Quitting Time?

I hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day weekend!  Many prayers and thanks to all those who have served our great country.  Like a good Jersey girl, I spent the weekend at the shore.  It was chilly, but very nice, and I had a bit of time to read.  I am reading “The 4-hour Workweek,” by Timothy Ferriss.  While I don’t share the same values as the author, I do think he gives some darn good advice on very practical changes busy people can make to capture more free time and use that time for the things we love .

And so, inspired in part by the book, but also by the end of the school year, and MaryAlice’s post last week, our family recently made some difficult decisions regarding what we will do with our “free time” or activities.

Now is a great time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t during the past year.  As children age, their interests change, they want to try new things, and they may want to quit others.  May and June are good times to start planning for the summer, but also times to start thinking about what the next school year will bring.

In our case, with a larger family, kids playing multiple sports, and participating in the arts, weeks can become so busy that parents are subject to burnout and the family suddenly has very little family time.  In an ideal world, I’d love to just declare 3 nights per week family nights, and clear them of all activities, but I don’t have much control over when my kids practice, and with five children all having different interests, we are going to have seasons where we call in grandparents not just for a night off, but to have three different kids make it to their games!

As part of our yearly “review,” Mr. Red and I sat down with our oldest three children and asked them to rank, on a scale of 1-10, their various activities (10 being the most fun).

For my oldest son, baseball and soccer rank at the top of his list.  Swimming at the bottom.  Piano somewhere in the middle.  For my oldest daughter, soccer, music, and performing in a show rank at the top, swimming again at the bottom.  I think both children ranked swimming as a zero.  Ouch!

Swimming would have been a logistically “easier” sport for our family.  Swim practices are timed conveniently with our summer schedule.  Swim meets are in one location and a family affair.  Baseball and soccer games require driving in different directions with different children and take up both Saturdays and Sundays.

But those are sports with balls.  My children like to play with balls.  Sports are supposed to be fun, and my children don’t think swim practices are fun.  I can see how indoor practices and cold spring mornings are not fun times to be in the pool.  For my kids, swimming only climbed from a zero ranking to a four when we gave them ideal warm weather conditions and an actual swim meet.  What an eye opener for me.

And so, when the summer theatre schedule came out last week and I realized there were many swimming conflicts for my oldest daughter, we decided to let her quit.  We had to pay the money a month ago, and perhaps I won’t see that $50 again, but I consider the loss of $50 perfectly justified if it makes life a little less crazy this summer.  And while my oldest son is swimming this summer, it may be his last.

I am a firm believer in children participating in various extracurricular activities.  All kids should have exposure to sports, and music, and art.  In an ideal world, children would have time for all these things, and multiple sports, and they would pick a few things to specialize in when they hit middle or high school age.  But with a large family, and an ever increasing emphasis on early specialization and super competitive child sports teams, I have to adjust my parenting preferences a bit or we won’t survive.

And so my dream of having 5 children on one swim team, with the entire family attending swim meets on summer Saturdays, has come to an end.  We can’t sustain travel soccer, travel baseball, softball, summer shows, choir, piano, dance, and swimming with 5 children.  In fact, we just learned that we can’t even do it with three!

I am an extroverted sports-loving mom.  But I can’t spent every season running from one activity to the next, losing our family weekends and my sanity.  There needs to be an ebb and flow.  So far we have kept away from winter sports, but now that fall and spring have become an intense time, perhaps we need to cut back in the summer too.  We are taking one big step in that direction this summer.  And, as my children gain more preferences, I’m confident they can help decide the next quitting time.

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  • Bethany

    I love that you and Mr. Red had the kids sit down and evaluate their activities. So smart! You are making some hard choices, but ones that will benefit your children and family. The fact that G has done two prior seasons of swimming means that she has those life skills and is safe in the water. Excellent. Mission complete in my book! We are starting swimming for our oldest, M, and so far he seems to like it, but my requirement is for him to be on a competitive team for one season. If he likes it, great, and if not, he’s at least had a season to perfect his stroke and become a safer, stronger swimmer…

  • Kat0427

    Good thoughts here. I would also be sad if we lost our summer swim team time, but we would not be doing it if my kids didn’t want to! I feel the same way about most sports, actually – the time commitment is too great for us to be doing something that we don’t enjoy!

  • That’s a good thought — to require each child to do only one summer of competitive swimming. This will ensure they are strong swimmers in the water, and help give them an opportunity to decide if they like it and want to continue. Perhaps as my kids get older, we can have one season where two children do swim team, and then next season where no one does it!

  • I just found out that I can get my money back! Yeah!!!

  • Bethany

    Even better! Take that $50 and treat yourself 😉 In fact, take Mr. Red to dinner in honor of your wise parenting!

  • Margaret

    Though my three children are still young and hardly do any activities yet, I have thought a lot about this. First of all, I think it’s a little silly to think that children “have” to do activities, or that we would be seriously depriving them if they could not participate in sports, lessons, etc. (I’m not claiming that this is what you are saying.) As far as I can tell, neither of my parents EVER participated in something we would describe as an extra-curricular activity. And yet they are happy, intelligent people with lots of skills, hobbies, and interests. My dad, in particular, speaks fondly of spending after school and summers just playing outside with other neighborhood kids.

    Secondly, these clubs, sports, etc. rely on YOUR money to operate. I think we as parents need to make our opinions known to the people who run these activities. If you quit something because of a totally unreasonable practice schedule, make sure you let them know that’s why you won’t be participating again. If you want to keep Sunday as a family day, tell the coach that you’re sorry, but you just won’t be able to attend Sunday practices. I think we can change the culture of over-scheduled childhoods, but it’s going to take work!

  • Harmony

    This is fascinating to me in a multicultural studies kind of way. I mean, it sounds like you live in a totally different world. I only have small children, so I can’t say for certain what my future looks like, but I grew up as one of 5 children, and we never played more than one sport at a time (per year), and one musical instrument. No way my parents would have had the money or time to attempt the kind of schedule you’re describing, had they desired to.

    We live in a rural county with few organized extracurricular opportunities. I’ll be happy if my kids take swim lessons at some point. I imagine them trying a couple or three different sports over the course of their childhood, maybe, and if we’re lucky taking music lessons–interest-dependent. We don’t have the money to do everything. And we don’t have family in the area so we can’t “call in the grandparents”, or the uncles or aunts etc.

    BUT my kids get plenty of the outdoors, with and without parents; they will be taught lots of camping and backpacking skills, maybe some livestock and gardening too; they will get to hang out at the lake and swim, raft the river, ride horses (we hope), and a big priority of mine is that they have unstructured play-explore-dream-and-ponder time.

    I appreciate this post as you’re thinking through what your priorities and your kids’ needs are–I just wanted to point out that the expectations of the culture you’re in are not universal and there are very good childhoods that look completely different.

  • I appreciate that feedback. I think it is cultural, you come from a rural area, I do not. We live in a very suburban/urban area in the northeast, and the athletic children in our area play multiple sports on organized teams. I did the same thing as a child, and my time on sports teams was one of my finest childhood experiences. I want my kids to enjoy this the same way I did, and also learn some life sports like swimming, but it is hard balance with a larger family.

    For what it is worth, I don’t know any serious college athletes that only played one sport from the time they were young…but that doesn’t mean it is impossible, just that I don’t know any. I homeschool, so we are home until 4pm every day, and my kids have hours of unstructured play time every day. When they were younger, they didn’t participate in anything, other than a once a week swim lesson or gymnastics class. So for years our time was spent very similarly to yours. But now I have slightly older children and those children have a desire to compete and learn things at a higher level, with their peers….

    My husband and I were also both serious athletes, as were our parents, and our grandparents!!! so more intense athletic competition seems to be a family trait. And I do think my perspective is tainted by that. We experimented with rec sports a bit, as these are much more laid back, but it wasn’t a good fit for my older children, and they were much happier playing travel at a higher level. We really do love being out and about, participating in the community in this way, but it is a hard balance with a larger family. And honestly, the sports don’t really cost that much, it is the music lessons that are very pricey. But I think learning an instrument is an important part of a child’s education, and I wish my parents had pushed me to a be a little more well rounded in that area 😉

  • Maria

    I have to second Harmony, I grew up in the suburbs, went to private and then prep school and . . . my parents made me choose one sport and an instrument. Seriously, three to five activities per child?!

  • Let’s keep this charitable Maria. We all have different standards. As a homeschooler, music (choir, piano) is considered a part of my childrens’ basic education, like math and reading. They have chosen only one instrument. Sports are activities, and, as a former division 1 athlete, are a high priority for me. I’m trying to balance that with having a bigger family. This is a hard area for me personally because I wish my kids could play 4 or 5 things, but obviously they cannot. We have done a lot of “adding” in recent years, without much quitting. It is time to start quitting too. Acting like I’m crazy because I want my athletic son to play 3 sports isn’t advancing the conversation in a positive direction. Your perspective is important for me to hear, but let’s be careful to build one another up and encourage, not act like people are nuts, ok? Just as an FYI, most of the builders have their children in more than just one activity, I think everyone has their child playing an instrument, and most of the boys play at least 2 sports!

  • Harmony

    I also wanted to note that the personality of the mother plays a big role here too. I am an introvert and not a high-energy person either. I am easily exhausted by scheduled activities. A 30-odd hour workweek, making it to church and small group pretty much do me in right now. So for my own sanity I know I will be trying to keep structured extracurriculars to a minimum. My mother is similar to me in this regard, so I’m sure that’s part of the reason my childhood looked the way it did. Obviously you are a very different person, and your kids might be more like you too. Nonetheless, being the person I am, I’m grateful to live in the rural West rather than the urban NE. 😉

    And given your background you understandably have different expectations and aspirations for your kids with regard to sports. I think it’s unlikely any child of mine will be a college athlete, and it’s not something I’m hoping for, but if one (or more) seems athletically talented then I’d put more priority there. For the majority of kids, though, I think sports are for fun, and of less importance than many other things they could be spending their time on.. and mom’s time too. When I was a kid I could ride my bike by myself to my soccer practices and half my games (from the age of probably 8 or 9 on), and if that weren’t the case I don’t know that my family could even have let me play the one sport!

    None of which is intended in a spirit of attacking your family’s activities! You know what is important to you and you are working out how much of everything fits into your life. I just know the tendency in our society today is to look around as a parent and compare: “Family X does this, Family Y does that, Family Z does something else, and they all look important and must be essential for my kids! Now I have to do all that too or I am a bad parent and my kids will be stunted and miserable adults.” So I’m offering my perspective–Hey everybody! Not all families have to do what Kellie’s family does! 🙂 And of course the main thrust of your post is just that–none of us can do it all, and we have to choose what to quit as well as what to make time for. Thank you for that.

  • I think it’s great that you are taking a step to cut back. As a former teacher and current tutor, it’s difficult to watch families continue to fill and fill and fill their schedules and watch the kids be exhausted, which doesn’t help them to be better at anything down the line. Kudos for taking a step back and saying stop to some things. Having been a Division I who didn’t choose her sport until middle school, along with a sister who did the same, I still have hope that we can do one activity per season and still be comfortable in our town with our daughter.

  • Mary Alice

    Harmony, I think that you are right to point out the way that temperaments of the mother play a role – I find being out of the house for my children’s activities really exhausting, but I think that Red finds it mostly invigorating. Even for an extroverted and sports loving mom, though, it just becomes impossible at some point to do as much as we might want.

  • Mary Alice

    At the end of this busy spring, I took Red’s advice and asked my kids to do some ranking, and learned, to my surprise, that I was driving my kid all over for the activity that his not his favorite, while we had put aside something that he likes more. No reason for that, baseball, unlike swimming, is not a life skill, and if he would rather play golf, that is okay by me. Poor kid is so easy going that he never complained, he’s happy to be at baseball, but not really that interested, so why are we doing it? I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t asked.

  • Mary Alice

    Maria, you got a lot of the enrichment activities that we are talking about here in your private school setting, I’m sure that you had a music class, an art class, and some kind of sports or PE. I do think it is true that every community is different. Where I grew up, these types of activities cost more and were right after school with teachers or coaches, not dependent on parent volunteers. Where I live now, the activities are less expensive, but happen from 6-8 when Dads and Moms can help with coaching, timing at swim meets, etc. In some communities, something like scouts or 4H might be a big deal and kids would give a lot of time to that, it really depends, but what Red is describing does apply to the situation that most of the Builders live in, we are all in suburbs of large cities around the country, and most of our neighbors are in the same boat as we are, whether or not they homeschool, so it is really worth thinking about for a lot of us, you just have to be purposeful about it.

  • Mary Alice

    The confusing part for me is the trend towards being year round in one sport, and therefore playing more than one sport in a season. That makes it hard not to specialize early, or be over committed.

  • You are right about that. It is very frustrating because to play against better competition it seems you have to commit to a team that plays year round, and that’s silly. They should keep these kids playing in one season until they are a bit older. This trend may keep us from doing 3 sports, and instead my kids will just play 2. But that makes me sad.

  • So in our house baseball is a life skill 😉 Beach wiffle ball is big, and if you throw like a girl, your going to hear it. haha!

    But I’m wondering what is the cut off for swimming as a life skill? Now that we’ve dropped it for one kid, I’m thinking that one season of competitive swimming may be enough…I did just come from the swim team meeting for my son where I was forced to volunteer for meets if he wanted to be on the team, so I’m feeling a bit bitter right now.