The Overscheduled Child vs The Overwhelmed Parent: Who wins?

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Have you ever questioned whether or not you were a lazy parent?

 

Well I do—almost on a daily basis.

 

Example—this weekend, my four-year-old daughter had soccer practice at 8:30 in the morning. She’s had a cough for a couple days but was basically okay. We were out late the night before so I let her sleep in (meaning she woke up at 6:30 am instead of 6:00 am).

 

I debated reminding her that she had practice but wound up going with honesty instead of  facing the wrath of informing her later after the fact.  I told her I thought it would be best to stay home to rest (and cuddle, eat pancakes, watch shows—who wouldn’t love that?!)

 

“No! I want to go to soccer! I’ve never missed soccer!”

 

Please enter my brain…

 

  1. Check the weather (We live in Dallas, it’s September 30th, it’s still hot.)
  2. I’m 7 months pregnant at age 38. No picnic.
  3. She just turned 4. We have many years ahead of soccer practice to make up for it.
  4. Wait, she’s FOUR. Why are we doing this again?

 

And then I heard one more cough which sealed the deal for me (and helped me with my rationale that I wasn’t lazy but rather a protective mother—still questionable). Everyone stayed in their PJ’s and we had a great morning.

 

Why tell this story?  Well, it’s because it’s something that I have to think about for my job all the time. Pogo is all about helping families safely get kids to where they need to be, which in addition to school happens to be a variety of activities, often starting at an early age. We constantly hear stories of parent’s angst trying to juggle work/home/multiple children/multiple activities. It’s why Pogo continues to grow and that thousands of people are using it to share the driving responsibility.

 

But we recently had a comment on our Facebook page from a father who said, in response to one of our ads on juggling kids extracurriculars, “or kids could just opt out of so many activities and just be kids.”

 

It’s the only time we’ve received a comment like that but it definitely got me thinking. Not only about what we hear from our users but also about my own family.

 

With activities, how much is too much?

 

In researching for this piece, I was surprised at the findings. Not so much at this one:

 

Physical activity is better for children than screen time.

 

But rather this:

 

“Downtime” in American households equals “screentime.”

 

Andrea Orr, author and parent of a nine-year-old daughter, recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post called The ‘overscheduled’ child: Is being busy really so bad?

 

She says, “Of course, there is value in sitting in a corner reading, playing board games, climbing a tree or just daydreaming. But the reality is that in most homes, screens of one sort or another compete fiercely with all those unstructured activities.”

 

Orr also quotes principal James Albright from Washington, who has created an after-school program aimed at keeping students busy from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm, hours where usually parents aren’t home. “Idle time can be a great thing,” he says. “But I don’t know that we manage it well with technology.”

 

I’m embarrassed to say that this is true in my own household. Do we read? Sure. Play outside? Of course. Bake? Yup (especially now, remember the 7 months pregnant thing?) But do we also conk out in front of the iPad, iPhone, computer or TV?

 

You betcha.

 

Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor at Columbia says “It’s good for kids to be scheduled. It’s good for them to have musical activities, sports or other things organized and supervised by an adult.” Outside activities make a child well-rounded, and the data clearly backs this up.

 

So if organized activities promote character, build skills and talent, and keep children engaged and safe, why don’t more parents make after-school activities as accessible as WiFi, smartphones and laptops?

 

Well, after school activities are expensive. A staggering 40% of children do not participate in after-school activities, and this number has only risen in recent years. This disadvantaged group is of much greater concern than those teens who could be seen as “overscheduled” (only 6%).

 

After all, time is money. “If a parent cannot get off work in time for practice, their child could be another statistic in the nation’s participation decline.” (This is exactly where Pogo is focused on addressing this inequity.)

 

Also, parents are busy (*understatement*), and have a tough time navigating the complexity of their kids’ schedules. We know this ALL TOO WELL at Pogo, as it’s the number one response to the question “why don’t you carpool?” Too hard to coordinate, I don’t know who to carpool with, I can’t reciprocate. It can be easier to let your child just come home after school than it is to mess with it all.

 

We do the very best we can as parents with the limited time, money, and energy we possess. It’s my belief that we all want to raise happy, healthy and active kids. But sometimes there are barriers to signing them up for that class, paying for that extra lesson, or getting them to Saturday morning soccer practice. 

 

So what’s the moral of my story? It could be that I am, in fact, a tad lazy. Or that I am a dedicated mother who is keenly aware of her child’s limits. Or it could be that it’s just too damn hot to play soccer here (unarguable point in my opinion.)

 

But more likely the moral is that every family—including my own —needs to do what’s best for them at the time. There will be periods during this parenting journey when I have more bandwidth, time, and money for my kids’ activities, and periods where I don’t. The great thing is that during times like this, I at least know where to go to ask someone to give my kiddo a ride to practice, and they are happy to help (plus it’s much easier than asking them to come over and rub my swollen pregnant feet).

 

And you should know that we didn’t spend our skipped soccer practice day in front of a screen. I had my kids wash my car and clean out the garage.

 

I may be occasionally lazy, but I’m no dummy.

 

Happy Carpooling! (and I hope you get some downtime today, whatever that looks like to you)

 

—Julia

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