Why An Unscheduled Afternoon Benefits {My} Kids

I am going to let you in on a dirty little secret. Outside of one 7 week disastrous stint with gymnastics and spring baseball, we are a “no after school activities” household. By this I mean that if it requires mom or dad to pick you up and transport you elsewhere for a stated time, we are 95% of the time a hard “no.” I already hear many of you. In fact, some of you are my closest friends. “But my kid loves art!” “My husband played soccer for 98 seasons and wants to share that with our son.” “I danced for 19 years and my daughters will miss out if they don’t dance, too!”

I hear that, I really do. I, too, dabbled in many sports and extracurricular activities over the years, but the difference is that they were largely when I was a tad older OR happened during the summer at a variety of camps. Summers were the time that I was encouraged and allowed to explore my interest in sailing, piano, clarinet, art, gymnastics and whatever else sounded fun at the time. After school I was more often found riding my bike or playing with neighborhood kids. That is why I urge any stressed, crazed, overwhelmed mom to ask yourself one question: why?

Why did you sign him up for art?

Why is soccer on your schedule?

Why did you add dance?

Do I think that there are some kids and some sports and some extracurriculars that add value or are worth it? A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y. But do I think that many of us are doing far too much, far too soon? I do.

Imagine this. Your child wakes up sometime between 6:00 and 7:00am. Do you burst out of bed with smiles and giggles and cheers of, “yay, I love my alarm?” I doubt it. I know I don’t. Even as an adult it is hard to pull myself from a warm bed and start the day. Then your very small child is dropped off to school or perhaps daycare where they are away from the comfort of their home for 6-9 hours. They have to poop in a strange potty (yep, I went there), they have to meet the demands of dozens of adults, they have to stretch their minds, they have to use their manners and they have to be measured coming and going. By tests and teachers and standards and friends. They are asked to stand in line, use their listening ears, share their toys, rest quietly on a mat and refrain from hitting and biting. All of this is GOOD, but it does require energy, brain space and immense effort on their part. All day, every day. When they are still quite little.

At 3:00pm, mom or dad or whomever arrives. Can’t you imagine that sigh of relief? Ahhhhhhh. I can relax. I can let my guard down. I can cry. I can be cranky. I can be me without any expectation of being perfect. I know many of us lament how ornery our kids are after school, but from what I gather that behavior is totally normal! In fact, it may be a sign that our kids are comfortable letting their emotions out with us. Again, this is a GOOD thing. Hard, but good. Our children hop in that car and likely think “whew – finally I can drive off into the blissful sunset and just be.”

But wait.

Now I have to change my clothes in the back seat of a minivan in crammed quarters or be whisked away to the next activity or practice handwriting in my “car seat” that quite frankly my mom had far outgrown by this age. I have to eat dinner on the go or watch my big sister “practice” piano yet again. And I just want to go home. I want my toys. I want my lovey. I want my toilet. I want to get out of my school uniform and …. relax. Do nothing. Reset. Rest.

I don’t know about you all, but by 4:00pm on many days I am done with a capital “D.” I am almost 37, and I can barely make it through a full day without begging for respite by sundown. When I stop and think about my precious kids and what being away from home all day might feel like, I can only imagine they might feel the same. And I also think kids largely will do what we ask. If they think we want them playing flag football, they will. If they know mommy loved ballet, they want our adoration. But do we stop and ask our kids at 3:30pm “what sounds like fun to you?” And then listen? I know that tons of kids look forward to – and benefit from – certain extracurricular activities. My 7 year old son loves baseball! But I am speaking more to the fact that on the flipside, I do not think that every day all year has to include something “extra” in it.

Ultimately I just worry that kids are given so little time to decompress and play and just be these days. So for now we  – in this house and under this roof – are a {mostly} “no extracurricular” home. After school we … do nothing. Maybe we get ice cream, maybe we run an errand, but largely we come home and my kids play. They play outside, or they play on their tablets (gasp!), or they play with their toys or they zone out on Disney. And I don’t feel bad or apologize for it.

In fact, I think I am giving them a gift most of us want as adults – scheduled, routine downtime – and it lowers my household stress, too. If my kid were begging to do ballet, would I oblige? Of course. As they get older, might I reconsider? Yes.

But for now, at this tender age of three children under 6, our calendar from 4:00pm on is largely white space. It is free in every sense of the word, and I know that one day I will miss the giggles and imaginative play and Disney jangles that fill our home. I tend to I think they are learning to play independently, without guidance or boundaries or structured rules. They are learning to take an hour or two of time and fill it with what’s around them. If they say they are bored, I suggest a book or outdoor play and they move right along.

If you’re a mom who races from activity to activity to activity, I salute you. And if you love it as much as your kids, I think that’s awesome! But at the same time, if you are resentful in any small way of that crazy race … I’d encourage you to take a season off and see what you think. It won’t cost a thing.

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Ashley is the Co-Owner of New Orleans Mom, Red Stick Mom and Lafayette Mom, now the largest network of parenting websites in South Louisiana. Proud graduates of the University of Virginia, she and her husband Blaise spent time in Tampa and Scottsdale prior to settling down back home in New Orleans, something they both said "would never happen." An avid runner, she'll try any workout at least once and is always up for sweating with friends. When she’s not shuttling her 3 very active kids to school, gymnastics or baseball, you can find her cheering for the Saints, trying new restaurants or spending time with family and friends. She's also not afraid to return mediocre books to the library before finishing them because life is too short for bad books. A native New Orleanian, Ashley loves exploring and discovering the beauty of South Louisiana through her growing children's eyes.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I needed to read this!
    I remember asking you if I’d survive having baby #3?
    I’m still standing but this is definitely a good reminder.
    Xo

  2. I love everything about this post. I have felt this way for years with my 2 girls, 10 & 8.
    Our hard limit is any activity that would require us to travel, takes up our weekends or evenings. I’m all about summer activities too.

    More moms (and dads) would benefit from your wisdom!

  3. YES YES and YES!!!
    We to are an activity free home aftet school. Mt son is 6 and when and if he wants to play a sport I will be there! But for now, we love our free play time after school

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