extra curricular activities have always been a fun thing to participate in…until they are not. it's something i try to rethink every year. is this still fun? is it still right for this girl right now? can i afford this next level? sometimes the answer has to be, "no." the year came when ballet just wasn't right anymore. the year came when a new interest trumped an outgrown one. the time came when a desire was no longer an option for our family. it can be hard to walk away from an activity…as much, or more, for mama as for the intended participant. a cherished circle of friends is not so readily maintained, and yet we know it's time to move on…so we do.
we're talking about making fewer ends, so it makes sense for us to consider monetary commitment when it comes to extra curricular activities. in our family, we're all happier living within our means. i've never shied away from letting the girls know a bit about our financial situation. they know why we choose to live the way we do and what that means for our finances. i try to talk about our choices in a positive way. the good always outweighs the sacrifice, and they've always been able to understand that.
i understand that it's not always quite that easy to give up an activity though. there are a lot of opinions about how to deal with kid's activities and pressures are all around us:
~expose them to everything! you never know what they'll be good at.
~find a way to help them be exceptional at at least one thing. how else will they stand out on a college application?
~if you're not in your minivan all afternoon, well…what do you do all day?
~your identity comes from answering, "i'm soooo busy!" to every "how are you?" question.
yep. i've felt all of the above.
i had to get creative about exposure. we were blessed to live in places that offered inexpensive weeklong summer classes in rock climbing, horseback riding, art, soccer, and costume making through church and a local community college. i loved using my creative talents coming up with craft camps of our own and having friends over to do projects with. if a special interest arose, i did my best to find creative ways to indulge them. jo and julia love horses, so for some birthday or christmas gifts they received monthly horseback riding lessons for a few months.
i want my girls to enjoy their extra activities period. making friends, learning to follow instructions, moving their bodies, exercising their minds, and doing their best are added benefits and better life lessons than the pressure to be exceptional. if they want to excel at something, they can choose to work hard and i will do my best to support that effort.
i've never had to work too hard to curb overcommitment, since my budget doesn't allow for it…but, i was always happy that my girls had time to relax and play. i don't fit in with all the moms, and that's ok. i know that my choices are right for my family.
as finances and choices allow, one family may decide to choose one activity per child at a time, another may allow one musical instrument plus one sport, and still another family might decide romps in the woods and following interests at home are the right choice for them. one child might love taking piano lessons and the other might enjoy taking small electronics apart in order to learn and investigate.
vive la difference!
embrace their interests…and your budget. leave them time to explore, imagine, and play. i love for my girls to have the chance to explore new skills and fortunately most things involve little more than a library book and some space. the girls have taught themselves to do gymnastics, write novels, and play the piano and ukelele. sometimes i have to remind myself that it's ok if they can't do everything right now. they can get a black belt when they are over the age of 18, if they want to. there isn't a time limit on learning. struggling to pay the bill (or spending every afternoon trapped in a minivan) is too much…for me and for them.
in case i haven't quite been clear: reevaluate the kids' extra-curriculars. decide what budget you want to have for them. switch the order of those first two steps if necessary. decrease the amount of activities, if you want to. talk to them about what you are choosing instead, and why it's good. get creative about exposing your kids to new things. could you teach them to do yoga? could a group of mom-friends get together and each offer a morning teaching a skill to all their kids? could you gather kids from the neighborhood and play soccer on sunday afternoons with them? maybe spending time with them would be better for everyone than you having to stress and work extra to pay for activities and then spending all afternoon in the car waiting for him at taekwondo.