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Unscheduling My Overscheduled Child

I had a revelation last week, one I’m guessing a lot of parents can relate to. That being, that between after school activities, homework, studying, and other responsibilties, there was hardly any time left for my tween daughter and I to spend together anymore. Oh sure, I was spending plenty of time in her presence, as I shuttled her from place to place and then gently cajoled her to stay on task at home — shifting her attention from doing homework to studying, from dinnertime to bathtime, and so on — but I increasingly felt more like her cruise director than her mother. Where was the time to just be together, without some responsibility or other breathing down our necks? How did I let that get lost?

It’s a problem many parents are confronting, but it’s something that’s particularly acute where divorced parents who share custody are concerned. There’s less time overall, split as it is between two households, and perhaps even more importantly, there’s half the number of weekend days with the child, once divvied up between parents. For me, this time crunch has slowly grown to feel more like a time famine. My daughter loves all the after school activities she participates in four of five weekdays, sure, but isn’t unscheduled, responsibility-free time with her parents more important? I honestly feared that one day I was going to wake up with a teenager I only knew through time spent in the car together, heading from one place to the next, from one activity to another, from one drop-off to one pick-up.

Something had to give.

So after talking with her father, we decided to cut her after school activities fully in half — from four days a week to just two. I can’t say my daughter was pleased to hear this, but she definitely understood the reasoning behind the decision. And sure, I’ll admit that I felt a twinge of guilt over taking something away from her that she enjoyed doing (mom guilt, ahoy!). But at the end of the day, this is part of what it means to be a parent: making the tough calls that support the overall health and happiness of your kid, and the overall health and happiness of the family, long-term. And no matter how “enriching” and enjoyable an after school activity might be, I just couldn’t see how any of us would be happier or better off in the end with so little time together (an idea that recent research supports). It was the right call to make, if not an easy one.

How do you handle balancing your kid’s activities with family time?

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