(NOTE: I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a few months. I wrote it months ago and then chickened out on posting because I know I’ll get some push back on it. But I’ve talked to even more mommas lately whose hearts are aching to take their family nights back and for them, I will be brave and post.)
So let me first start by saying, I love sports. I grew up playing sports. I love having my kids in extracurricular activities. I am not bashing families who have their kids involved in things. But I want to talk to the heart of the momma who is EXHAUSTED from running her kids somewhere every night during every season. I just want to say to her, I get it. I get you. I understand sweet momma and you are not alone.
Last year I read a book called “Just Too Busy: Taking Your Family on a Radical Sabattical” by Joanne Kraft. It’s about a family who took off the entire year from everything that didn’t have to do with family (hard to imagine, right??). They didn’t do sports, they didn’t do piano, dance, scouts, lessons or any of the other activities that have our families going nutty every night through the week and most weekends. It was an intriguing idea. Our family had been exhausted from a long baseball and football season that fall. But as I was reading the book, we were in the middle of an unexpected, unplanned 4 month break during the winter months that was allowing our family to regroup. This was the first time in years and years that we didn’t have anyone in a sport or activity. And we were able to reconnect. To stare at a television together. To do a puzzle. And you know what? It was heavenly. I finished the book and then spring, summer and fall sports began for us again.
Then, a few months ago, baseball and soccer ended for my kids. And I breathed a sigh of relief. And the truth is, I think MY KIDS breathed a sigh of relief too. While they LOVE playing sports, they also love being at home. I assumed we would have a 4 month break as a family again like we did last winter and I couldn’t wait!!! But then our oldest son threw us a curve ball. He asked us if he could play basketball this fall and winter (which we has played in the past). Then, our middle kiddo was offered a chance to play on a Lego robotics team that would require practices two evenings a week and a couple of Saturdays a month this winter. In addition, the place where our daughter has been taking horseback riding lessons asked us if we would like to continue her lessons through the winter in the indoor facility? And for a split second, my husband and I discussed all of them. But then …. we remembered last winter. We remembered how it felt to be home at night. We remembered board games and fires in the fireplace and getting homework done NOT in the backseat of our car. We remembered sitting down to dinner and actually being in bed on time. We remembered weekends with absolutely nothing on the schedule and how insanely wonderful that feels. And we said no. No to all 3 of our kids. No to allllllllllllll of those activities for the winter, without guilt and without remorse.
This is what I see happening with us and with our generation of parents in general. We want to give our kids every opportunity possible, so we have fallen for society convincing us that in order to do that, we need to start them out early doing a million things and being involved in a million activities from the time they are just toddlers. It’s such b.s. And if you have a toddler, I know what you are thinking, “this will never happen to us. We will never overcommit.”. Can I tell you young mommas that overcommitting sneaks up on you. Overcommitting is sly and operates in stealth mode. It comes in a pretty package and gives you alllllll the benefits, but doesn’t tell you alllllllllllll the costs. By the time you realize you’re on the overcommitted, crazy train, you’re already on the train. Know what I mean??? None of us 40 something’s planned overcommitting either. Trust me on this.
So now, as our oldest son is 1/2 way thru middle school, and I’m starting to watch kids drop out of organized teams left and right. And I’m seeing that some of these kids have been playing the same sport since they were 3, 4, or 5 years old. They are now 12, 13, and 14 year old kiddos and frankly, they are burnt out. They are great little athletes, but they just want to still be kids. And do kid stuff. And have kid time. And I don’t blame them.
Once when our middle kiddo was around 9 we were asking him about playing on a competitive soccer team. He’s great at soccer. He’s fast, he loves it. He tried out for a competitive team and he made it and my momma heart was proud. But then he found out practices were 3 days a week for 9 months and there were weekend games and he wanted NO part of it. I remember saying to him, “well Easton what do you want to do instead?”, thinking like so many parents do that he needs to do SOMETHING (also b.s.). And I’ll never as long as I live forget his answer. He said “I just want to be a kid.” How can I argue with that logic???? So wise for his age. So we found him a 6 week-long soccer program and he was happy. The rest of the time after school, he is jumping on the trampoline with neighbor kids, playing Legos, playing Mindcraft. He is not on a schedule and that’s what he prefers.
If we as parents think that burnout only occurs in grown ups, we are sadly mistaken. Because here’s the deal, our oldest son LOVES sports. He loves sports with everything in him. I know it’s both physically and mentally good for him. I know it builds character. I know, I know, I know. But hear me out. One of the lies I am convinced that we are telling ourselves is that since our kids are enjoying it, we should let them do it. And the truth is, my kids also would enjoy having ice cream for dinner every night but I’m not going to allow them to do that. My kids would also enjoy staying up until midnight most evenings. But because I can see the problem that it’s going to create tomorrow, I don’t allow it to happen. When we are overcommitted in our after school activities, it affects everyone in the family. It’s a family deal. Our son Noah practiced and played baseball from February – October this year. And we have two other children who need our family unit together and who DO NOT love baseball. So, we had to coax the other kids to go to all of the baseball stuff while keeping peace in the family because they “don’t want to sit and freeze on the bleachers” every weekend and frankly, they shouldn’t have to. I’m all about brothers and sisters supporting each other, but where is the line? They deserve a say too. If they wanted to sit and watch 6 baseball games in a weekend, they would have signed up to play themselves, ya know?
We also had to figure out how to get said children from point A to point B for every activity. In the fall, with one kiddo playing soccer, one in horseback riding lessons and one in baseball, my husband and I found ourselves just passing each other as we were coming and going. He’s taking one or two kids and I’m taking one or two kids and when on earth is our family ever having a family dinner? And when on earth do he and I have time for each other because the kid’s stuff is taking ALL OF OUR TIME???? And the very best, best, BEST thing I can do for my children and you can do for your children is to have a strong marriage with their father. And strong marriages require face time. They require more than a date night once a quarter. When our kid’s activities are running us ragged, our marriages feeeeeeeeeeeel it.
Society has brainwashed us into thinking that in order for our children to be able to compete at a very good and competitive level when they’re in high school or college, that they’ll have to start earlier and earlier and earlier. It’s such a crock of crap. Right now I see kids everyday with injuries in elementary school and junior high. These injuries are going to prevent them from playing when they are in high school and college because their poor bodies are worn out! The truth is, if they have a God-given ability to perform well in a certain sports, it doesn’t matter if they were 6 or if they’re 16 they are still going to have that same ability. And for the love….. can some coaches just throttle it back a notch on HOW MANY DAYS A WEEK these kids are expected to participate in sports????? Seriously. 5 nights a week for football practice + Saturday mornings for a 3rd grader is absurd. There, I said it. I know some brave mother will agree with me. I would rather my kids play on a losing team that put FAMILY and FAITH before sports than a winning team who takes all of their time ….. every.stinkin.day.of.the.year.
Listen, this may sting a little, but it needs to be said. The likelihood of my children or your children being an incredible athlete, who is insanely gifted, who will eventually be offered millions of dollars in sponsorships and contracts and opportunities at the professional level is very slim. The chance of them even playing in college is slim. However, the chance of them someday having a family is very high. So are we putting too much emphasis on the wrong thing?????? Our kids need to know that the crazy train isn’t normal. The crazy train doesn’t build strong families. All of these games and tournaments and practices and whatever appear to be all good and wonderful opportunities on the outside, but to what degree is our family unit suffering and at what point are we as parents going to put our foot down and say just say no?
I am committed to raising my children in a way that makes them put the priority on family . So for this next season we will be home. Yes, we will still see our friends. Yes, we will still be social. But we are also going to take from now until February to regroup as a family just like we did last year. And I can tell you mommas…. YOU set the pace for your family. Your family will follow YOUR lead. These kickball groups and soccer leagues and baseball tournaments and football things – they’re going to go by the wayside. Our kids need to understand the value of spending time together as a family even if it means foregoing sports on Sundays so that we can actually be sitting in a church pew together.
And if you’re already thinking that you’re going to get a lot of heat from all the other parents that you’re not letting your kids participate on the team for a minute, I can tell you that MANY mommas feel like you do. They are just nervous to say it out loud. This is not a popular sentiment. But there will come a time in everyone’s family when we will start to yearn for a simpler way of doing things.
Please hear my heart, this is not condemning those families who are over committed. Because WE were that family. WE have overcommitted. We more than likely will overcommit again. We have been on the crazy train. I get it! This is a blog post to encourage those families, especially those mothers, who wonder how in the heck do they get their family to slow down?! One of the first ways is to start saying no to some of the nonsense. You can do it. It doesn’t have to be no forever, it can be no for a season so you can get your family bearings back about you. Say no and do not feel guilty about it.
Know that I am FOR you and I am FOR the family. I am NOT anti-sports. I am NOT anti-anything. I am just merely typing out loud what many of us mommas are feeling.
It starts with us mommas. Taking back our family time starts with us.
I’m rooting for you,