A few months ago, I posted a photo on my Instagram account of Fruit Loop #2 sitting by a river, skipping rocks. It was a beautiful evening, Spring at it’s finest; complete with a setting sun shading the sky a lovely shade of amber.
As we sat by that river, after having taken a three-mile hike the woods, I took a deep breath in and allowed myself to just be present. I listened to the rustle of the trees, the trickle of the water and the sounds of nature and allowed myself to feel comfortable in the slow pace of a spring evening.
More importantly, I watched as Fruit Loop #2 relaxed and relished in an opportunity to just be a kid. As she flitted along the river bank, blowing dandelion seeds into the wind and exploring the tadpoles in the shallow water, I was so grateful for the chance to glimpse childhood as I remembered: filled with simple, basic pleasures.
And it made me grateful that our kids are minimally involved in after school activities and that my husband and I have made a choice to put our family, not a school activity or sports team, first.
Overscheduling your children starts out slowly: a Mommy and Me class when they are toddlers, Story Time at the local library, a mom’s group outing to a playground. Your days become about finding ways to see other grown ups to save your sanity and making sure your toddler learns to share.
And then your children head to school and you are bombarded with sports, religion classes, dance lessons, music classes and school clubs. You hear the other moms talking about “getting involved” and whispers of your child being behind if they don’t start playing a sport early. Your child is learning new things every day and exposing them to new adventures can be intoxicating.
And that intoxication, that quest to find that one activity in which your child excels, leads to exhaustion and burnout. Decreased family time, cranky children, irritated parents and a constant on the go pace become the norm.
And Hubby and I want nothing to do with that on-the-go pace.
We are okay with the fact that our children don’t play organized sports most seasons. We are comfortable with them coming home from school and flopping on the couch for an hour to relax. We shoo them outside to play before dinner and homework. And, as we sit down to a family dinner almost every evening, we hold hands and give thanks that we are together, sharing a meal, for yet another day.
We do not spend our weekends at soccer tournaments and dance recitals. We don’t argue over a pick up and drop off schedule that requires two parents to execute every night of the week. We pick and choose the activities our kids participate in very carefully. We decide on the ones that will fit best into our family routine rather than sacrificing our precious time together. As Fruit Loop #1 is twelve, we only have six more years before he’s off to college and we want those years to be filled with memories of family dinners around the table and shared family experiences. Not dinners thrown at him from a bag in the back of a car from an angry, irritated mother.
As a mother, I want my children to have a childhood rich in exciting experiences and amazing opportunities. Of course I do. And believe me, my kids do participate in clubs, scouts and activities all through the year. We juggle homework, appointments, meetings and activities but we do them on a lesser scale. When they want to participate in an activity, we have an honest discussion with them about the time commitment and the impact it will have on their daily lives. We help them plan relaxation and downtime into their school week.
Teaching our kids to slow down, to stop and just be, is more important than any sports skill they’ll ever learn. Kids won’t learn how to relax, how to prioritize, or how to say no if we don’t teach them along the way. Skipping rocks is a lost art form for kids, largely, because of our society’s need to be overscheduled. When was the last time you drove through a neighborhood and saw it teeming with children just playing in the yards?
I’m not judging another family’s choice of parenting for their children. Rather I’m just saying that, for me, if it’s a choice between spending a warm spring night on a soccer field or on a riverbank with my bare feet and Fruit Loop #2 beside me, I’m always going to pick the river. Because it’s quiet there and I can hear myself think.
This post originally ran on LifetimeMoms.com in June 2015