Quite often, a family in our neighborhood asks me on a whim if my girls can come over to play with her little girl. Right now? Yes now.
Quite often I decline (politely) because my girls have one activity or another after school. I assume she doesn’t keep track of our schedule, because after asking for the nth time, she walked away shaking her head. “Boy your girls are TOO busy,” she commented. I smiled and waved, “see you tomorrow”, and we went on our way.
From the look on her face and the tone of her voice, I probably came off as one of those “busy” moms who over schedules her kids. I know for a fact that they’re lifestyle is the complete opposite, where her child has no after school activity whatsoever. It’s free unstructured play all day long. She doesn’t believe our kids get enough play time at school, and they’re being worked too hard as it is for them to do anything else after (hence the judgement conclusion).
Her opinion of me doesn’t really matter (Thank you, Discover Your Core), but quite honestly, this “busy-ness” business is an everyday concern of mine. I constantly ask myself this: Are my kids TOO busy?
I know there are varied points of view on the topic. And after going through several links, I found an article on the New York Times that resonated with me the most (click the link to read it if you like!).
I’m PRO extra-curricular activities. Sam and Jamie have several of them. They’re in ballet and Kindermusik — but different days and time slots. They go to Kumon together. And then they have their own after-school interests: Jamie’s are Spanish and Soccer, and Sam’s is Basketball (She does her Spanish on the iPad at home when she feels like it). As members of the Catholic community, Sam also attends a separate Religious Education class once a week as part of the two-year requirement for First Communion.
When I the kids if they think we’re too busy, they always answer “no we’re okay.” On days when I feel entirely overwhelmed and exhausted by our schedule, I wonder how that’s possible. But on the days when things run smoothly, I somehow find the answers to my question.
These extra curricular choices, we made as a family. The girls were involved in every decision. And it wasn’t because it was something that I wanted for them but rather, something they were excited to do. They went through the brochures with us and discussed their options. Even three-year old Jamie appreciates this process.
Like any human being, on some days, it takes a little more convincing to keep this commitment. Other fun things pop up and distract them from it. But (thankfully) I’ve never had to drag one kicking and screaming. That tells me that the initial protests are superficial, and once they understand the value of sticking to our commitments, they get excited about going all over again. I feel it’s just as important for me to show I’m equally committed to getting them there and supporting their choices.
Of course school and homework clearly come first, and we all know this will always be the priority.
My smart little Sam sees the extracurriculars as an incentive for her to complete her homework quickly so she can get to them. New activities are good for her adventure-seeking personality. She has a productive channel to work out all that energy and thirst for knowledge.
And while I know the Tiger Mom in me can push, I’m also not that hard-core about it. I want my girls to learn, but I also want them to enjoy doing so. I don’t have dreams of them becoming the next Tiger Woods in their field (sorry, it’s the only analogy I know thanks to my husband!). And we only skip class for good reason (an illness or schoolwork for instance). I put their needs first. If they need sleep, I won’t wake them the next morning.
Contrary to popular belief, my husband and I don’t say yes to every request. For one it’s costly, and I haven’t figured out how to grow money on trees yet. Secondly, I’d go crazy shuttling them back and forth (I go crazy enough as it is!). But more than that, I do believe they need time for the mundane everyday stuff: errands and chores, play dates, toys, and yes, even the electronics. These keep us busy too but in a different kind of way.
Even if my girls assure me with words, that “they’re ok” and “not too busy,” I still validate this against their behavior, and make the call if I see overtiredness rear its cranky head. After all that’s said and done, I still adjust where I can depending on their needs. The health and well-being of the girls come first above all else.
Finding the balance is hard, but it’s also very relative. One may need more “free play” than the next. Some may need more structure. And what may be “too busy” for some, may be just right for others. It all depends on the parents and the child.
Our days are usually pretty full (I should know I’m the first to feel the fatigue), but it’s not always because we’re running from one class to the next. I purposely left days “free”, and we get to decide on what fun things we can do together. Somewhere in between the routine and set schedules we have our own spontaneous moments that are just pure fun (more on that in a separate post).
So — are we busy? Technically yes. I’m a planner by heart; I like to know what’s next. So in the eyes of an outsider we really do a lot. But when I look at my girls, I think they’re right and we’re really ok. After all, we’re never too busy for each other.