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Extracurricular Activities: Are They Good for Your Kids..And You?

Despite recent studies in favor of keeping our children busy, I contend that a relaxed, unharried mother makes for a happier family.

Since I planned to write a story about the perils of burdening our children with too many sports, arts and other enrichment activities, I did a little research to see what the experts had to say. It turns out that professionals in the field weigh in favorably towards filling your son or daughter's day and keeping them busy. 

In fact, at a conference last spring, one person commented that she's more worried about kids who did "nothing" than those who were over-scheduled. The prevailing assumption is, of course, that every family is different and that children's needs vary.

How do I feel about this? Despite the professionals' nod of approval, I am leaning towards diminishing my children's activities. Quite honestly, if for both of our sanity. A hurried, anxious mother is not a happy mother. And, at this stage of the parenting game, I want to be happy.

However, let me back up and tell you a little bit about myself when I was a fairly new mother. I couldn't wait to sign my first-born daughter Caitlin up for first playgroups when she was barely walking and then toddler reading groups sponsored by the local library. She quickly graduated to preschool and ballet lessons. Every time the school sent home a notice advertising a town sports club or art class, I asked, "Wouldn't you like to do this?"

Also, I not only wanted to sign her up but I also was the reigning queen of volunteerism. Whenever he came to a Parent Teacher Association meeting with me and the need for 'helpers' came up in the discussion, my husband would hiss at me, "Keep your hand down! Don't you dare volunteer!"

He knew how crazy I got when things got too busy. You see, by this time Baby #2, there on referred to as "Anna," had arrived. Three years later, there came Michael. However, I continued to maintain not only Caitlin's filled dance card but now Anna's preschool and library classes were also put into the mix. When he was old enough Michael joined soccer. Oh, and I volunteered my husband to be the coach. You can imagine how well that went over. 

Things were getting a little out of control in our household..especially when the winter season set in. Suddenly I didn't want to drive anyone anywhere. You see, I finally realized that while I may think that joining all of these activities are great in theory, I no longer have the stamina to hurry them from the bus, into appropriate clothing and to the practice, rehearsal or game by the designated time.  

In my 21 years of parenting, I finally realized that I often say "Yes!" when I really mean "No!" I don't want to rush to a 45-minute class that's located on the other side of town or, God forbid!, in another town altogether. I don't want to pay hundreds of dollars for them to learn some of these skills, as valuable as they may be. I guess I trust more now than I did when I was first a parent that there will be time enough for them to learn all that they need to.  

And, that is the bottom line for me today: I trust that my kids are exactly where they're supposed to be right now, learning what they need to, in and outside of the classroom, and I don't have to pay hundreds of dollars to manipulate anything into happening. The opportunities will re-present themselves, if that's what is supposed to happen. Or at a later date, my children will find the time, money and energy to pursue their true interests and passions. I don't have to have this all figured out by the time they're five, though.

In the end, I agree that each family has to make its own decision about what kind of extracurricular schedule works best for their children. I agree that it's good to have some things to do after school so that children can relax and transition from the bus to home. How about going to Wolfe Park together or taking a hike at the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone? This is relaxing for the kids and for the mother and father.  

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