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Samantha Kemp-Jackson Headshot

Overscheduled Kids and Parental Guilt

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Soccer practice, ballet, then gymnastics.

Hockey, little league, and karate.

Whatever the sport or activity of choice, it may very well be too much.

Our kids are over-worked, over-scheduled and overly-exhausted. In our frenzy to be the best parents who raise the best and most successful kids, we've thrown out the baby with the bath water -- or pool water (after swimming lessons, of course).

Too many kids' lessons, too little time. Our kids are living the kiddie equivalent of being "overworked and underpaid;" they're definitely overworked and they're too young to be getting paid. Fair? I think not.

So what are our kids getting out of these frenetic schedule to which they abide?

Not much, I'm afraid. But more on that later.

This trend towards kids being rigorously scheduled is a relatively new phenomenon. Perhaps a result of the pervasive guilt that so many of us share because of our need to work longer hours, we've put our kids in as many lessons as possible, some for practical reasons (after-school lessons and sports practice keeps our kids busy until we can leave work and pick them up) and some...well...not so much.

Sadly, there seems to be a competitive nature to not only our own behaviours and pursuits, but those of our children as well.

Case in point: when push comes to shove, pushy parents start shoving other parents. Check out these very un-sportsmanlike parents beating each other up at their kids' hockey game. Nice, eh?

Yes, these parents were so overcome with the importance of the sport that they had to pummel each other into the stands while their kids learned a lesson about how to supposedly behave when competing in a friendly game of stick. On a similar note, we've put such a high standard on what was once considered a good time and nothing more that we're going into debt and emotionally stressing ourselves out in order for our kids to live our our vicarious fantasies of sports-related success.

What is it about us as parents that makes us feel that we have to schedule our kids into as many lessons as possible?

Let's look at a few of the possibilities to see if we can figure this out, one way or another.

1) Keeping Up With The Joneses -- Sadly, it's all about appearances for many parents and it's not really the thought of their child being the next Gabby Douglas. Apparently it's par for the course that kids go to gymnastics, soccer, or piano lessons so it goes to follow that kids get signed up for lessons whether they want them or not. In many cases, the desire of many parents to shuttle one's children to soccer lessons is more about the neighbour's kids than their own.

2) Competition -- "Keeping up with the Joneses" is one thing; beating the Joneses is another. Now, aren't we all living vicariously through our kids to a certain degree? Most of us would be lying if we said we weren't. Accordingly, is it any surprise then that much of the excitement about hockey practice and Little League is felt more by those parents who may have just a tad of a competitive streak within them? For some, the prospect of winning through the successes of our children is enough to put them into as many lessons as possible -- sleep be damned.

3) Fear -- Yes, fear. Fear that we'll actually have to interact with our kids; fear that we'll actually have to spend time with them without the support or distractions of others. Fear that in the still of the night -- or maybe just during dinner time -- we'll have to speak with our kids and converse with them to a certain degree. With skating lessons starting in 15 minutes, it's so much easier to just collectively wolf down some store-bought pizza and rush out the door, skates in tow. No need for deep conversation, really.

4) Guilt -- When work gets in the way of parenting, who wouldn't feel a tad guilty? After all, working all of those hours, going in early, coming home late, texting and responding to emails over dinner; all of these realities add up to very little quality time with our kids. The sad reality is that most of us have to keep up with the ongoing barrage of emails and texts from our bosses and clients because, at the end of the day, that job puts food on the table. As a result, we may spend a bit more money on that toy that our son asked for or -- in many cases -- another extra-curricular lesson to make ourselves feel like we're doing everything we need to do for our kids, just like a good parent should.

5) Inertia -- Sometimes it's just easier to not do anything at all. So if your kids have been signed up for Little League for the past two years, the reality of checking in with them every season to see if they're still into it may seem a bit daunting. You know how kids get: a barrage of complaints or some reason why it's no longer a good idea for them to aim for sliding into Home Base will be their response if you ask the question, and who wants to deal with that? "If it aint broke, don't fix it," we think as we pile the kids into the minivan for their umpteenth attempt at striking out the batter.

While some of us are not willing to admit to the reasons behind why our kids are in lessons, many of us will see a glimmer of truth in what's been suggested here. The reality is that as much as we'd like to believe that our decision to put our children in extra-curricular classes is completely based on wanting to expose them to different experiences, in our heart of hearts, we know better. In many instances, the schedule of lessons says so much more about us than it does about our kids.

Yes, exposing our children to different experiences is a positive thing.

Yes, providing our kids with hockey, soccer, ballet, and dance lessons is honourable, in many cases. After all, it is what is expected of us as kind and engaged parents.

Yes, an active child is a healthy child. An active child is also one that gets into less trouble. "The Devil makes work for idle hands," you know.

That being said, you can have too much of a good thing.

When soccer lessons become a bore and your child is feigning illness in an attempt to avoid yet another after-school activity, it's time to hang up the cleats and call it a day. The game will go on without him and when it does, you may be surprised to find a happier and more engaged he'll feel. Ultimately, the best way of connecting with your child is without distractions and mandatory sports time. So let him get benched this one time and let the chips fall where they may.