Here is August’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
We have three kids and all of them are involved in multiple sports. Plus, two of my kids play an instrument, and my other one takes art lessons. With all of these activities, play dates, and church activities, I feel like we live out of our car. With school starting, I’m really worried there won’t be time for homework or normal dinners and we’re all going to be stressed out. I don’t want to deprive them of activities they love, but I don’t know how to fit it all in. What should we do?
Signed, Overwhelmed by Opportunities
We live an amazing place, filled with endless opportunities for growth and enrichment for our families. We also live in a place that encourages “doing it all,” sometimes to a fault. Activities are wonderful, but they should enhance your life, not rule it.
You all need time at home to rest, relax, get chores and homework done, and spend some fun time together. We all can see the value in tennis lessons and horseback riding, but don’t underestimate the value of down time. Kids need to have chores around the house to learn important life skills, connect with the family, and build character and confidence. Kids need to be bored (without screens) to access their creative thinking. Kids need to play in creative, unstructured ways to practice life skills, problem solve, and help with healthy brain development. Kids also need a lot of sleep, so allowing enough time for everything means they won’t skimp on sleep to get their homework done late into the night.
I suggest you and your partner sit down and look at your weekly schedules and determine what you’d like your family schedule to look like. Now categorize your time into work, school, sleep, home/family, and activities. Pick one or two things per child that are the most important and agree to spend their activity minutes there. Eliminate all others. I know it’s hard. So many families we work with have not just a top two, but a top five or six for each child. That is way too much enrichment, way too much scheduled time.
Look for ways your children can enjoy activities in less time consuming ways. Sometimes kids can play in the band or orchestra at school. Fight the urge to have them take extra lessons so they can make first chair. Let them enjoy the musical experience at a more basic level. Maybe instead of weekly horseback riding lessons, they can attend a summer camp that offers horseback riding. If art lessons aren’t in the top two activities, buy some art supplies and have family art time as part of your time at home.
Now, pick one night at home that is sacred, a night each week when everyone will be home for dinner and down time. I know it’s hard, but this is called “setting boundaries” and it’s a great practice for everyone. It’s also a great chance to model your values to your children: you are in charge of your life, not other people.
Look for opportunities to have your kids in programs that meet at the same time and place to cut down on your driving. Try and schedule play dates so that you host a friend for each child to come over at the same time, so you aren’t scrambling constantly. Look into car-pooling, or having a local relative volunteer for a little driving (I know Grandpa is a huge baseball fan, surely he wants to take your daughter to baseball practice at least once a week!) Look for opportunities to spend 1:1 time with each of your children (like reading books with the little one while you wait for the other two to finish practice), and time for you and your partner to have a little kid-free time (away play dates scheduled all at the same time?). It’s a lot to juggle, but if you’re strategic, cut out all of the unnecessary commitments, honor and value down time, and set healthy boundaries, you will feel far less crazed. Not zen-peaceful-perfect, but definitely less crazed.
I wish you the best of luck. I’m glad you’re feeling the need to fight the pressure of 1,000 commitments. Your family might balk at the beginning, but they will definitely thank you for it when you’re sitting around the backyard fire pit eating s’mores together on a school night,
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC, a group family therapy practice in Chester Springs. She is the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families, and check out her books on Amazon.