With today's families getting busier and busier, it's no wonder that one of the questions so frequently asked by moms and dads everywhere is, "How do we balance our child's extracurricular activities and family life?" That is a tough question that many parents face each day. Combine finding time for families with the pressure to involve your child in extracurricular activities and you have a recipe for overscheduled, exhausted and frustrated families. However, you don't need to lose sleep over this problem if you follow a few simple ideas.
- Talk to your child. Find out what he wants to do. So many times children have a million things that they would like to try--sports, scouting, cheerleading, dance, playing an instrument--that it can be hard for them to settle on just one or two things. By talking to your child and finding out what he is most interested in, you can narrow down the never-ending list of extracurricular activities. You will also open up the lines of communication to learn more about your child's passions. Maybe your child loves to write and draw but can't find an outlet for this talent. Together you can find art classes. Or perhaps your child loves playing the drums but band practice at school just isn't enough for him. By talking and discussing all the different opportunities available, you will learn about your child's interests and help him choose the ones that are right for him. You should bear in mind while talking to your child that his activities should reflect his interests and goals, not yours. Signing your child up for things you think he would enjoy instead of looking at what he really cares about and enjoys, is a sure-fire path to disaster.
- Consider the cost on family and finances. Once your child has chosen an activity, you will need to weigh the cost on your wallet. Is this something you can afford? Is there a payoff in the end? For instance, when you rent an instrument, the music store you rented from will put a portion of your rental fee toward the purchase of the instrument. Think about whether or not you really need "new" or whether "gently used" can work just as well.
When it comes to sports, buying used cleats for baseball and soccer is not always the best idea. Used shoes will offer no warranty, so if there are defects in the shoes, you won't get your money back. Also, with used shoes and cleats, you may not be able to get an entire season out of them as many athletic shoes tend to wear unevenly on the soles. However, you could save a few dollars by getting gently used elbow pads and shin guards.
Of course the cost in dollars and cents isn't the only thing you should consider; think about the cost to your family. How much practice time is necessary? What about traveling? When it comes to sports, the home games are wonderful, but sometimes the away games can take a toll on the family. The whole idea of balancing home life and extracurricular school activities is to gain family time and make the most of it, not lose more of it. If there are younger siblings involved, you will definitely need to consider the cost to them. Can they withstand traveling for the away games or recitals? While a three- or four-year-old may look forward to watching his big brother or sister perform, your two-month-old probably won't and would benefit from being at home, either with your partner or a sitter.
- Create a workable schedule. Probably the most important part of balancing your home life with your child's extracurricular activities is creating a schedule that works. If you have more than one child involved in activities, you will need to take everyone's schedule into consideration. This is usually the part that most families dread because it can be daunting to create something that works for everyone. Every parent wants to be there for every practice and never miss a moment. But life doesn't always allow for us to do this. When this happens, you need to be prepared. If you find yourself with a schedule conflict, sometimes it becomes necessary to ask for outside help. Does your child have a friend who is participating in the same activity? If so, see if you and the parents can trade a night of picking up and dropping off for practice. Sometimes, the buddy system and carpooling with other parents becomes necessary and a lifesaver as well.
When working practice and performances into your schedule, make sure to schedule a family or relaxation night. This sounds silly to schedule time with family but it is often the only way to find time to sit down and relax together. During this time, emphasize that no one has friends over, everyone is home for dinner, and no one goes anywhere. You don't even have to do anything special. This could just be a night to order in dinner, turn off the phone and Internet and hang out together. While it's important to work out a schedule for the activities everyone is involved in, it's even more important to schedule time to be together.
If you find that the schedule isn't working, your child seems stressed, overtired, or you notice his grades slipping, it may be time to reevaluate the steps you have put in place to balance everything. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to start over and talk to your child again about the activities that he is involved in. Extracurricular activities should be fun and an outlet from school as well as a good way to socialize, but if you see that they cause your child stress or he no longer gets joy from them, it may be time to reprioritize.