I’m happy to share some thoughts on how my family has adjusted to the myriad of activities and opportunities for our kids. First, though, I want to point out that I believe every family is different and there are no right or wrong answers. I can’t recall ever hearing a magical number of activities that are recommended or required for kids. I think we can all agree that the number of options for activities has exploded.
This is really going to age me by saying this, but back when I was a kid in Lutheran elementary school, it seemed my athletic options were basketball and softball. I also played baseball in a community little league. The only other activity or group option that I can recall was Lutheran Pioneers or Buckaroos. Furthermore, I rarely remember having practices for my teams in grade school. I’m sure we had some, but I really don’t think they were three nights a week.
Now we could fill this page with nothing but structured activity options through school, church, the community, summer sports camps, etc. Our temptation as parents, and on the part of our kids, is to be involved in more than we can handle. Perhaps there is even a bit of worry as parents that if my children are not taking advantage of the plethora of activities that other families are, maybe my kids won’t grow up as well-rounded adults.
Good friends just signed their son up for the community lacrosse team. Now that sounds fun! I didn’t even know that opportunity existed. Should I mention that to my son?
With no easy answers, how do we make decisions on the activities? To be honest, my wife’s and my efforts usually fall on trying to limit participation rather than seeing our kids overinvolved in too much. Here are a couple priorities we try to keep in mind.
Priority #1: Love
Probably the most important thing we have tried to do is make it clear to our kids that their participation and success in any activity is not something they need to do to get our love. God’s love for us through his son was unconditional. We don’t need to perform—or be the best—in order to receive God’s love. What we do as Christians is simply a demonstration of our love for God. So in that light of Christian joy and freedom, priority #1 is that the activity the kids choose can be seen as just another way to show love for God and not a way to win mom and dad’s approval. That comes free!
Priority #2: Balance
This can get tricky. As adults it seems balance in life can be hard to find, and our own activities and responsibilities feel overwhelming at times. I guess if our kids watch us closely and learn from us, are we teaching them to live a balanced life or a life filled with stress and anxiety as we move hastily from one thing to the next, getting short and angry with one another because we always feel late and behind?
I think family balance is important. People tell us that these times when the kids are young will go by fast. I definitely agree! Our family needs time. We need time to simply be together, go for a bike ride, watch a movie, and even do some chores together (or maybe I wish we’d do more chores together!). This is time to just be with one another and nurture our relationships. It’s the time needed to teach and show them God’s love. If the outside activities infringe on the family connectedness, then it’s time for us to pull back.
Looking back in my life, with comparatively few activity options, what did I do with all my time? I wasn’t bored. I have great memories of participating in unstructured activities with friends and family. I’m certainly not calling for us to bring back “the good ‘ole days.” I think all the varied activities offered are amazing now, but developing a few simple priorities has helped our family maintain balance.