My family is a bit different from most because I have six children. One of my children has headed off to college now, so I no longer have to keep track of his comings and goings, but I do for the remaining five. Just keeping track of five children is tricky, and keeping track of five children’s activities feels almost impossible most days. Sometimes I feel as though trying to raise well-rounded children can do more harm than good. Allow me to explain.
When I was growing up, I remember going to school, coming home and watching cartoons or playing with my friends, doing my homework, and generally being with my family without too much stress. I had dance classes one evening a week, and we had one or two weekend recitals a year. I was not involved in any sports, and we didn’t really have many clubs at school. I was a girl scout for one year but it wasn’t really my thing. My summers were spent playing, and swimming, and playing, and riding my bike, and playing, and taking day trips to cool places, oh, and playing. When I reached high school, a bit more was added to my plate. I joined some school clubs and worked as a babysitter a few evenings a week, but it never felt unmanageable. I got to hang out with my friends a lot and I don’t remember being over-stressed or running around all the time with no chance to breathe.
Flash forward to now. Take yesterday for example. My high school daughter was volunteering in the evening, so she needed to come home right after school so she could get some work done first. My high school son was participating in an after school video game tournament. My middle school daughter was volunteering with her sister. My youngest had Cross Country practice, then a family dinner with the team that followed. My husband and I managed to work it out that I would take one to practice, pick up the gamer, head to the dinner then home. My husband went home, got dinner for the girls and himself, then went with them for the volunteering. That left one last son, who didn’t have any activities for a change. After school, I told him he needed to finish his homework right away then be prepared to go with me on all my running around. He sighed heavily and said he didn’t want to go. He isn’t quite old enough to stay home alone, so I told him he either had to go with me, or go with his Dad and sisters later. In complete frustration, he said, “Can’t I just have some time to relax and hang out?” Aye, there’s the rub.
My children want to participate in a wide variety of very worthwhile activities. At this time I have kids in three different sports, with practices on weekdays and games on weekends. I have two in marching band and all that goes with that. I have three in scouts with a variety of meetings and activities. I have two involved in a play with after school rehearsals. One has a job a few times a week. Three have volunteer obligations for school. Two are involved in an after school club on different days of the week. The list goes on and on. So when is the time to just relax and hang out?
My children all love all the things they get to do. They would do even more if I allowed, but I have to place limits because there literally isn’t enough time and money. But, I have to wonder: is it all worth it? My children are generally exhausted and moody. Some have problems keeping up with school work. Most of them have no time or opportunity to play with neighborhood friends. They have to question me every day on our schedule for the day, and the “sit down family dinner” is a rare treat. Are the sacrifices and stress worth what they get from the activities and general busyness that has become a part of our lives?
I tell myself that they are. They are getting a lot of good socialization. They are learning about teamwork and effort and bettering their bodies and minds. They are taking an active role in giving back to others. They making positive memories that will be with them their whole lives. But when my child is begging to just sit for a while, or is breaking down because they can’t keep up with everything they are trying to do but there’s nothing they can imagine realistically giving up, is it really worth it?
I know for smaller families this is not as much of an issue, but it seems like we all find ways to fill our time because having “nothing” to do these days isn’t enough. I have learned to limit what the kids do in the summer, though even with limits we still seem to be running, running, running. Every day.
I hope my children look back on all this insanity as adults, and feel that it helped them with things like time management, and organization, and that it gave them some valuable assets for life, even if it is frustrating or stressful at times. I suppose only time will tell. Until then, we’ll just keep going.