By Abby Sandberg PhD, Learning Specialist and Early Elementary Division Head
Ask a group of ten families what their time outside of school hours looks like and you will undoubtedly get ten different answers. The complexity of the family schedule is as unique as each child who walks through the doors at UCDS. Even so, a question that we, as educators, often get is, “Is my child overscheduled?”
There are many opportunities that vie for a place on the family calendar. Music lessons, sports, scouting, and clubs are just a sampling of the offerings that one might feel tempted to add to their to-do list. Consider multiple children in a household and the puzzle becomes more complicated. And, let’s not forget that adults like to engage in evening and weekend hobbies too! How does a family maintain balance? How do you know if you’ve reached the tipping point of what seems manageable? The answers to these questions may not always come easily. But, ask any parent who is serving a 10-minute lunch in the car between Saturday morning soccer practice and the afternoon birthday party across town and they know they’ve reached the limit.
In a society where social media showcases everyone’s “perfect” family outings, parents can feel the pressure of making sure their children are getting a piece of that pie. Keep in mind, though, as you scroll through the filtered photos of smiling kids chasing balloons at the birthday party, what all isn’t captured in that pic. The afternoon meltdowns from the missed nap, the rushed gift shopping, or the one hour commute just to arrive to the party are not usually mentioned in the hashtags.
While FOMO (That’s “fear of missing out” if you’re not familiar. And kudos to you for not letting that sneak into your vocabulary.) can easily bear down on any well-intentioned family when it comes to social invitations, let’s not forget how inundated parents become with the “must dos” to nurture their child’s general development. “Is my two-year-old behind socially because I didn’t enroll them in a playgroup?” “Did I miss the boat because my third-grader hasn’t started formal instrument lessons?” “My four-year-old isn’t reading! Where’s the nearest tutor?!?” Parents can easily feel that their child is “missing out” if they see the proudly posted videos of the neighbor kid reading their first book as the whole world of social media listens in. Their anxiety rises as pictures of a friend’s child plunking away at the guitar are flashed in their newsfeed. It can be hard to keep perspective and focus on the path in front of your own child.
So, how does one cope? How do you know if you’re slipping into unreasonable parenting FOMO? As educators, it is difficult for us to make blanket recommendations that apply to all families. Maybe for some families, juggling enrollment in two different extracurriculars is manageable. For others, it may make life unreasonably challenging. Our general advice is to take a step back and remind yourself of your overarching family values. What are they, and are you making sure that each area is getting some attention on a regular basis? When talking with families, general themes usually emerge. Parents want their children to: socialize, exercise their bodies, express creativity, practice responsibility, think and learn, be outdoors, and have both family time and solo time.
Throughout the week, we encourage families to evaluate how many of their chosen activities contribute to the values that are important to them. Many times there is a lot of overlap! Does soccer practice twice a week fulfill the goals of being outside, socializing, and exercising their body? Then, maybe signing up for another organized sport isn’t necessary. Perhaps your child will benefit more if you have a family art night, where everyone can spend time together and express their creativity with a new art medium. When looking at your weekly calendar, do you notice that your child doesn’t have any time to play on their own? Children need downtime, and it’s usually a goal that most parents value. Maybe clearing the schedule on a Saturday afternoon is just what your child needs to refresh and reset. You’ll probably find that these stretches of free time foster creativity, as well. If your schedule becomes too open and you sense cabin fever setting in, then re-evaluate your week. Did you get enough time with friends? Was there an outdoor activity on the schedule this week? If not, maybe an impromptu playdate at the neighborhood park is all that you need to restore balance. These casual activities are just as effective as signing up for an ongoing playgroup or sports camp that requires a long-term commitment. Plus, a local park with buddies is free of cost!
When new opportunities hit your radar, take a moment to ask yourself: “Does this activity align with our family values?” “Do we already have ongoing commitments that fulfill this value?” “Am I saying ‘yes’ because we want to participate, or because we feel we should participate?” By taking a look at the big picture, you will lay a solid foundation for a family calendar that supports a healthy balanced lifestyle. Plus, when you remind yourself that you’ve filled your free time with intention, it makes it easier to stave off the FOMO and feel content that you have a plan that works for your own unique family.