As young teenagers, my sisters and I started a babysitting service. We called ourselves “Three Sisters Three Sitters”. I remember babysitting all the time. Sometimes each of us had 3 different jobs on a given day. People knew they could always get one of us to babysit. Not only was I able to earn money, but the skills learned and practiced while babysitting prepared me for being a mother. Fast forward to today. Now as a Mother frequently in need of a babysitter, frustration builds after calling 6, 7 or even 10 teenaged girls without anyone available. Reflecting on my experiences growing up I began to ask the question: What has changed?
Somehow society has accepted the norm that every spare moment must be tied up in activities. Families are living in the fast lane, pushing children to excel in accelerated education, sports, music, martial arts, etc. Although these activities are good, families tend to push them to the extreme. For example, club sports with practice 3 to 5 nights a week and games on the weekend, not to mention the travel for tournaments in the city, state or country costing anywhere from $1,000-$15,000 depending on how good the team is.
This intense immersion in the given sport is a lot of pressure for the young athlete. There are more opportunities to get injured or even get burned out with playing at such intensities. And what happens when children express interest in more than one sport? This means that the family has to juggle more practices, more weekend games, more time away from family.
A New Jersey parent summed it up best saying, “If your kid plays football, forget going anywhere in August. If your kid plays basketball, forget going anywhere during winter break. And if your kid plays baseball, forget spring break. And heaven help the family who has a kid that might play two or three sports during different seasons!! Does anyone else out there feel that the school should stay out of our time?” There is no “off” season with sports, you are always “on.”
By overbooking our adolescents and children, we are denying them the opportunities that come from being themselves. Children are inherently creative and resourceful. They need time in their life to expound on this creativity. They need time to spend with their families reading, relaxing, helping others, playing games and just hanging out. Children get a sense of belonging when they are involved with their immediate and extended families. They also need time to be self-aware. They need to dream, read, write, and invent. This helps them discover their interests and develop them.
Our grandparents lived in a more carefree environment. They didn’t have so many pressures put on them in the school setting or in extracurricular activities or media. They spent more time playing outside. Their favorite things to do would consist of impromptu baseball games, playing jacks, bike riding, and skipping rope, building forts, boy scouts, etc. Look how they turned out. History labels them the Greatest Generation.
Having our children involved in so many activities can also become a financial burden. As we try to give our children every experience in life it depletes financial resources and it drains our emotional energy. We become a slave to the ongoing taxi service in and out of practices and games. Parents often feel that saying no to possible opportunities, reflects back on them as being a bad parent. Just remember:
“When you say yes to something or someone, you’re always saying no to something or someone else!! – Elayna Fernandez.
As with all things in life we need to have a healthy balance. Leigh Ann Errico offers 5 things to help avoid overbooking children.
- Let your kids know that you care about them for who they are, not just what they can do.
- Remember that children do not have the same sense of time that you do.
- Allow kids to have free time to try new things, as well as the permission to give them up and try something else.
- Be sensitive to individual needs and persistent in offering opportunities.
- Remember to include exposure to helping others in your family activities.
Kristen Chase reminds us, “That regardless of what kids are or aren’t doing, their life’s path will always emerge. The passion our kids have for whatever they have it for will rise to the top.” “And if we do not cut back on all the intensive activity, we all may find ourselves seeking costly expertise in another area -the therapist’s office.”
I may still have a hard time finding a babysitter, but I now make a conscious effort to ensure my family is not overbooked so my daughter will have opportunities to help others, explore her creativity and to be able to experience babysitting.