I feel a bit like I’m going against the grain here. The pressure is on now for parents to put their kids in after school sports, dance, clubs, tutoring, enrichment. It goes on and on.
And often it seems like the parents who are doing it, who are signing up their kids for martial arts classes at a whopping $150/month, aren’t really thinking through what exactly they are doing, what their kids need, or why.
In many cases, I feel like a lot of parents these days feel pressure. And anxiety. All of us parents are insecure about our efforts. We’ve only been parents for these kids, and it isn’t something most of us do our entire lives. A lot of what we are doing is something we are doing for the first time.
A lot of what we are doing, is something we are doing blindly, without any real idea of what the outcome is going to be.
After all, we won’t really know if we’ve succeeded as parents until the kids fly or fail when they leave home. Will they go to college? Get a real job? Get married? Have kids? Win awards? Live independently?
There are all kinds of ways to define success. But again, it’s going to be a while before we know if we were any good at it.
So all around us, we see other parents snatching their kids up from school and racing them to a series of activities. I’ve seen kids dressed for ballet underneath their Taekwondo uniforms, while others are cramming food in their mouths rushing out the door on their way to Awanas.
We look at our own kids and think….what do they know that I don’t know? Is this THE WAY? I must be missing something. MY KIDS ARE MISSING OUT.
And then like a lemming, we rush to get in line to get our kids signed up for activities that will teach them discipline, physical skills, mental skills, social skills.
I think that we forget that our kids….well, they are kids.
They just spent THE WHOLE DAY in school. In a class where they had to sit quietly. Where they had to listen, to answer questions, to read, write, spell, talk, think, draw, and sole problems.
They finish up their school day tired, even though they come bouncing out of the school into your arms.
They are hungry, and their brains are weary.
But we don’t always see that, and we usually overlook it as they eat in the car on the way to the next practice.
Here’s the thing though….these after school activities aren’t necessary, and they often harm other aspects of your life with your kids.
While after school programs can be fun for kids, there are things that kids should be using that time for, such as:
- Resting (getting to bed on time)
- Playing (with friends, with siblings, or even alone)
- Getting some exercise (running around outside)
- Unstructured time (to flex other parts of the brain)
- Homework (there’s a lot of it, and it’s a big drag when kids are already overtired)
- Quality time with mom or dad or other family members (otherwise you barely see each other)
- Eating a high quality meal (rather than fast food or snacks thrown from the front seat)
- Completing chores to help the family
Tons of after school activities are hard on families as well. They often result in overtired and frustrated family members, stressed out adults who struggle to figure out how to feed everyone and get everyone too and from practice, lost wages due to having to leave work early to get everyone to practice, and significant financial commitments.
Think about it. You hustle the kids into the car after school and then you have to make them change quickly, usually in the car or parking lot. You are after them to eat so that they don’t melt down during practice. Then you collect them and drive them to the next activity, or to home to make dinner. Then everyone is cranky and tired, and no one will sit still at dinner or eat what you made, and there’s a ton of yelling about homework, and then bedtime ends in a huff.
I’ve had this experience a lot, which is why I decided to put the kibosh on after school activities for the most part.
Yes, I know that high quality activities for kids can do tons for them in the areas of self-esteem, personal growth and development, social skills, and others.
But when kids are young (especially elementary age), I think there is way to much pressure to schedule our kids.
Pediatricians say this all the time, but their pleas fall on deaf ears. The thing that kids need the most of is to play. PLAY. Not play sports. But play.
To us adults, it is no surprise that we look at kids playing and fail to recognize the value in that time. After all, the children are just moving their action figures around, or stacking things.
But for children, play is the way that they learn, the way that they grow and expand their abilities, the way that they improve their social skills, and more. It is so important that play itself has become a recommended treatment in many situations for kids who have various delays, troubles, and problems.
Not only that, but when we cram our kids’ days full of stuff (and then hustle and hassle them), we are making their days so much harder than they need to be. (and our own, frankly, as well).
And for what? To help our kids become more social? (Don’t they get enough of that in school?) To teach them discipline? (Do they need more?) To make them into the next sports phenom? (Unless your kids swings a club like Tiger Woods, it is unlikely).
Is it all FOMO driving us? (Fear Of Missing Out)
Seems like it.
We have to be Tiger Mom to get the kids places when they are tired and hungry (which they are after school). I’m tired of being Tiger Mom. I’m tired of being authoritative, or trying to negotiate my son out of the car into the care of his coach or teacher. I’m tired of fighting with the kids when they get home to get them fed, and to get homework done. I’m tired of putting them to bed and feeling frustrated about how the day went. I’m tired of feeling bad about my parental performance for the day, knowing all too well that I could have done so much better.
And you have to ask yourself….is any of this pushing pushing pushing mentality without a real purpose a cause of the skyrocketing mental health issues we are seeing in young people these days?
As parents, we need to really be thinking critically about what we are doing with, for, and to our children when we are putting together their schedules (and life).
And I just don’t think many people are spending that time thinking about what they are really trying to do with all of these activities. They just see that its an option, other people are doing it, and BOOM, your kid is in ballet.
I think we are making it too hard for ourselves.
Everyone. All you moms, dads, grandparents. We are making it too hard.
Our kids don’t need to be enrolled in 20 different activities after school. They need to be at the park. (We go every chance we get and it is almost always deserted). They need to be riding their bikes, lying in the grass, or playing in the sand. They can learn the fundamentals of basketball in the driveway.
They need to rest.
They need to play.
After school, on nice days, the kids and I walk to the park. I try and invite other families when we can. The kids run in a pack all around, playing games of their own, games that no adult told them to play, games that are sometimes really questionable. On rainy days, we go home (or to a friend’s house) and play with toys, read books, play videos games.
They spend their afternoons riding bikes. Reading books. Making paper airplanes. Fighting with each other. Making up with each other. Spending time with their little sister who misses them all day long. They help me cook dinner (or play nearby while I cook), and then we sit down together and eat it. Then they go to bed on time (and the teachers report that they are more alert in class).
I can tell which days are the ones where we played after school and the ones where we didn’t. My kids melt down a lot less on the play days, they go to bed more easily, they struggle less with household tasks, and complain a lot less about doing their homework.
Rain or shine, if we play after school, there’s a lot less yelling. There’s a lot less crap food. There’s no pressure. I can start the bedtime routine whenever I want. I feed them whatever I want. We spend time each day connecting, cuddling, and when we all go to bed, I don’t feel like a stretched out monster. I’m not kicking myself for losing my temper. I go to bed at the end of the feeling more satisfied with my day.
I’m a better parent. I’m a happier person. I have more money in the bank, I eat healthier food, and I am putting fewer miles on my car.
And I don’t think my kids are any worse for it.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a full-time mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer screen when the kids are occupied or sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.