Oh, if only the minivan had a bathroom.

Whether you have one child or {ahem} more than one child involved in after-school activities then you feel my pain. Yes, it is a total joy to watch them grow and flourish in dance, soccer, martial arts, music and the like, it’s also an Olympic sport. Where is my gold medal for getting three kids four different places, Sochi? Bilocation anyone?

Nicole recently asked about our kid shuffle. Here’s what works for us, but boy, would I love to hear what works for you!

Managing the after school shuffle

1. Assess your child’s gifts and check your ego at the door. In the early years, we tried exposing our children to as many different activities as possible. We knew they couldn’t discover a gift unless they first tried it out. As parents, we tend to default with what we know. I was in 4-H, so we started a 4-H club. Perhaps your family digs music or art, sports or community service. To each his own, I say. Let your kids explore what they want, within reason, and find and cultivate their gifts.

2. Make choices. Once our children reach middle school we began paring down the “we must do this activity” list. Do they love it or do you want them to love it? There’s a big difference. We learned our lesson the hard way with child number one. Guitar sounded like a great activity for him, but two months in he hated it and we were tired of nagging him to practice. It just wasn’t worth it, so we packed away the strings and moved on to something else. And that’s okay. Our job as parents is to help our kids discover and love their gifts and it’s highly possible they are different than yours.

I share these two because they have a dramatic effect on your “life after school.” Get in over your head and you’ll be eating dinner at 4pm or 10pm, waking up cranky children because they were up too late and feeling frazzled because you have zero downtime as a family.

3. Be smart. You can enroll your kids in 8,000 activities or you can scale it back and do one a season. The latter has been our approach. It’s simple math at our house. The kids simply can’t be in more than one activity at a time. I mean, YES, they could. But then I would have zero life and we would be spending our entire afternoons in the minivan. That’s not a life I prefer, thankyouverymuch.

4. Sign up with friends. It’s not always possible, but when it is, consider enrolling your children in activities with other classmates or friends. You can trade off carpooling duties, plus your kids get a chance to get to know a classmate better. Memories are always sweeter when made with people you love. Recently, our daughter and almost the entire third-grade class of girls enrolled in basketball. The league ended up splitting the girls into two teams, but the coaches collaborated and the girls practice together. We run a rotating carpool in our neighborhood and it is simply awesome.

5. Think about locations. Does one kid have to be at an activity near your house, while another has to be downtown, 20 minutes away? When considering activities, first take note of where they are and where practices may be held. It might be worth an extra $15-20 to find a location closer that keeps you on the road less and out of the crazy house. It also might keep you from having your six-year-old pee in a pull-up because there just aren’t any nearby bathrooms. Hey, don’t judge. It was my McGyver moment.

6. Keep a calendar. Last week my oldest accidentally erased my entire iPhone calendar. I know, I cried too. It was just as horrible as you can image. Or not. As I was re-entering the mounds and mounds of data and making frantic phone calls to various offices, a beautiful thing happened. We ended up cutting some things from the calendar because we were forced to ask ourselves the question: should we really be doing this? I’m not advocating erasing your calendar – it’s effective, but a teeny bit stressful – but I am saying that taking a hard look at where you spend your time is time well spent.

7. Communicate with your spouse. Every Sunday evening, Scott and I have a family logistics meeting. We talk about our week, his work schedule and where everyone needs to be. It has saved the frantic 9-1-1 call and one of us screaming, “Why aren’t you here to pick up the kids?!”

8. Recognize that sometimes it just doesn’t work. The best plans, even when scheduled, talked about and mapped out on your iPhone Google map just can’t happen. It’s okay to miss. That’s life. We don’t make skipping out on things a habit, but we also don’t feel guilty when it does.

9. Saving the best advice for last. Why are you participating in this activity? Y’all, I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve seen parents push their kids to excel at a sport or event for hours – HOURS – for their own ego. Should we encourage our children to try new things, do their very best and learn a new skill? Absolutely. But we also have to be realistic. They can’t all be professional athletes or world-acclaimed musicians. We’ve found that when we push our kids for all the right reasons but in all the wrong directions it usually ends in crash and burn. Don’t be that parent. Don’t live in a dream world. Be sensitive to your child. His hopes. His dreams. His loves. And, there, you’ll find your joy.

12 Comments

  1. Kellie on February 10, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Great article! At what age do you let your kids join an activity?

    Thanks!
    Kellie

    • Kathryn on February 10, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      We typically wait until school-age, 5 or older. And, even then, it’s usually just one activity for the whole year. Our involvement has varied with each kid and his/her temperament and interests.

      • Kellie on February 11, 2014 at 5:13 am

        Thank you!

  2. Dianne on February 10, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Awesome advice, Kathryn! I agree with each point wholeheartedly, but especially #7. Greg and I do the exact same thing; after the kids go to bed Sunday evening, we sit down, electronic and paper calendars on the coffee table, and discuss the week. It gives us a chance to not only look at the kids’ schedules and our work schedules, but also to see when he and I are getting a little couple time, and we can schedule that as well. We also usually pray together, that the week will be a relatively uneventful one, with good health for everyone in the family, and as little bickering as possible!

    • Kathryn on February 10, 2014 at 9:30 pm

      Dianne, I love that y’all take the time to add prayer into your Sunday evening ritual, too. I think we may do that as well!

  3. verdinalouisa on February 10, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Once again, you’ve nailed it!

    When is that book coming out?

    Love you!
    V

  4. Jamie Peterson on February 10, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for this great post! Great tips, especially now that spring is just around the corner, which brings soccer, horse riding, and 4-H projects into full swing for our five kiddos.

  5. melody on February 10, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Actually, we took a completely different route. After years of living in the car and various sports facilities, we left the rat race entirely. Our two oldest were nationally recognized in their various sports/events. Everything was exciting and pointing up, up, up. But after serious discernment, we came to the conclusion that the activities were sucking our family bone dry of the energy and focus we needed for ongoing spiritual discernment. So we quit cold turkey and got our family back. And the kids (who wandered around aimlessly for a little while at first) discovered a million other things they enjoyed and were really good at but that didn’t require the price of their spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical life blood.
    It was an extreme response but God has blessed it. If you’re interested, here was an update a year into our departure from our former life. We are not hermits but we have stepped outside of the customary box… http://mamaslittleditty.blogspot.com/2013/02/when-busy-is-beautiful.html

    • Kathryn on February 10, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks for sharing your link, and your advice, Melody. Sometimes a big change is what’s needed. It sounds like your family has found some deserved peace. Good for y’all!

  6. Nicole on February 10, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    We are great at #1 and #2, it’s when you get down to #3 and #4 that things go haywire for us. Our son is a huge sports fan, and is trying to figure out what he wants to do. The problem is living in the cold midwest where outdoor activities overlap. The months of May and June almost do me in, and I hear it from many parents in my area. Add in his little sister, who is trying new things… I think the hardest part for me is not being able to see that game winning shot my son had in his game since I am at a soccer game for the other.

    Tardy to the party, my husband and I have recently embraced the Google calendar, and are now consulting it before we hit the grocery store for our weekly grocery run. Activities in the evenings mean a simpler, faster dinner prep on those nights.

    Thanks, Kathryn, for addressing my HDYDI! Great post!!!! 🙂

    • Kathryn on February 10, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      May and December are of the devil. So much crazy. I’m doing everything I can to simplify life those two months. Sometimes weeks are just crazy, it happens. But I try to make those the exception and not the norm.

  7. Joy on February 12, 2014 at 1:11 am

    We have a potty chair in the back of our van. Just pull up the window shades for privacy and make sure you get one with a lid. You can put a diaper in there to absorb anything. It has made potty training and driving a 3, 2, and 0 year old around SO MUCH easier; some of my friends have put potties in their vans too 😉

    And I’ll be straight up tmi… It was there for me in dire circumstances with my previous pregnancy. :/

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