If you find yourself running ragged all week with zero time for family dinners and feel more like an Uber driver than a parent, maybe overscheduling is the problem. We asked our readers about this topic and for some possible solutions.
I have no middle ground on overscheduling my kids for activities. It’s basically all or nothing with some classes or organized events thrown in. Why? For two reasons: firstly, I played competitive sports from age 12 through high school and still regret that my poor siblings were dragged all over the place to watch me play sports and that it cut into better things my family could be doing together. Secondly, that having very few evenings and weekends free to do what I want with my kids sends my anxiety through the roof.
When we asked our readers if overscheduling your kids is possible, the majority answered with a resounding yes. Scrolling through social media only reinforces this as parents are asking where their two-year-old can play organized sports or dance classes for their 18-month-old. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to ask these questions but experts tell us that overscheduling kids at any age can lead to very little free time and opportunities for relaxation and creativity. It can also lead to burnout – for both kids and parents, which isn’t fun for anyone.
Overscheduled & Overstimulated
The author of a book called Kids Under Pressure, Karen Sullivan, expands on this topic: “Parents put children under enormous pressure with heavily orchestrated schedules of extra activities, all of which are designed to help them succeed in life. However, this leaves little free time for children to be children and to relax. Children are often left feeling they are not good enough because they are not ‘the best’.”
She goes on to say that because of the time suck of these “heavily orchestrated schedules” there is no more room left for fun. And that causes stress. She’s just talking about the kids and not the stress this places on parents.
One of our readers shared that “Many parents are so obsessed to do allll the things society tells them they should. Sometimes less is more. These kids are overscheduled and over-stimulated.”
The Comparison Trap
It’s so, so easy to compare yourself and your kids to other people with the prevalence of social media. I see friends post about all the cool activities their kids are involved in and I will freely admit that I have moments where I wish that was one of my daughters involved in those activities. But I quickly get back to reality and know that I’d lose my mind if that was my life.
Another reader of ours put it this way: “Remind yourself that kids need to be kids. If you find yourself feeling like an Uber driver. Or like your family are like ships passing in the night, and they don’t have time to just be kids (ie play in the neighborhood, use their creativity and imaginations, and learn what boredom is and in turn how to entertain themselves), probably too much…. But you have to feel like you’re comfortable with what they are scheduled for. Not what other people are doing with their kids but what is right for your family. We were not created to be in constant go mode. Not as kids and not as adults.”
If you feel yourself falling into that comparison trap, think about how you would feel if that were your kids and your crazy schedule and your budget. It may not work for your family or your own personality and that’s totally ok. It’s fine not to schedule your kids for every class or activity.
Every family is different
When my daughters did gymnastics, I made sure their class was at the same time on the same night to minimize our weekly disruptions. We ended those classes when covid hit and while I’d like to enroll them again, I need the same kind of schedule where they both can do classes at the same time. My oldest daughter did Cub Scouts for a few years, which was perfect because it was one meeting a week that I could take both my kids to and the activities fit well into our hiking and outdoor-loving schedule. I did say no to swim team a few years ago when I found out the swim meets were on Saturday mornings. As a working mom who plans the best adventures on weekends, I was not about to give that time up for sitting at a pool during the prime summer months. But that’s me – if you’re the swim team cheering, soccer mom yelling kind of parent, that’s awesome.
But for myself, I really think I’d lose my mind if I had to work all day, homeschool, and then shuttle both my kids to places all week and on weekends. No way. My time with them is too short and too precious. And it’s not like we don’t do anything. We travel often for my work with Kidding Around and have incredible adventures together, go paddleboarding all summer, camp, hike, and have that quality, uninterrupted time with each other that helps to enrich our relationships.
One other thing I would not be able to handle are dinner times and cooking if my kids needed to shuttled all over the place during the week. I know that healthy eating and homecooked meals would fall by the wayside, which not only means unhealthy food for our family but also more money spent on fast food – and that would put even more stress on our family. Yes, I could plan ahead but with working full-time and homeschooling, it wouldn’t work well for us. But that’s my own family and everyone is different and probably more organized than myself!
Playing & creativity also provide benefits
While sports and creative arts certainly provide multiple benefits to children like physical fitness, muscle coordination, boosting of self-esteem, the ability to focus and problem solve, the benefits of play are also numerous. The Genius of Play points out that play also provides:
- Social skill development
- Cognitive development
- Physical development (i.e., balance, coordination)
- Communication skills
- Emotional development
Play also provides an outlet for stress. Think about it as an adult. We need that downtime from our work to rest and relieve stress. For myself, that’s anything outdoors. Send me on a seven-mile hike up Table Rock and I’m good to go for the week. Kids need that same kind of stress relief and if they are always running from one activity to the next, they aren’t getting it.
So what are the solutions to overscheduling?
My own personal solution is to skip pretty much everything that requires my kids to be in multiple places during the week. But that’s me and while it works for us, other parents likely think this is a little crazy or that their kids absolutely need to be involved in some kind of activity. So back to our readers, who have more solutions than I do.
1 – Each kid gets one sport at a time
This was a common response when asked how to solve the problem of overscheduling.
One mom said, “My kids get 1 extra curricular activity each, that’s it. It’s important to spend time as a family and learn how to entertain yourself.”
2 – Each kid gets one sport at a time and the practices must be limited
Another mom took it a step further and limited practices that the sport required:
“My kids are allowed to have one sport going at a time And it can’t be anything that’s going to require More than two practices a week during the school year.”
3 – Stay out of competitive sports.
Competitive sports often require multiple practices a week plus games on weekends, including traveling to surrounding states several times a year. One mom says no to that: “We have 4 kids and DON’T do competitive sports for this exact reason. Takes away family time and money.”
4 – Choose a couple of lower key activities and stick to those.
One mom, who I totally identify with, says she’s an introvert so it’s a little harder on her to stick with a taxing schedule so she does more low-key activities with her kids: “We are introverts and I have health issues so we keep it low key on activities with lots of socializing. We do library day once a week or every other week and get together with others once a month or so. Plus, we have Sunday morning & Wednesday evening church. Smaller activities we might do more often, bigger activities less often as they are very taxing on me.
5 – Take a day off.
If you find yourself overscheduled, don’t be afraid to take a day off now and again. You really can just not go to dance class this week, or skip that practice and go hiking with the family instead.
Do you have any other suggestions for parents who feel like they have overscheduled their kids?