“We’re too busy to have fun”

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It's that time for us - our little boy is nearing school-going age, and my browser history is filled with one prospectus after the next. We weigh up options: what is offered, what we want, what we dislike, even whether we like the website starts playing a role. I don't think my parents did any of this: it was closest school - done.

In the search I have come across the sometimes multi-page lists of extra-mural activities. Even though a few years off, I take a look. Karate, sure. Rugby, my brothers played, so yes. Cricket, tennis, swimming - why not. Then there's art, music, dancing, chess, science club, gymnastics, photography, cooking club and yes, it all sounds good. But no, it cannot all be done.

Who are our kids doing this for?

Of course we want to answer that this is for our children. Team sports can teach valuable lessons, even for the future work place. Music is said to stimulate the mind. Dancing keeps the body supple, competition teaches how to be a good (hopefully) competitor. Everyone must be able to swim for their own safety, right?

I'll save you from drowning as soon as I send this SMS

That might sound a bit harsh, but almost every time I visit our local gym's pool, there are a couple of kids splashing around without supervision, even though the sign clearly states that kids are not allowed by themselves. Go look for the parents, and they will be on a treadmill or pumping weights, or having a smoothie at the coffee shop. Even the parents that are waiting on the side of the pool usually have their noses in their cell phones. So are we really letting kids partake for their own benefit, or are we pushing them a bit in order to buy ourselves an hour or three with a book?

Time can catch up with you

A few extra classes could buy you some time - especially if the activity takes place at school. For Johann, dad of two teenagers, this used to be true. When still in primary school, sport and music lessons meant an extra hour at the office, before having to dodge cars to transport kids from school to home. In high school this "buying time" caught up with him. Both his son and daughter achieved provincial colours, and suddenly weekends and holidays had to be arranged around their sport schedules. "The price you pay for having talented kids", smiles a proud father.

Better than TV

In some cases, being able to have children stay at school longer is an answer to a prayer. Most families have to have two working parents, and even those that give up the office job, often still work from home - in addition to taking care of the children - to make ends meet. If in a busy day the only alternative would be a kid alone at home with only the TV as company, some extra time at school taking part in an activity with friends might just be the better choice.

In the end, as with so many things, it is about balance. So here are a few of the things I'll keep in mind when it is my kid's turn:
  • It is about him, not me. He must enjoy the activity.
  • I must be at as many matches / performances / competitions as possible.
  • It is okay to make time for myself, as long as I also make time for him.
Are your kids overburdened with extramural activities?
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