Diary of a Gen X Mom: Lessons, Not Leagues

On how quickly overscheduling of children happens

Eldest daughter in a mock track and field event. I’m was thrilled I caught her feet up on one of the hurdles.

I am highly resistant to organized extracurricular activities for elementary age children. It was easy when we lived in London as there isn’t a culture of tot team sports. Schools still teach games, and there are far more pay-as-you-go, one-off lessons than Little Leagues.

When we moved home, I resisted professional advice about the benefits of organized activities. I resisted other parents pretty easily. I found it harder to resist family pressure that the children should be doing sports. But it was the kids that finally got me. They wanted to do things that their friends were doing, and all of their friends were doing organized sports.

So after a year back, I organized four activities, one each for the older kids, another for the 4 year old twins, and then one for them all to do together.

I deliberately chose lessons, not leagues. I wasn’t about to get into the three-a-week practices and games-on-weekends mire.

Just two weeks in, and I’d had it. Everyone was stressed out and our number of home cooked family dinners — that champion correlate for child mental and physical health and best budgeting practice — plummeted. We spent the majority of our after school time in the car. In traffic. And we weren’t having discussions about our days or the news like we do at the dinner table. No, my kids had started honing their ability to time screaming or bickering to me exiting complicated parking spaces or merging onto the highway. (We didn’t have a car in London. They were learning a new skill. Yea.)

A good portion of the time not in the car involved scarfing down an after school snack and then nagging the children to get into their gear and get into the car. They had liked the idea of the lessons when it was summer and time abounded. But after a day in school, following rules and being quiet — and there are a lot of rules in US schools — they just wanted to chill and be kids. They actually threw my David Elkind arguments back at me. My eldest daughter found a copy of The Power of Play on my bookshelf. She and her brother dove in and I had a proud moment of parenting triumph before I snapped out of it and realized that I was arguing with my children to do organized activities that they had pressured me into signing them up to do.

Around that time I got rear ended on the 610 Loop on the way to the group activity. It is one of the most traffic congested intersections in the country and the consummate absurdity of it all hit me as the tow truck driver and policeman helped me transfer my children from my car to the cab of the tow truck on the shoulder of that Texas highway interchange in rush hour.

So what’s a mom to do? I stopped taking them. I didn’t let them quit. I quit for them, without mentioning it. It took about two weeks for them to ask about their activities. Oh, the wails of protest that reached my ears! They were bored.

I eventually figured out that hanging with their friends wasn’t a goal of the activities, but really the only goal. That’s why my ‘lessons, not leagues’ didn’t work. The kids wanted to socialize and their friends were in leagues, not lessons.

Problem is, for the kids it’s social, but for many parents pushing the trend, it’s a whole lot more — scholarships and glory. I don’t want my children swept into any sort of league vortex. Which gets us to…next week’s post.

This is third in a series, Diary of a Gen X Mom. Last week’s entry: