Choices

We made a choice when we moved to Alberta to try not to over-extend ourselves this first year. Marc said “no” to a few fun extra things, I decided not to do my practicum internship in our first year here, and we decided not to put the kids in any extra curricular activities. We did this because we just didn’t know what shape our lives were going to take on a daily basis. We had to readjust to a parent with a “job.” I know. It seems strange to say it, but it’s true. While being student-parents was in some ways a bit a crazy and ridiculous and super stressful, there was a certain amount of flexibility that came with that lifestyle. (Have I mentioned how I will forever miss Marc and I both having all summer off to be with the kids?!)

But now Marc is back to the traditional 9 to 5 grind of work (well, except that he’s a pastor so it’s not really 9 to 5 five days a week…). All three kids are now in school. And, silly me, I thought that have my mornings child-free would free up so much of my time to finish up my last handful of masters classes! That totally hasn’t happened. But I’m getting there.

The thing is… everything is new here. New job. New school. New house. New church. New responsibilities. New friends. New environment. New tax bracket. So, in anticipation of all of the newness and adjustment, we decided, like I said, to not do anything “extra” this year, especially for the kids’ sake. I knew from his first two years in school that Luke gets pretty tired after a day in school. So a day in school where you get on the bus at 7:38 and off the bus at 4:05 — well, that’s an especially long day. And the idea of getting them signed up for things before we knew how they were going to handle those long days… I didn’t want to risk it. And I didn’t think it was a wise choice, anyway.

So how do our days go? Instead of the kids getting home at 4 o’clock and us driving them back the 20 minutes into town for whatever random activity they would’ve had on x number of weeknights, the kids get home and we relax. Today, for example, Marc made tea and Luke and Madeline and Marc read books and drank their tea while Olivia and I coloured together. It was super laid back, everyone kind of doing their own thing but we were all together in the living room. And, really, most days are like that. I love it.

But sometimes there’s are these nagging thoughts in my head, “When are your kids going to get their Red Cross swim levels?” “Aren’t they ever going to have a chance to do this activity or that activity?” “Plus! You keep forgetting to give them their music lessons! You said you wanted to teach them yourself, so YOU better teach them YOURSELF!”

I know lots of familes take the occasional year off of activities and I know this was the right choice for us this year, but I wonder/worry about the coming years. Am I ever going to feel like we can handle swimming and scouts and who knows what? When we only have about four hours together at the end of each weekday, what does it look like to put the kids into activities that will (between the lesson and the driving) take up two of those four hours?! And how many nights would we do that? What about the nasty winter roads? What about the fact that my kids seem to get sick so often — so we’re going to pay the big bucks and then they’ll miss half the lessons because of bad roads and bad colds?!

Part of the reason that we chose the school we did for the kids was because they are an arts-based school and provide a number of extra curricular activities at noon hour. I think this is brilliant! Kids are just bopping around at noon hour anyway, may as well have them learning something! Madeline’s doing dance every Wednesday noon hour and Luke took an art class at noon during the fall. I’m hoping they’ll have more opportunities in the coming years.

But why do I hope this? Is it because it will be fun and fruitful for the kids or because it will appease my motherly guilt that they are “involved” in enough.

I tell you, I LOVE watching my kids play at home, work in the science lab, explore outside, and create stories and art on a daily basis. Is this somehow less than those activities that we’d pay several hundred dollars to enroll them in? I really want to say “no,” and I think in my head I know it’s true, but I still feel bad about it.

I guess we will continue to listen to our kids and to the rhythms that work for our family. That will change again next year as Olivia goes to school full time and I begin my counseling internship in the fall. I’m excited for the chance to do some tangible work in this area of counseling that I am so passionate about, but it will mean more balancing and maybe more pulling back from some things for me. Even though my internship will just be part time, I feel like I’m going to be calling on the wisdom of the working moms to find out how to balance out everything (especially motherly guilt).

(And also, all you moms who take your kids to so many things and don’t get stressed, or even if you do get stressed, you keep doing it…. please! I want to know how you do it! I know taking my kids to activities holds its own prestigious place in my social anxiety, so I want know — how do you do it?!)

In the meantime, I am loving these quiet days with the kids. I know it was the wise and good choice for this year. I just wish I could calm the voice in my head that says I’m depriving my kids of something else. But really, no matter what we choose, we’re depriving our kids of something, right?! I hope when they look back they won’t feel like cozy afternoons in the living room were too much deprivation.

Posted in Family, Ministry, School | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Choices

  1. Lauralea says:

    I think there is much- MUCH to be said for less extra-curricular activity. I expect my kids might disagree, but I think that unless an activity is child driven, (as in, “PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE, can I take swimming lessons?!) too much activity has a huge potential to overtax and overwhelm a child. Young children need the quiet, relaxed evenings at home with Mom and Dad to refuel for tomorrow. Older children are starting to get hours of homework (which was frustrating and seemed unnecessary), and still need refueling time too.

    We were never an extracurricular sports family. We didn’t do swimming lessons. We went out for music lessons when the child was passionate about it and was convinced that I couldn’t do the teaching.

    The “go-go-go” mentality that is terribly prevalent these days is exhausting, and, I think, ultimately detrimental and self-defeating. As parents and ministry families, we need to model self-health, and that involves teaching our kids what “down time” looks like, and that it’s a good thing to relax and take it easy after a hard day at work or at school.

    Lunch hour dance and art classes ARE extra-curricular; they are happening outside of classroom teaching time. Eight and a half hours is a long enough day for elementary school kids. I think that family together time after school and into the evening is healthier in the long run.

    More is not always better.

  2. Carissa says:

    Well-said, Lauralea!!! 🙂

  3. Maureen says:

    Ditto to what Lauralea said.

    Not sure why any modern day parent should feel that their child is deprived if they aren’t bombarded with “stuff”. Do you really believe that?

    Our kids ave enough swimming lessons so that they are confident in the water; some confidence came from lessons, most from life experience and frequent visits to pools and lakes.

    I,too, have been delighted with extra curricular activities through school and now, at this stage of their lives, have a rule that they must participate in at least one after school sport, plus school band. School band has been a great testing ground to see commitment and interest in music. Watching dean and his students, the most successful ones are starting when they are about 12 – they have interest, discipline and the ability to have skill. School sports = fun, skills with a minimum of time dedication, a short season, etc. AND FREE!

    When I add up school band, school sports (seasonal) and church and youth activities, I conclude that that is enough. The only thing I wish for occasionally is that Andrew had an outside source for friends as school is nasty in his room. However, four more months then he is on to a new school.

    Although they get occasionally restless, Andrew, especially , wishes for a simpler life. Too much seems to stress him out.

    It is really social pressure that inspires guilt in me, not my own goals. I watch friends who have their kids in high end, goal driven sports and arts – they are financially bound to their kids activities…BOUND… They are never free to hang out. They are never home. And I wonder what they have at the end of it all? Other friends take music festival so seriously, they stay home and are ONLY committed to practice for the sake of winning. Hmm, where’s the gift of music in that? The joy? Driven.

    So, given that, embrace the life that your kids have been gifted with for it is truly a gift. Your kids are young, life, for us anyway, has only become busier as they grow older. While your kids are content to play science, discovery, read – go for it! I am wondering if they are begging for more, or if your conscience is the motivation here? I’m thinking it is your conscience with minor squeaks from the kids. Minor.

  4. Johanna says:

    Funny, I open this to comment and see my mother has already left her mark…

    I don’t know what we’ll do with our kids, but I expect not a lot. Maybe one activity each.

    There are a lot of things I wanted to do as a kid and wasn’t able to, for a variety of reasons. I still wish I could’ve taken dance classes, I still wish I could’ve learned the violin, I still wish I’d taken swimming lessons. I don’t think I’m less of a person for not having done it, and I’m fairly certain that I’m a capable, well balanced adult, and I don’t think any of those things would’ve changed my ultimate path in life, but they’re just things I always wanted to do. So a couple years ago I signed up for swimming lessons. And I’ve taken yoga classes (as close as I get to dancing).

    And as much as I think I would’ve enjoyed those classes as a kid, as a parent it could be stressful. I think it depends on the child….I never had homework, I was bored with school, and I had more aspirations than money. So it’s definitely a balance. But for us as a family, I think it will depend on circumstance: I will be very unmotivated as a parent if it means 60 minutes of driving, or if we can’t afford it, or if it runs too late and makes my kid crabby, or if it stresses our family out.

    But never worry that your children will grow up worse than others. Honestly, I think it’s good for kids to be bored, and while they may chide you forever about not teaching them how to swim, extra curricular activities contribute so little to their adult well being (in my unprofessional opinion).

  5. Becky says:

    We really don’t do THAT much, at least compared to a lot of families we know. We know families who have kids that are never able to have sleepovers or playdates because they literally have something every day of the week that they have to be at. That seems crazy to me. I want my children to be able to experience new things and learn life skills, but that doesn’t mean they need to experience EVERYTHING.

    To me, the idea of being able to come home and have nothing, other than spending time with eachother, to do in the evenings sounds like bliss. (We have an activity Mon-Thurs, even if it’s only a half hour on two of those days, it still is nice to be home on Firday evening with NOTHING to do.) A strong family takes precidence over extra-curricular activities, and if I ever notice our activities ever start to impact our family life I will have to look at cutting back.

    That being said, I’ll give you the reasoning behind our extra-curricular activites….

    First. Music lessons are a must. They are non-negotiable and will be taken regardless of whether my child wants to take them or not. They get a choice in what instrument they learn, that’s as much input as I want from them. They WILL take music lessons. Period. They will start with piano in grade two and in grade five when band starts they can decide if they want to switch to a new instrument, or continue with piano, or do both. Since you’re a musician I’m sure I don’t need to explain why I think music lessons are so important.

    Second. I think physical activity is also important, so they MAY chose ONE physical extra-curricular. The boys are in taekwondo right now. We are lucky, in that they both go at the same time, half an hour twice a week. We’re also lucky because everything in Yorkton is pretty much five minutes away, so driving time doesn’t have to be figured in. I like taekwondo because it plays to their strengths and weaknesses. Sam learns focus, dicipline, and strength and Ben learns confidence, flexibility, and coordination. Another nice thing about this program is they can choose two of any three sessions a week to go to. So, if we have a day we miss we can always make up that day another time. I can see a program like that working for you guys if you’re worried about missing days because of weather or whatever. They count the number of sessions, and that’s what we pay for. It runs all year, and you only pay for the next year once you’ve used up the appropriate number of sessions. Love it. Plus it’s not competitive (at least not at this stage, and actually it never has to be) and I like that too. Plus the kids move through the program (and belts) at their own speed, there’s no pressure for them to master skills in a certain time frame. They move as quickly or slowly as they move. I like that too.

    Third. They are in a “fun” activity. Ben and Sam both do Scouts. We picked this because it’s something Glen does with them, so in a way, it’s a family activity for us. I wanted them to have Daddy time, and this works really well for us. Hannah does a “Mommy and Tot” dance class for this same reason. It’s just for fun, and something we can do together. Growing up, I did not get a lot of alone time with my parents, so I wanted that scheduled into our lives to make sure it happens. The other nice thing about these activities is that while Glen is off with one of the boys, I have time with the others. We often end up playing games or reading or doing something together because the child left at home has no one to play with. 🙂

    Right now our oldest has two hours a week of extra-curricular. It’s plenty, and I think that this is a number we will use in the future as a guideline. Sometimes I feel like maybe we’re not doing enough, swimming lessons for example, or one of the churches does a kids club every thursday, but then I remind myself that my priority is building a strong family. We have friends who put their kids in EVERYTHING and who work extra jobs to pay for it, and they are stressed out and struggling as a family as a result. I just don’t understand that. I want my kids to have enriching lives, but will not sacrifice my peace of mind, our finances, and definitely not our family time to give them those things.

    When they look back at their childhoods I want them to remember US. I want their best memories to be things we did together, and so I structure our lives around that. To me it seems like parents these days are too focussed on making sure their kids don’t miss any opportunities that their kids are missing out on the opportunity to just be kids… To play outside in the snow with their siblings, to call up their friends for playdates, to spend an afternoon at the park with their parents. Those are the things that made my childhood fantastic, and I am determined that my kids will have time for those things too.

    And seriously, I don’t think we’re as busy as we look on facebook. I just take a LOT of pictures. Haha. 😉

  6. Carissa says:

    These are all such well-written, well-thought out responses. You’ve got great friends and family, Dixie!! 🙂 (like you didn’t already know that) I am not a good person to share my opinion for the simple fact that, no matter what decision I make, in virtually very area of my life, I feel guilt over… 🙂 Right now, our three boys are in hockey, and it is insane. It’s nuts. We are in town virtually every night of the week, sometimes for more than one ice time. Weekends usually contain at least 3 ice times as well (unless one of the boys has a tournament, and then it’s more!). The gas and driving time gets to be a lot (living 15 min out of town). It is expensive, although, truthfully, the amount of hockey they get in the season, it turns out to be probably ‘cheap’ considering how long the season is and how very much ice time they get. 😉 I feel bad that they don’t get enough down time, that I don’t spend enough time reading with them, that I don’t bath them as often as I should (b/c quite frankly, if we get home at 9, it’s straight to bed, no matter how many times they’ve had hockey in the last few days….), that they are missing out on things. My biggest frustration is that I really would like them to try music lessons (although only my 3rd child is interested right now, and I’m working on getting him into piano lessons while the big boys start an archery/Bible study at the church), but we just can’t fit it in, not only b/c we’re already so busy with hockey, but mostly b/c the schedule is never the same from week to week, so I just can’t ever know they will have the same half hour time slot free from one week to the next. I think music is so important as well, and would love them to be able to try it. Our school doesn’t offer band either. But I am encouraged by Maureen in that perhaps I haven’t completely “missed the boat” to get my kids involved with music. 🙂 I’m a big believer in the one activity a season philosophy; however, I’m not sure how to balance priorities when youth group starts for my kids. I believe youth group is such an important “activity,” and I’m not going to ask them to choose youth group or hockey (for example). Perhaps, saying one “sport” a season is a good way to say it. In all avenues of my own personal life, I struggle to find balance (devotions, exercise, working at home, housework, time with the kids, etc.), and that transfers onto my kids. Is Sunday School and church of huge importance to me? Yes. But, if they have a hockey game, they will miss SS/church. Is that right?? I wrestle with it all the time. My older two boys, especially, LOVE hockey and are passionate and committed, and that makes me happy and makes it ‘worth it’ in most ways. They are not going to the NHL, but I know them playing hockey is good for them, in a lot of ways – team commitment, respect for authorities, learning from a coach, cooperation, staying active, etc., etc. And yes, I do enjoy visiting with the other moms at the rink (even though I am intimidated by virtually every. single. one. of. them.), and it is a good activity for my boys to make new friends and get used to people they might not choose as friends, etc. I complain a lot. I’m not proud of that, but I do. I treasure nights when we have no hockey and can stay home and play games and go to bed at reasonable hours. We eat a lot of meals in the van. It is especially hard with a shift worker husband, but he takes the brunt of it when he’s not at work.

    See? No wise solution. 🙂 I admire you guys for making the decision you did this year. Don’t feel guilty (but that’s easy for me to say, when I feel guilty about everything….). I LOVE that your kids enjoy reading and doing science experiments and hanging out together. They are young yet too. I’m not sure what next year will hold for us – if Cameron (3rd boy) will choose hockey again, if Denaya will want to join something (as we started the boys when they were in Kindergarten), and what that will be.

    I agree with Maureen – I suspect it’s more your thoughts making you second-guess, rather than your kids’ wishes. It’s so hard to know the ‘right’ thing or the ‘best’ thing. There are definite pros and cons to either. I love the taekwondo system Becky has too – that sounds so ideal! 🙂

    And now my tired kids are fighting and whining and crying. I need to heat up the chili for supper before Duane heads to work, and we head to the rink….. 🙂

  7. Dixie says:

    Thanks everybody for weighing in — here and on Facebook too! I know this can be one of those subjects that can get awkward, even heated because (like so much of parenting) we make choices based on what is right for our family and those choices sometimes look different than other people’s right choices for their families. Or maybe none of our choices should really be put under the “right/wrong” category!

    I just want to make clear that when I named some moms on FB and asked “how do you do it?” I wasn’t referring to the number of activities you have your kids in, but the spirit in which you do those activities (or, you know, the spirit that I think you have from our connection the internet!).

    I feel like I am such a big complainer when it comes to the activities I have to do in a week (for whatever role I have), but ESPECIALLY when I think of getting my kids to activities. I just dread those kinds of things — like I mentioned in the post, my social anxiety goes WAY UP in those situations. I think it brings out lots of my childhood fears and the shortcomings I see in myself as a parent — about being good enough, about fitting in, about succeeding. That’s probably exactly the reason why I SHOULD put my kids in stuff — so I learn that you DON’T have to succeed at something for it to be worth it…

    What I’m trying to say is that I really admire the parents out there who take there kids to things and don’t seem overwhelmed by it all — whether it’s gas money or the time or how well your kids perform or the social interaction of the parents. All of it is just out of my comfort zone. And so I really want to know how people do it without the internal struggle that I seem to have — or how you overcome your own internal struggle…

    More thoughts and responses may come later to you as individuals, but I really appreciate you guys thinking this all through here!

  8. Becky says:

    You know what I think makes the difference for me? The reason our extra-curriculars are a joy a not a hassle is we’ve found things that fit into our lives, instead of trying to fit our lives around the activity. If we had to try and fit our lives around extra-curricular stuff I think I’d have a much harder time making sure that the things that bring us the most happiness don’t fall by the wayside…

    And I really like Johanna’s advice, “… never worry that your children will grow up worse than others.” It’s not about better or worse. It’s about what works for your family and just loving these little treasures with everything in us.

  9. rebs says:

    I have had to think, since our move here, about all the activities my kid could be in and how different life is here. My son LOVES base-ball and wants to be a Blue Jays player one day but he won’t be able to since they don’t have that sport in this country. I know if we stayed in Canada he’d be able to play on a little league team. But he’ll be okay and so will we. I love that you are having some cherished family times in the evenings that aren’t spent with you driving your kids to and fro.

    Hugs.

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