Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Extras - #NaBloPoMo 5

Work-life balance at swim lessons.
Last night I attended a book talk at the JCC, entitled "Modern Parenting," which featured my neighbor Carla Naumburg and Jennifer Senior, discussing their two recently published books. I was really excited to hear both of them speak on a topic that I always find interesting, and I enjoyed the evening thoroughly.

A portion of Senior's book (and something she touches on in her TED talk, which I wrote about last spring) is a deep discussion of extracurricular activities and the effect they have on both children and their parents lives. She also touches on issues of class and race, because even if extracurricular activities don't strike you as having anything to do with class and race, you're failing to notice something very important. I won't go into all of it here, but I recommend reading her book just for that section alone.

With two kids in elementary school, I felt like we'd been able to limit extracurricular activities fairly easily, up until this year. Now that Hannah is in fifth grade, I think the list of things she does has exploded a bit. She goes to Hebrew school three days a week, takes swim lessons, is in All City choir, plays clarinet, sometimes goes to school early for additional play practices, is taking a free class on television production, has been going to once a month parties for fifth graders, and goes to after school care on three afternoons each week. Some of those activities occur during school or aftercare, so it's not necessarily more driving for us. We use carpools too. We're making it all work, and she's really enjoying herself, but it feels like a lot to me. And instead of making me feel proud, it makes me feel a little guilty. Are we hitting that over-scheduled level?

Now as I type this, she's watching a TV show with her brother. She's resting, not stressed and running from thing to thing. She has time to help with stuff around the house, and does her own laundry. But I couldn't help asking Senior last night: what do busy families do to manage all of this without going insane? Much as I wanted confirmation that we're doing all the right things, Senior reminded me, there are no guarantees about any of these parenting choices, and we're making a lot of this up as we go. But she emphasized that if Hannah is happy and choosing to do these things mostly of her own accord (for example, Hebrew school is not negotiable for us), then we're doing okay. She also suggested involving Hannah in the logistics of all of this, which we've been starting to do now that she has her own email address and cell phone.

The other side of the coin is that it's not just the kids who have their extras. I have them too (and so does Marc). After all, I was the one out at a book talk. And I'm coincidentally going to another one tomorrow. I have this blog and the occasional writing beyond it, LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER, my synagogue's Holocaust remembrance committee, the Board of Directors for Hannah's overnight camp, my women's networking group with the terrible name, and other random events and commitments. We're also looking at doing renovations to our home, and at some point we need to start planning Hannah's bat mitzvah. Am I hitting that over-scheduled level for me? And if I'm not there yet, can I really take on any more?

I know I'm thinking about it a lot. I was asked about a commitment that's at least a year off, but it would probably be bigger than almost anything else I've listed so far. But it also has the chance for an impact far bigger than myself, and that could mean a lot to me. I haven't made any decisions yet, but I don't take any of it lightly.

So it makes me wonder. What are your extras? What are your non-negotiables? Where do you want your impact to lie? Hey, impact wasn't my word of the year for nothing. I hope you'll share your experiences with me, and maybe we can help guide each other.


  1. How funny that you posted this when you did and BTW I'm sad I didn't get to go to the book reading, it is one I know I would have enjoyed having the book here in our home. I was recently asked to join the board of our pool club and I had to really think could I fit it in to our schedule? Both girls have ballet classes (Ally 3x a week, Jess currently 1x but adding another very soon) in the Fall they both have soccer, I am the leader for each of their girl scout troops (we meet 1x a month for each troop so that's 2x for me) and I recently became the school coordinator for Girl Scouts for our Elementary school which adds me to their board. I am the Spring Gala chair for our school and on the board of the education foundation that hosts that event. Whew just writing it out seems like a lot. After much thought I turned down the offer of the board position I just don't have the time within what I already juggle. I think the advice shared and how your daughter is handling her extras is the right thing to do IMHO. We ask our girls if they wish to continue soccer and/or ballet. Our little will be putting ballet on hold over the summer as she's asked to join the pool club swim team and we realize the time commitment to do both is tough. She will likely take up ballet again when team is over. My girls still have time for play dates and homework and so that makes me feel we have not yet over extended their time. I hope you see that in yourselves too! Thanks for sharing great post!

  2. I am totally in the same place. We have 3 kids and the youngest, 4, just gets dragged around. She has preschool and Sunday school, but that's it. My oldest plays soccer, trumpet, is involved in scouts and is also in Sunday school. My middle son is playing competitive soccer, does karate and also has Sunday school. In the spring, we will likely shift to baseball, and in the summer they are involved in all sorts of activities. Throw in the occasional Science Night, birthday party, camping trip ... you get the picture. I feel like the activities we have them in make them well-rounded individuals, but there are only so many hours in the day. I also want them to simply have time to play. And like you, I have a zillion things on my plate too - between writing, blogging, volunteering at our church, PTA work and the full-time job. Sigh! It's crazy. I hope we are making the right choices, and like you, I try to gauge how my kids feel. Church classes are also non-negotiables for us. And once we sign up with a team, we commit to the season. I read Senior's book as well. It definitely made me think. I think I feel like there are all of these opportunities at the moment and I just don't want to miss out. Looking for guidance too. :)


  3. Ok, so I will post on here vs. FV so as not to upset my parents. I was very involved in high school once I could drive or if I had rides to things. But growing up I was only allowed to do one thing once a week. I loved horses so much, of course that was it. Horseback riding. And I am guessing you know which of your friends this is. But until I was involved in high school, that was it. I wanted to take ice skating lessons really badly. And tap dancing. I wanted to learn how to play piano. I wanted to learn how to paint. But my parents told me I could only do that if I gave up the horseback riding. So that is all I did until high school. And then in high school our honors class did that talent show. Since I couldn't bring in a horse, I think I was the only one who couldn't participate. I felt horrible every day as I watched the rest of you practice for it and get ready. Nevermind everyone talking about what they were doing. I was so embarrassed. I don't know how to play any instrument. I am not artistic. I can't dance. I can ice skate, but enough to keep me upright and skate better than friends. Other than that, I hated not being involved in things. I don't feel well rounded at all. I don't know why my parents would stunt my enthusiasm like that. And it still bothers me. So my son will get the chance to try as much as he wants as long as it doesn't make him too tired, affect his grades, his health, or his sleep. Once I finally could participate in high school I did Key Club, National Honor Society volunteering, riding, a youth group at church, helped run canned food drives, had a job, still rode horses, volunteered with riding for physically challenged kids, dated, hiked often with friends, babysat, and other misc. stuff. I loved it. It was the happiest overall I have felt with my hobbies and extracurriculars in my entire life. As an adult, I have taken extra college classes just to learn more. I tried to teach myself piano when I couldn't afford lessons at the time due to my horse. I will take lessons one day. I taught myself how to crochet and took a few local classes. I love stuff like that. Parents, please don't not let your kids do stuff they want to try. It can have a lasting effect. Just make sure it isn't overkill and I think you're okay. And balance the needs of the family as well. Great topic. Thanks for writing.