Q: I’m trying to put a slow down on the extracurricular activities by asking my kids to choose one or two. How much input should they be allowed in deciding which ones? For example, I think they need to be on the swim team this summer, but they are complaining about having to get up too early. I believe this is important because we spend several weeks at the ocean every summer and being strong swimmers to me is a safety thing. This seems like laziness rather than lack of interest.
On the other hand, my 12-year-old daughter wants to try out for a play that rehearses for several months and the actual show runs for three consecutive weekends, all of which I will be required to drive her to. I’m feeling guilty and selfish because I don’t want to do it. I know you’re not one to force kids to do extracurricular activities if they are not interested. Where do I draw the line?
A: This is a great question, one that we all struggle with as parents, especially because of how many activities with which our kids could be involved. You have a couple of questions here, so let me address the one about feeling guilty and selfish for not wanting to drive your tween to play practice first.
My favorite story from the book, Bringing Up BeBe, about an American raising kids in France is this one. The author asks one of her French friends about how the friend’s daughters’ tennis lessons are going. The Frenchwoman replies that they’ve quit the lessons. The author asks why, and the Frenchwoman says matter-of-factly: “Because it wasn’t working out for me.”
I love that quote because it sums up exactly what you’re saying—the tennis lessons, while possibly very worthwhile for those French girls, were not good for the mother. This Frenchwoman didn’t feel guilty or selfish for stopping something her girls enjoyed doing. She understood that sometimes, it’s better for a child to stop doing something for the sake of the mother (or family or father or siblings).
So if you’re going to be worn out with driving your tween to rehearsal and the performances will impact your family in any kind of negative way, then it’s perfectly fine for you to say no to this activity. Alternatively, you could say yes if the tween finds her own rides to rehearsals, with the understanding that you’ll attend one performance only.
Now, as to whether to make your kids be on the swim team. Yes, swimming is a vital life skill for kids to learn. Can they learn it apart from being on the swim team? Probably, as I imagine your pool offers lessons (or group lessons, which would be less expensive). If lessons aren’t feasible, you can sign them up and just inform them that they will be swimming this summer. We’ve not given our kids a say in whether or not they take piano lessons, even though they grumble at times about practicing.
Going forward, you can say they can do one activity per season or semester (September to December or January to May, for example). Or you can simply give a list of the activities for choosing, depending on the family’s and your schedule. Don’t be afraid to say no to any activities for a set length of time if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. That’s okay too.
The bottom line is that activities should fit in with the overall family’s life, not just cater to one child. Saying no because it doesn’t suit your schedule is perfectly reasonable. If more moms would take care to how activities, sports and other events impacted their well-being, I think the world would be a little bit calmer—I know most households would be!