Why Saying No to After School Activities Can Be a Good Thing

When our oldest son turned three, I enrolled him in soccer. It was a disaster. He didn’t want to go. I thought that with two boys under the age of three and one on the way, it would be a great way for him to feel special and to expel some of his ridiculous energy. Then I felt guilty, so I enrolled his younger brother in swimming lessons. Then I thought that we should start them out in some kind of body movement class.

Fast forward to my oldest son turning seven years old. Now, we have four children and each evening of the week was spoken for. Sports, music, dance. Our home calendar had more red marks then my English papers in high school.

I was starting to use outside sources to transport my own children. Free outside sources, otherwise known as “Grandparents.” We would have logistic meetings on Sunday nights. Pick up here; drop off here, etc. etc.

At one point I decided to enroll my sons in tap dance class. Did I ask them if they wanted to be the only boys in the entire dance school? No. But being their mother, I knew best. By the time we left rehearsal it was 7:45 at night. Dinner had been eaten in the car.  I peered into the dance class and my sons looked like extras from the Thriller video. Dancing zombies. They were exhausted and I was too. My husband and I became resentful towards each other, when we actually saw each other which was rare.

It was then that we decided that we were not going to adapt to our children’s lives, they were going to adapt to ours. That isn’t a decision that we made lightly.  We thought about it. My reasoning behind signing my boys up for things was to make them well rounded. It is a good intention, but at what cost?

I understand that if my sons want to get a place on Varsity when they are in high school, they are going to be competing with kids that have been playing that sport five days a week, 12 months a year since they were four years old. If it’s not for fun, what is it for? The chance of any of the varsity players actually becoming collegiate athletes is slim. The chance of any of those collegiate athletes becoming professional athletes is even slimmer. After speaking to my friends, I often wonder why parents create this pressure on themselves and more importantly their kids.  Would it be so bad if your child just didn’t play a sport?

So we just stopped and have not looked back.

Most nights we are home, together. Being a working mother means I am with my kids for about four waking hours a day, maybe five hours if they go to bed late. If I add an activity after school, that time can be decreased to an hour which does not include weekend games. If they are on a travel team I might as well kiss our family time goodbye.

But even if take me out of the equation, I couldn’t help but notice how stressed the boys were. They complained about going places and often asked to just stay home.  At first I was worried that they would be inactive. With childhood obesity becoming more and more of an epidemic I worried they wouldn’t be getting enough physical exercise. We don’t have junk food in the house, and they are still extremely active by nature.  As of today they are all lean machines. So I quickly put that worry to rest.

When I was a kid I had two jobs. Go to school and play with my friends. I didn’t worry about anything. That was a grown ups job.

I see nothing wrong with adjusting our families schedule to accommodate pleasurable after school activities. I enjoyed soccer as a child and continue to play as an adult. I loved it as a kid and was never forced to do it. Yes, I played in college but I wasn’t recruited to be on team USA. That doesn’t make the time I spent with my various coaches and teammates any less fruitful, it just means that I did it for fun and didn’t have pressure beyond that.

For this brief moment, I recognize that we are in the “glory days,” the time we will look back on with nostalgia when we get older. As long as my boys prefer to be under one roof, I will not force them out. There should be the one time in my children’s life that the weight of the world has not rested on their shoulders. I choose this to be that time.