7 ways to keep kid activities from taking over your life (or at least your weekends)

IMG_0841One 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.

11 thoughts on “7 ways to keep kid activities from taking over your life (or at least your weekends)

  1. LOVE this post. HATE “just you wait”. I think people who say that often forget how high maintenance toddlers are, too. Your time log doesn’t lie – 2 year olds are NEEDY!

    We do things similarly – I look at the weekend plan ahead of time and try to make sure there is a balance of kid fun & adult activities (my barre class, a run, sometimes a date night).

    Also, reading about the logistics of 4 makes 2 seem so blissfully simple 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post. Your perspective on how you keep kids activities in their proper place is so what I needed right now! The hubby and I just had a long conversation about all the logistics for our three kiddos’ activities (two in summer baseball and soccer winding up) this summer. We are buying a house and moving in the midst of it all so I’m just embracing that it will be a crazy couple of months. But my goal is to enjoy all the crazy because it is good.

    And your last point about having parent anchor activities…SO good! I will have to do this for this upcoming weekend’s soccer tournament flurry. 🙂

    1. @Lacy- Yes! You need an anchor event or two. Just knowing that there is an adults-only dinner, or a coffee with a friend waiting for you after the soccer madness can go a long way to making it tolerable.

  3. I’m the parent of 3 kids that play multiple sports, music, and Scouting programs. There are nights when 4 activities will be going on, but these are usually within just a certain time frame. Fall seems to be the worst. I think the “busy” actually peaks at around 8-11 years of age. At this stage, you don’t actually have to be that good to play. By the time they hit 7th grade, you have to try out and some weeding gets done. I used to be miserable during this time, but realized it was my own expectations getting in my way. I got frustrated that my house was messy, or meals were hurried, or whatever. I had to learn that a grilled cheese on the way to the ball field was ok. I made friends with other parents and found a community of friends. Ball field time became social time. No one stage is inherently busier than another. We just sometimes make it so with our own expectations.

    1. @Jennie- Also, as the kids get older, they’re likely doing the activities they are personally most invested in (I would imagine). And at some blessed moment, they become able to drive themselves! Though that seems to be relatively late now with the graduated licensing thing.

  4. Great post. My advice is think about what you want to do during the event, especially if you don’t have another kid in tow. Some travel sports require the kid to show up an hour in advance for warmups. It is easy for the parent to fritter away that time. I tried to bring a book or bring work and go to a coffee shop so that I wouldn’t get sucked into chit chat with the other parents. For places we went often, I actually had scoped out gyms that allow you to pay per use. I used to drop off, do a quick workout, and make it back for (almost) the start of the game. Sometimes I want to socialize with the other parents but you do generally get to see these people A LOT!

    1. This is so smart! I take my son to a drop off class once a week and unless I’ve planned an errand to do during that time, I usually just sit there for the hour and try to work (though some parents stay there with their other, younger, kids so its hard to focus) or fritter away time on my phone. I bet there is a gym/studio nearby to fit in a workout.

  5. Although we have two kids and they’re younger (3 and 5), we’ve also seen the ways in which the weekend can become overtaken with kid activities. This is especially true because I’m gone 12-13 hours daily for work + commute and also travel frequently, so I want the weekends to be kid-focused. We’ve made the weekend evenings the adult “anchor” time. Friday is family pizza night, when my husband makes homemade pizzas for us, but Saturday and Sunday nights are at-home date nights after the kids go to bed. Order in, watch a movie or the show-of-the-moment (hello, GOT or Americans), and see where the evening goes. Sure, dinner is at 9:30 or so two nights a week, but it’s worth it for uninterrupted adult time. And no sitter to pay!

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