly Father knows which of their talents need nurtured and when to nurture them. We also homeschool, and that helps tremendously to give family time during the day.

  17. Emily- I was also involved in a lot of extracurriculars growing up, and I think that instead of making me feel like I had the wrong priorities, it empowered me and helped me feel like I could do lots of different things and manage a lot of different challenges. There was one season of my life when I had early morning seminary, AP classes, a remote location dance team, swim team, school play, and a part time job, all at the same time. I was also a newspaper editor. While I recognize that most people wouldn't want to do all of those things at the same time, it really gave me a lot of confidence. But I recognize that because we tend to expect our kids to go "all in" with their extracurriculars these days, it wouldn't even be possible for my kids to have that many activities. I agree with the idea of "good, better, best" and with the idea that what one person in a family chooses to do has an impact on the whole family, but I also think that it's good to push people out of their comfort zones sometimes to help them see that they're stronger than they think they are.

  18. Just because my parents did it doesn't necessarily make it the right choice for my kids. By the time I got to high school, most of my extracurricular activities were school based (sports teams, a dance company, etc…) and because I lived in Connecticut where schools had good funding, all of those activities were free. In our school district, we have to pay a minimum of about $100 for school sports, with about a $400 recommended contribution. And that doesn't even touch the music lessons (our choice, not the kids'), or the dance (oh, the dance!). Also, if the kids are swimming 20 hours a week, I don't know when they could hold jobs.

    I was talking to a childhood friend the other day. He has five kids and recently quit his job as a schoolteacher and football coach because he said he couldn't be a teacher and a coach (which he loved) and still pay for his kids' sports. Crazy, right?

  19. I have the same deal. Mine come in sets (10th and 9th, 5th and 4th, and two in different preschool years). I'll have to revert to being the taxi service twice.

  20. I agree with not starting the kids too soon, and with reevaluating things as time goes on (and the life skills thing is a great way to look at things too). Like I said, my son didn't start the crazy swim team schedule until high school, and until then he didn't do much other than piano lessons and church activities. We actually did reevaluate my younger son's swim team participation since I wrote this and he opted not to continue it during the school year, but I definitely have to remind myself that we can drop things when they stop working for us.

  21. When I write it out, it doesn't seem like my kids are individually doing a lot more than yours are– three activities for the oldest, two for the second, one for the third (who likes down time more than the rest), and three for the fourth, none for the preschoolers, other than preschool. It just feels like a lot because the sporting stuff is so intense, and like in Texas, none of them is free, and all of them seem to require total commitment. The building up slowly is both the good and the bad of it– it came on so slowly for me that I didn't realize I was getting in the car ten times a day until I was crying in the parking lot, LOL.

  22. Yes! I feel the same way about my 15yo and swim team– it was so nice to see him succeeding at something, and feeling proud of himself that I became very willing to make sacrifices that I might not have been as happy to make for other kids who seem to find success easily.

  23. That is a really good point, Karen (as well as being the first comment that made me LOL). My son has been to something ridiculous like 43 states in his 15 years (we lived all over the place for a while), and a few weeks ago I was telling my husband that we needed to do a Southern Atlantic trip before he graduated so we could get a few of his missing states in. He said something about how we didn't go to all 50 states until a couple of years ago (North Dakota) and how it hadn't held us back. And I think it's true that sometimes I worry that if I don't fill their buckets to brimming by the time they're gone they won't have other experiences, but adulthood is long, and childhood is short (but feels long sometimes, right?).

  24. Hildie– It was actually your old post about how you had your kids quit all of their extracurriculars (it was you, right? why can't I find it?) that has been going through my mind for years and sort of inspired this post. You're good at setting boundaries. I'm not. But I do believe in the boundary of the quiet Saturday morning. Somehow, I've managed to keep that one sacred. And we usually have at least six or seven at the dinner table.

  25. Bless you, Johnna.

    One of my greatest sorrows as a mother is that I'm about a generation too old for the self-driving car. It would make my life so much easier. A decade from now, moms of young kids might come across this post and have no idea what I'm talking about.

  26. Yes. But when my daughter, who is supposed to empty the dishwasher BEFORE dance in the morning didn't do it today, I let it wait and let the sink fill with dishes all day, and when she came home, eight hours later, she had to empty the clean dishes and then fill it with the dirty dishes that piled up because of her. I think you can teach them to work hard around the house and to work hard at their activities.

  27. Can I join you on the couch? Seriously though, it sounds like you've really thought about your choices and are making accommodations where you can to do the best you can by all of your kids.

  28. Shelah, I also was very happy and proud that I was able to juggle everything as a teen! I mentioned the extant of my scheduled life as a teenager (similar to yours) not to imply that I had a hard time with it then, but because I feel it has had a direct relation to my lack of skill at knowing when to say no to things today.
    Being able to say no and being able to say yes are interdependent skills. I think this is the balance we are all struggling with. Saying no to everything is not a recipe for success, but neither is say yes to everything we have an opportunity to do. I think this is the balance that we are all struggling with and what has made your post so real and thought-provoking for us. Thanks for writing and sharing it with us.

  29. Reading all this is making me feel fortunate that I only have one kid to taxi around. I can take my book and hang out while she does stuff (one week this summer she did a film class in downtown Salt Lake and I spent time at the Family History Center and actually found an ancestor who needed temple work done). I think I'd go nuts driving several kids around to stuff. As it is I worry I'm overscheduleding my ten year old, but we're exploring different things and finding out what she likes to do).

  30. A couple of things I've followed with my two is a) they have to do something that challenges their brain, something that challenges them physically and something that they like. So, we've wound up with piano, soccer and Scouts (son), and voice, soccer, Girl Scouts (daughter). It helped for a while that I was the Cub Scout leader and Girl Scout leader, so they were on my time; I am on the local soccer board, my husband and son ref and both kids play so we're out at the fields on Saturday (All Your Saturdays Occupied, anyone?) and then the other activity, I drive them. Anything after school, while at school, is fair game i.e. Academic Decathlon, choir, stuff like that.

  31. I'm a big advocate of using public transportation when it is available. I don't know where you live, but could the older kids ever take a bus? I think that learning how to use public transportation is also a life skill, and if it is an option, teach your kids how to use it, and then buy them a pass to get themselves to swimming or dance or whatever the activity is, if that is an option.

  32. I have not read any of the comments but this is a subject I have STRONG feelings about. Trying to rear ten children in a two-child culture has brought me face to face with the realities of the costs of extra curricular activities. About ten years ago I sat in my basement (unfinished) as my husband and older children played a rousing game of kick ball and realized that for every outside activity we schedule, there is that much less time for in-house family bonding time. I grew up in a very sports intense home (I have five younger brothers) so choosing to do things differently was HARD but it was the beginning of the end for things like months-long spring baseball and summer soccer for our family. I have friends who do NO outside activities. It seems to work for their family (but the kids can't swim either.) Our answer has been NO activities until about age eight, then perhaps a low-key (non-traveling) sport (six-eight weeks long usually) every other year until middle school so usually we only have one elementary child in a sport at a time, no more than two chidren (total) a year. (I require basketball and soccer since those are the most common sports and they will run into them, especially the first, all their lives and I want them to try them at least once.) Also, about every other year I sign all the kids from kindergarten-about 5th grade up for simultaneous swimming lessons. My younger daughter does dance but her lessons are once per week for half an hour and done before dinner time. In middle school if they can catch the activity bus home (we live 15 minutes away) and get on the team that pratcises right after school, then they can play. My kids have done basketball, cross country and volleyball that way. In high school when they can transport themselves they generally do cross country in the fall and band stuff in the winter and spring–including private instrument lessons. I teach them piano and there is ym/yw/scouts/activity days, etc. Will we ever churn out professional players or even all-stars? Not likely. (But my two oldest were ranked among the very top in trumpet (2nd) and french horn (1st) in our state as high schoolers.) We are still plenty busy but I feel like we have generally hit a pace that works for us and still affords us a measure of family time when we are not running around like we are crazy, including family dinner together every night. I guard our evenings and weekends like a hawk and keep other stuff at bay as much as I can.

  33. That is a good idea! I'll have to try that.
    I didn't mean to imply that my kids get out of doing chores because they are busy doing extra-curriculars. Their chore requirements at home are pretty basic and aren't that time-consuming, but they do have responsibilities at home. And though my kids could do more cleaning, that would mean they would have less time to pursue outside interests and less down time. (The schools here are highly demanding, so down time is crucial, as is having non-school-related activities that feed their souls!) My point was, given the choice, and there are only so many hours in a day so it is a choice, I don't mind a messy house and kids busy pursuing talents/interests. (I pursue my own interests instead of cleaning, too…)

  34. It's funny, sometimes I think: If my kids only did required church and school stuff, I would still feel busy!

    We have 5, (6th on the way).

    My two oldest, 12 and 11, have a real passion and talent for Sports, and Drama respectively. Our family has made sacrifices to allow them to pursue those things. They have both met with a lot of success, and in my acting daughter's case, recognition. Which helps.

    My 6 year old (middle child) is easy going, likes everything, and doesn't ask to be signed up for things. But last spring, the spirit kept whispering to me that I needed to sign her up for a sport. 'But why?' I raged back. 'We are so busy, she's happy, and Spring is a little lower key for us!'

    But I kept having that feeling. So she did YMCA soccer. One one hour practice per week and a game Saturday morning for 8 weeks.

    We didn't discover any latent talent, but she loved it, had a great experience, and most important, got all that one on one time with me that all the other kids were getting in the car. I'm so glad I listened, even though it didn't make sense.

    So I guess the moral is: once in a while, an unnecessary activity is a good thing! (If it's cheap, low time commitment, and of a finite length!)

  35. Sigh. I have no answers for these dilemmas. My children are not overscheduled because I teach piano and can't get them places, and also I haven't figured out what exactly they should be doing, but I feel like they're missing out because of my lack of being able to help them succeed in extracurriculars. My oldest (19 now) did fine…rec soccer, club soccer, piano, cello, skiing, lacrosse, and the high school mountain bike team, all the sports at different times. My 15 year old needs to do dance because she really is a natural dancer, but we have pulled her out of everything, even music lessons, to try to help make her life calmer. We drive my 12 year old 30 minutes to piano lessons and practices 90 minutes a day because she's really a good pianist. But she would also like to take guitar and voice and gymnastics and dance, and she's not. Because I can't figure out how to make it fit. My 8 year old does rec soccer and would like to quit piano, but I won't let him make that choice. He hasn't even had swimming lessons for the last two summers because I haven't figured it out.

    I hope they all turn out ok, despite my lack of true vision and focus. I hope they don't curse me in therapy for 20 years because I didn't help them find their paths in life. But I think we're all just doing the best we can.

  36. This made me laugh a little– picturing the children in therapy. My 19 year old son brought a silly thing up from years ago recently. I don't remember what it was but I do recall saying (with as straight a face as I could manage) that I was sorry and hoped that he would not need therapy to get over it. He laughed too. I suppose we do the best we can and assume our failings will be fodder for their growth?


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