What Every Parent Ought to Know About Overscheduling Your Family

overscheduling, busy mom

My self-imposed one car family directive evolved from an oil leak, a slow and constant drip accompanied by an odor of charred lubricant with an occasional billow of smoke rising from the hood of my mini-van. Overscheduling forced me to drive my van like Germany’s Transrapid monorail. Not surprised the van needed overhauling. The repairs could take days maybe even a week. Managing my family’s overscheduled calendar with one car in the equation was like hiking the Appalachian Trail in a foot cast.

As I sorted out my schedule over the next week, I realized the intricacies of functioning with one car and balancing schedules for six children, farming, errands, homeschooling, and any other form of life that decided to show up on my doorstep (stray cat, wounded waterfowl).

In my corner of the world, the only hope for mass transportation would be hijacking a ride on my neighbor’s John Deere as he rolls past our farm lane during planting season.

I looked around at my circle of friends, and I realized that a one-car household is virtually unheard of in 21st-century rural living. I am reasonably sure that my urban dweller counterpart can manage quite nicely as a single car household with mass transportation readily available. Not me.

How Being Carless Reformed My Overscheduled Ways

Deep down, I welcomed any excuse to slow down even if it meant becoming carless.  When I traded in my briefcase for an apron, I thought my days as a SAHM would be filled with afternoons reading to my children beneath our poplar tree.  We read lots of books, don’t get me wrong, but too often we squeezed the reading in as I chauffeured a vanful of kids to someone’s scheduled activity.

Before I reclaimed my schedule, whenever friends asked how I was doing, my default response spilled out phrases like, “crazy busy,” “way too busy,” “I am slammed with obligations.”

My mom-heart aches when I recall my then five-year-old protesting attendance to dance class by throwing a ten-decibel temper tantrum. I remember wrestling my daughter into the car seat like a mongoose wrangling a cobra. We arrived at the studio in a post-tantrum state. She endured class with a lop-sided ballet bun and saggy tights. I sought refuge in the ladies room for a good cry.

overscheduling

What my daughter wanted more than anything at that point in her life was unscheduled time to play princess or daydream on the oak tree tire swing.

I succumbed to the busy mom trap, and my state of carlessness liberated me from overscheduling my family.

What Every Parent Should Know About Overscheduling

Scheduling Your Kids in Multiple Activities Does Not Make You a Better Parent (Quite the Opposite)

Myth: There was a time that I believed if I did not enroll my kids in a sport every season, sign them up for multiple summer camps and Vacation Bible Schools, and chess club, science club, drama club made me a lame and idle parent.

Reality: My kids need time to be kids.  They crave free time. Kids want time to play make believe and build Lego creations without the pressure of activities looming over their day. The key is to balance unscheduled time with scheduled activities.

I think about what Elisabeth Elliot says in Secure in the Everlasting Arms:

“One reason we are so harried and hurried is that we make yesterday and tomorrow our business, when all that legitimately concerns us is today.  If we really have too much to do, there are some items on the agenda which God did not put there.  Let us submit the list to Him and ask Him to indicate which items we must delete.  There is always time to do the will of God. If we are too busy to do that, we are too busy.”

I’ve learned to submit my day and my agenda to God (pray for my day and my schedule).

Overscheduling Could Prevent You From Building Relationships With Your Kids

Myth: Kids are resilient; they will not miss family time in exchange for activities.

Reality: My adult children look back on our habit of eating together as a family as some of the fondest memories.  They applaud our family decision of a one night out only rule.

Providing opportunities to build and nurture family relationships should outrank activities. If activities habitually replace quality family time like dinner together, maybe something needs to give. Keep family dinner time sacred.

Use dinner time to generate conversations:

To prevent overscheduling, our family decided to participate in one activity as a family. 4H served that purpose. Once the older kids started driving, they maintained their schedule with one caveat: family dinner remained sacred. Everyone made an effort to be home several evenings for dinner.

Overscheduling Could Be a Sign of Vicarious Parenting

Myth: If you were an all American athlete, your children must follow the same path. If you missed out on youth sports and activities as a child, you would overcompensate by signing them up for everything.

Reality: More is not always the best

I am a child of the seventies when organized sports meant recruiting as many kids on the block as possible to play kickball until dark. With a buffet of activities available, I am tempted to overschedule my kids in activities that just weren’t at my disposal growing up.

A friend who is a former collegiate athlete staunchly insists that his six-year-old will play year-round youth sports. Many kids are competing on the soccer field long before they’ve shed their first tooth. My friend expects his child to blossom into a stellar athlete. He continues to forecast his son’s future as an athlete with a rigorous year-round sports schedule. A rotation of expensive sports camps reign as the highlight of the summer.

There are numerous benefits to organized sports and activities. However, parents need to balance them with unscheduled time to play and decompress.

Don't Let Activities and Youth Sports Hijack Your Life or Your Child's Life Click To Tweet

An Oil Leak Stopped Me From Overscheduling My Life

My temporary carless life removed me from the organized sports and activity fast lane. Jumping off the overscheduled mom train changed my outlook on home. I rarely uttered the lamentable phrase “stuck at home.” Instead, I chose to “remain at home.” Being at home allowed me to refine skills like cooking and gardening.

Space on my calendar permitted me to invest time in hospitality. I could finally invite a friend for a coffee without the chore of plodding doggedly through my schedule just to find a free day.

How can I possibly love my neighbor if I am too busy?

Years have passed since my self-imposed car directive. With older kids, I have multiple cars at my disposal, including my car. Even so, I still try to maintain that one-car mentality for the sake of my family.

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Are you tempted to overschedule activities?  What strategies have helped you not to overschedule?

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6 Comments

  1. Elise Ho on February 6, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    There was a time in my life as a young parent when I did my fair share of overscheduling. I got out of that habit fairly quickly. It helps no one.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on February 7, 2018 at 2:41 pm

      Hi friend, you were so wise to break the overscheduling habit early.

  2. Hannah on February 7, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    Oh man, I can totally relate as I was an overscheduled child! It’s so counter cultural to slow down but I’m working on that for my two kiddies. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Denise Sultenfuss on February 7, 2018 at 2:44 pm

      Hi Hannah, thanks for stopping by the blog today. Wow, you have an interesting perspective as an overscheduled child. You probably have some insight that would benefit younger moms.

  3. Marva | SunSparkleShine on February 9, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    We’ve been forced to use one car for the past couple of weeks and boy it hasn’t been fun. Not so much because of kids’ activities but just getting around, period. It’s amazing the things we take for granted. Still, your point about over-scheduling kids is a good one, Denise and I thank you for sharing it.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on February 12, 2018 at 11:59 am

      Hey Marva, thanks for stopping by today. With one car, you are swimming against the cultural current. Sometimes it takes a luxury to be removed from our life to realize how much we appreciate that luxury. Being in Haiti taught me so much about that.

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