I do not understand. The busyness culture I mean. Why do we do it? Why do we run this race? Why have we bought the lie that more equals better? Why do we feel guilt if we aren’t doing all of the activities, all of the classes, all of the things? I’m going to take this from a slightly different vantage point; one of a stay at home mom who homeschools three of her five children.
I have long ago decided to walk a different path than most. I am not average nor do I strive to be. I am weird, I am different, I stand out a bit from the modern-American norm. It’s who I am and I am comfortable enough in my identity in Christ to trust that this is who I was designed to be. This person who I am? She sees all of these moms, frazzled and crazed, and she wonders why they do this to themselves. She thinks, these are great women, women who are brilliant, and kind, and beautiful, what are they running so hard and fast toward? It happens every year in the Autumn, my Facebook feed fills up with adorable back to school photos. Then the mommas are all writing sappy, teary-eyed posts about how they are so sad that their babies had to leave. Some moms post about how difficult it was for their kindergartner to ride the bus or be left in that big classroom. They post about their second grader’s exhaustion, falling asleep at the dinner table. They post about their middle schooler’s extra-sassy behavior as they cart her to yet another extra-curricular activity. They wonder when they’ll ever see their teen because of all the activities the child is involved in. Are these moms serious?
Hold up, I don’t even want to talk about those moms here. I homeschool. I stay home and have no side-business that I run from home. I could never judge those moms because I am not in their shoes. No, I want to figure out why I feel all of this pressure to do more, to be more, to have more. I stay home because my husband and I agree that the best person to raise our kids is us. God entrusted these people to our care and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. I homeschool because we agree that no one knows our kids better than me, and no one could walk beside them through their educational journey like I will. We may differ in philosophy, but we agree on why we keep the little ones home.
As these little people have begun to grow, I’ve felt pressured to add activities to our days. The homeschooling community is not the weird, un-socialized cliche that it once was, I am assuming you know this. There are more activities available to my children than I could list here. Once you have found your people, there is really no end to the days you can fill, and because most children are endlessly interested in trying everything you can not rely on them to filter the best choices for themselves. As a mom I have told my daughter “no” to more extra-curriculars than I can count, and she’s only nine years old. I have seen the insanity of a packed schedule and know that it’s not where I want to live.
So here is my question as each new, good option presents itself; what value does this bring? We added ballet to our schedule this year; my child has been asking for five years for dance or gymnastics and this year we found a safe place for that to happen. When I looked to the value, I could see the discipline, the friendships, the focus, the hard work. I also only saw one hour out of my whole week, add in drive time and getting ready and I thought two hours max. This was something we could do. I didn’t factor in forty minutes of practice every day and now I am praying that the benefit will outweigh the cost in time to our family. Even with practice we aren’t running ragged though. My kids will remember all of the days we stayed home to play. The days spent reading in Dad’s chair and sitting at the kitchen table for math. I won’t wish we had more time together because I am intentional about my time with them. I refuse to give away the “little” years so that they can have all of these opportunities.
The opportunities are many and the pressure is great. If I don’t put my kid in dance and choir, scouts, sports…how will they be enriched? Where will they find themselves? How will they know where their passions lay? If I take a mostly hands-off approach, allowing my kids to simply play, will they not be just as fulfilled as their peers who are scheduled 12 hours each day? I say they will and more so! By allowing my children to “just be” they figure out who they are, what they like, how they want to be treated, what they want to fill their time with. Maybe a thing will stick with them, like dance did, continuing to be on her wish list for multiple years. By following her lead and giving her time to long for it, the class holds more value for her than any number of other opportunities casually tossed her way could have. And that’s the thing, she sees the value in it, so it isn’t a chore or a hassle or one-more-thing-to-do. I don’t use dance as a bargaining tool, but she knows how it must fit into our day and that sacrifices to play time must be made to incorporate practice and rehearsal.
Here is the flip-side, my six year-old is quiet. I don’t mean he is a quiet boy who rarely makes noise, rather he stands back, doesn’t want to be in front of a crowd. He is often afraid of activities though they are the same as they have been for many weeks. He holds back at the beginning of youth group every single Wednesday. He walks with me to co-op instead of running ahead with his sister. He refuses new choices because of a fear of the unknown. I worry over this lack of choosing too. I wanted him to try something new this year and it took weeks of talking about it and offering it to him before he actually went to the group. He needs the security of sameness to feel comfortable at a new activity or class, something that is not possible. This is part of the reason that I know teaching him at home is the best choice for him. He can rely on the stability of our home environment, trust in it’s sameness, be comforted in the relative boredom. New activities can still be a little scary, but they are small pieces of his week. He doesn’t have to live in those places every single day.
My question holds true for this child as well. What value will he get from this activity that may be perceived as scary or unwanted? Will going to soccer practice once a week make him a professional athlete someday? No, it will not. It may help him find a love of movement, comfort in the camaraderie of team mates. It may make him a teensy bit braver next time. Will my insisting on him trying the next thing help him overcome his fear of trying in the long run? I pray that it will. I don’t want the child to live fearfully, I want him to be bold in his choices and I hope that the environment we have created gives him the chance to grow into that kind of person.
As I struggle with this balance of too many versus too few activities on our calendar, I aim to meet each child in the middle. To teach them that all of these options are good, but that we can not do all of the good things. As they grow I believe this will be an important skill for them, a tool they can use to not lose their inner voice. I hope it helps them learn that no is a good answer if it is true to their heart, while still being willing to say yes even if it may be a bit scary. I also hope that by working through these choices with them now, while they are small, they will find things they are passionate about. That they will carry not just those activities with them into adulthood, but the ability to choose what is right.
As I look ahead, I don’t see the activity load lessening. I will have to work to keep the white-space on my calendar. I hope that in providing down time, offering opportunities, listening to their opinions, that they will see the value in those breaks in the schedule. That they will be thankful for time to just be. That they will learn to appreciate the quiet and the loud, the slow and the busy. Also, that they will more easily work toward that balance in their adult lives, because of these lessons. Of course, this understanding is important for them. Really though, I am so pleased to have learned these things about myself, to know what I need from the quiet hours of my days and from the busy ones as well. To trust my answers to be true to those needs, without fear of either adding too much, or letting others down because I know myself well.