When my son announced last week that he wanted to apply for his first summer job, I was dubious. Though he’s fifteen years old and quite responsible, I wasn’t sure I was ready for him to take on the commitment of a part time job over the summer. Frankly, the thought of having to drive him one. more. place this summer made my head spin.
His father and I discussed my son and his plan for employment and we quickly realized that our son was too busy to get a job. Between summer vacations, Boy Scout camping trips, and activities planned with family and friends, it was going to be hard for him to find the time to squeeze in a regularly paying job.
And we looked at each other in disbelief.
We had become those people, the ones we said we’d never be: we have kids who are overscheduled.
And it annoys the hell out of me.
It’s bad enough that activities and sports seem to eat up every bit of free time we have as a family. If it’s not basketball practice, it’s Girl Scouts. If it’s not play practice, it’s newspaper club. Every day, it seems I’m running all over creation, trying to keep up in the hamster wheel that my SUV has become. It’s exhausting and I vowed a long time ago that I’d never be this mother, the one who is harried and late for everything, perpetually wearing a “WTF?” face.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen, I tell you.
But, as much as I have to take some responsibility for allowing my children to pursue multiple interests at the same time (track and the spring play in the same season were a bad idea), there’s another insidious factor at play and I’ve had it.
These days, kids don’t just have one soccer practice a week. They have three. And forget just one game on the weekends. Nope. Now there are tournaments that are held two hours away for the entire weekend.
Band camp isn’t just a week spent in sweltering hot sun. Nope. Now it’s the entire month of August and kids have to spend 8 hours a day learning routines that would rival the most accomplished drum and bugle corps.
And, don’t get me started with dance lessons. And piano. And Scouting. The list goes on and on.
It’s enough to drive an already exhausted parent of teens bananas.
Look, I’ve done this routine for years.
Years, I tell you.
When my kids were first in kindergarten, I couldn’t wait to see my kid round the bases at his first tee ball game. I was beyond excited to help out at brownie meetings and PTA and basketball and OMG, I’ve been doing this for fifteen fucking years. When does it end?
Stop the hamster wheel SUV because I want to get off.
But I can’t.
Because now it’s crunch time. Colleges are looking at extracurricular activities. College applications can’t just have “Went to Boy Scouts only twice this year because my mom was too frazzled to remember to drive me.” Nope. Getting into college is no joke and the years leading up to high school have been child’s play when it comes to activities. And talent scouts are watching in the stands so you’d better look alive out there, kids.
And it seems like every play director, coach and leader has decided that kids need to be ready for the big time when it comes to practices and rehearsals.
Well, guess what, Coach?
Making my kid practice volleyball for four hours a day before she heads off to six hours of band camp is not going to make her a better athlete.
She’s not going to be able to march in formation because she’ll be passed out asleep on the gridiron from sheer exhaustion.
Why do teens have to practice so damned much when they get to high school? Why are we pushing our kids harder and longer? To what end?
News Flash: none of your kids are going to play professional basketball (well, maybe a few of them will) but, the vast majority of our teens are going to wind up becoming “I exercise when my yoga pants are too tight” adults like us. Let’s all take several seats and chill out when it comes to length of practice times and the amount of time teens have to devote to participating in an activity, shall we?
When I was a teenager, I was involved in plenty of clubs and activities. And, I have fond memories from band camp and the school play. In fact, our high school musicals were well known to be amazing and, guess how often we practiced? Once a week. On Saturdays. For a few hours at best. I didn’t spend the entirety of my high school play season trapped in a high school auditorium for hours on end.
Rather, I spent my afternoons like every other self-respecting teenager should: riding shotgun in my best friend’s car as we drove around town, scoping out the cute boys’ houses. Don’t judge because I know you did it, too.
Parents, ease up on your teens. Let them skip practice. Let them sleep late on a Saturday morning. Making them spend 15 hours a week playing league baseball isn’t going to change the fact that they are going to be leaving home soon.
Or better yet, say no to your teen when an activity is going to take the lion’s share of your family time. It’s that simple: say no to over scheduling your teens. Because if you are tired of the rat race, imagine how they feel? You aren’t the one sweaty AF at band camp for the fifteenth day in a row.
In a few short years, your kids will be headed off to college and the noise of driving them around will quiet.
You’ll wish you’d spent more time as a family.
And you’ll sure as shit wish you didn’t spend all that time freezing your ass off on the soccer field in the middle of spring wondering how the hell you got there.
Christine Burke is the owner of the popular parenting blog, keeperofthefruitloops.com. In her spare time, she runs marathons, collects thrift shop finds and eats ice cream like it’s her job. Her work has been featured on the Today Show, the Today Parenting Team, Scary Mommy and other parenting websites. In her current role as Assistant Editor of Grown and Flown, she writes about the realities of soon sending her not so little anymore kids off to college and prays she doesn’t use too many comma splices in the process.