We pride ourselves on being busy. How many Christmas letters have you received that began with, “We have had a busy year” or Facebook posts, “It was such a busy day!” Being involved in activities is healthy – it allows us to try new things, it encourages us to meet other people, and it helps us stay active.
How busy is too busy? Do you find yourself running around so much with your own activities and your kids’ activities that everyone is so exhausted at the end of every day? Do you have any down time where nothing is scheduled? Do you feel like you are driving your kids from one activity to the next? Are your kids asking just to stay home?
It is so different now from when we were kids. Back then, I was involved in multiple activities, but we would only have 1-2 practices during the week, and one game on Saturday morning. We played in one tournament in Okoboji – and that was a really big deal. Now kids have practices, games, and tournaments (many outside the city requiring lots of travel) every night of the week.
I know how I feel when I have had too much going on. I cherish the time after an especially long week when I can get into my comfortable clothes, relax, and just hang out with my family. Those times are precious. Some of my favorite memories are those days when we just played in the backyard, no set time, no set structure, just playing together. Kids want and need that time, too.
The key is finding the healthy balance between structured activities and unstructured playtime. Some of it is out of our control, but if we try to make small changes with the time we can control, we might be able to enjoy ‘just playing’ a little more.
Schedule in ‘white space’
It seems ironic that you have to schedule downtime, but if you find your calendar continuously becomes full with little time left for play, try blocking out ‘white space’ where nothing is scheduled. Even a small amount of time can make a big difference.
Plan a Family Night
My brother and his family have a family night every week. This can include going to movies, playing board games at home, going to a game and then out for pizza – the activity changes every week, but the time is scheduled and something everyone looks forward to. Occasionally, they have to move the day if there is a conflict, but they make it a priority to regularly connect with one another and have fun together.
It is OK to say ‘No’
As your children get older, their friends will become involved in a variety of activities and will inevitably encourage your kids to get involved with them, too. ”I want to do karate with Joe, swimming with Sam, soccer with Elizabeth, etc.” but it would be nearly impossible to be in all of these activities at the same time. Instead, try to limit your children to two extracurricular activities each season, especially ones that they particularly enjoy. If they would like to try a new activity, try a one-day event or join their friend for one visit to see if it is an activity they would like to further pursue.
Allow your kids to use their imaginations and create play on their own.
As parents, it is not our job to entertain our kids all the time. Jenae, creator of a ICanTeachMyChild.com writes at MomLifeToday, “Yes, we want our kids to have a happy childhood with a variety of experiences. But this certainly doesn’t mean that the mark of a good mother is one who spends all her time creating and engaging her kids in those activities…Play with our children? Yes, although not every minute of the day.” Planning every activity and making sure our kids are constantly entertained does not allow them to use their own imaginations to create play on their own.
Kids do not have to begin activities just because there is a team available for them.
It seems the age for organized sports is becoming younger and younger. I believe there is a soccer league for my son’s age group, but we have decided to wait to sign him up for a least a few more years. I am very excited for when that time comes, but for now, kicking around a soccer ball or playing catch in the backyard with him is just as much fun, and helps him learn the fundamentals of each game.
Support and encourage one another.
Parenting is an amazing journey, filled with many joys, challenges, and decisions. We all want the same thing – to do what is best for our families, and we make choices to support that. It is not a competition of who is the busiest, who is volunteering for the most committees, whose child is in the most activities. As parents, let us support and encourage one another to continue to do the best we can for our kids.
Cherish those special moments and enjoy playtime with your children.
Whether you have a lot of time or just the ten minutes in the car between activities, make that time count. They grow up way too fast. Instead of asking you to play with Hot Wheels ‘just one more time’ with them, they will be asking to drive their own Hot Wheels!
What would you add? How do you balance your structured activities and unstructured playtime?
Julie is a mom to two young children and loves playing with her kids. She helps other parents find great deals, inspiration, and family-friendly activities and events in Omaha at TheSpiritofSaving.com.