One unsung upside of having four children is that almost no one tells me “Just you wait!” anymore. Back when I “only” had two, and they were young, and I was first writing about time management, I got a fair amount of just-you-wait mail pointing out that I had not yet experienced the madness of kid activities. Once that started I would see that life really was crazy, I would admit defeat when it came to time and weekend sanity and so forth, la la la.
These days my four are all in various things. Even the toddler is in a baby sports class! But I have to say, it really has not been that bad. Part of this stems from my kids being my offspring, which means that their inherited athletic ability is, um, limited. I am willing to believe that there is some family somewhere with 3 children who are world-class athletes in 3 different sports and thus their weekends and afternoons are entirely eaten up by a grueling travel sports schedule. But for those of us with more average children who just like to try different things, all can be fine and manageable, especially with these strategies.
1. Remember that busyness ebbs and flows. Fall sports peak in October, but taper off in November/December. Spring sports peak in mid-April/May and trail off in June. We are now in the lull when drama club, Mad Science, Lego Club, and Soccer Shots have all ended. Ballet, swim, baseball and another soccer program are still going, but those will end soon too. The two weeks or so when everything was going simultaneously were slightly intense, but it was only about two weeks. Tracking my time has many benefits, but one is seeing that even weeks and weekends that feel full of kid activities still have a lot of space.
2. Avoid misery. With many things, you can choose to make life harder, or choose to make life easier. My philosophy is that if you are choosing to make life harder, make sure it is for a really good reason — like a deeply held value. Very few kid activities reach the level of deeply held value, which means if the kids hate it, and you hate dragging them, drop it. I can see an exception for religious instruction or language classes necessary to keep a family’s mother tongue alive but most other things, nope. This is why we will not be doing summer swimming. We’ve done decently all year, but I can’t deal with the 7 A.M. or 6 P.M. options, and since my son is happy to take a break, we will take a break. I do understand that some things that kids are neutral about become more fun as they get better. We are dealing with this with piano, but I am not requiring long, painful practice sessions. They play their assigned songs 3 times through at least 3 times a week, and I let the chips fall where they may.
3. Let the kids follow their bliss…at school. Our kids’ schools offer a wide variety of after-school classes and activities, and so our default is to let the kids do as many of these as they want, which reduces the pressure to do other things. The schools are 3 and 6 minutes from our house, respectively, which makes pick-up much easier.
4. If not at school, think close by. My oldest son’s swim team practices 3-4 times per week. Fortunately, it is 8 minutes from the house. The Little League field is 5 minutes away. I am sure there are wonderful programs in the city of Philadelphia for all sorts of things, but I have chosen to keep our universe limited to minimize time in the car. Our piano teacher also comes to us — another big win.
5. Get help. Since I work at home and we have a full-time nanny, she and I tend to split the driving during the week, but if you don’t have either of those conditions, it might be worth hiring a college student for a few hours a week to help out. We also wind up booking babysitting on the weekends sometimes so that the toddler can nap in peace in his crib and not be dragged to someone else’s soccer game (which is often pure torture for all involved). We carpool to ballet, and trade off playdates after, which minimizes the driving for any one family.
6. Map it out. I put all soccer and T-ball games and birthday parties on the calendar as soon as I know them. Then I look at the weekend calendar by Wednesday or Thursday to figure out the lay of the land. I identify any trouble spots (3 kids needing to be 3 separate places at the same time). These things are much easier to deal with ahead of time than in the moment. I also can think through contingency plans. This has been an incredibly rainy spring, and so a lot of outdoor games and practices have been canceled. We are trying to get better about thinking through what we would do if that happens. My husband has taken the big kids to a LOT of movies this spring.
7. Plan in your own fun. I think one reason people find kid activities so all-consuming is that they become the focal point of the weekend. They happen at certain times and involve commitments to other people. This powerful combo always makes things rise in the hierarchy of events, often way beyond their actual importance (it is the reason people will stop thinking about their most pressing business problem to get ready for a meeting that covers office fridge policies — I am only slightly kidding). But parents deserve to enjoy weekends as well. So make sure to plan in your own anchor events — things that will rejuvenate you. Then kid activities feel less like they are consuming your life, because you have your own life too.