why are extra-curricular activities so challenging?

Photo above: Percy is eating from his Mess Kit, kindly sent from long-time blog reader, Emma

This post started with a phone call to Bron, my editor over at Mumtastic. We were chatting about stories and deadlines and before we knew it we were down the rabbit hole of the motherhood/work juggle, lamenting the sheer absurdity that is a normal day in our lives. Wow, we do a lot but what on earth can we let go of to make it a bit less rushed?

A few hours later Bron published this post which had many, many women nodding their heads, offering words of solidarity, admitting to their very own overwhelm and anxiety. And as she described her children’s extra-curricular activities I had a bit of a lightbulb moment of my own (thanks for that, Bron).

You see, the driving around of an afternoon to various activities is one of the most challenging parts of parenthood for me. And what’s most alarming about this scenario is that I keep things on the activity front to an absolute minimum. Che does drama, Poet does dancing and they both do a swimming lesson – spread out over three afternoons in the middle of the week. I also have lots of help from the grandparents so in no way am I doing it all alone.

For a while there I was questioning why it was so difficult and then yesterday, I realised – it’s so much more than the activity. One single afternoon activity requires the following: afternoon tea prep, a spare change of clothes/costume, school pick-up, driving to the activity, waiting in the car (sometimes wrangling Percy), driving home, delayed witching hour, late dinner, chaotic bath/bed time. The 1-hour activity takes, on average, over three hours from start to finish.

Perhaps I’m still a novice and things will get easier but I can’t help but think of years to come when the kids’ social lives get busier and I inevitably take on the role of taxi-mum. If I’m completely honest, it doesn’t look that appealing.

Just this afternoon I was chatting to a friend at school pick-up and he said he always questions the sustainability of an activity when he finds it challenging. As in: is this sustainable for the whole family? How can we make this work for everyone’s wellbeing? Are we in this for the long haul or will we crumble under the pressure? These are such good questions to continually ask ourselves as parents.

As our children grow and start engaging in various social and extra-curricular activities, we must adapt to the changes, find new ways of doing things and reassess if it’s all too hard. One thing I definitely know is that come next year, when Poet starts school, I’ll say no to all activities for that first term. Because if I remember anything from Che’s first term at school it’s this: school is enough – there is no space for anything else.

Do you find this part of parenthood challenging or is it just me?

Recommended Posts
Showing 13 comments
  • SL

    I definitely find it a huge challenge! I have a 7 year old and 3 year old. The 7 year old does Odyssey of the Mind during the school year, Boy Scouts during the school year, and baseball which starts at the end of school into the summer. OM is immediately after school but while I am still at work, so it's not a problem and it is his favorite activity. Boy Scouts is a couple nights a month, so not overly challenging. But baseball. Honestly, we probably won't do it again next year. It's two nights a week, and it's at 5:15, which is practically impossible to be on time for. We still haven't mastered how to fit in dinner on baseball nights, and he's often hungry and cranky and doesn't even want to go. Plus, it starting the last month of school was a bit of a disaster. Too many end of the school year events conflicted, and then there's trying to do an activity twice a week when there's also homework. I don't know how other families do it! And we haven't even added in activities for the little one!

  • simplelife

    I have 4 children, 3 of them are adults now, we also live out of town with no public transport and no extended family near by. I had a 1 child 1 activity policy, thank goodness when they were young the eldest 3 all played the same sport on the same day and had training straight after school, at the school. My youngest did gymnastics which was 2 nights each week. That was more than enough for me. I found it hardest when they were teens and had a social life. My kids didn't do much compared to many families and have all preferred to spend time at home, but still the time in the car…specially when you throw a part time job into the mix. I only have 1 left to taxi around, while I loved the opportunity for a captive audience and to hear about the deeper parts of their life and also to hear their musical preferences, I'm still exhausted. When I look back I don't know how I did it, we always ate together, a home cooked meal, the laundry was done, the animals cared for, and time to ride my bike but honestly the windows aren't pretty and many a week the bathroom was cleaned with a lick and a promise. It is exhausting. I was tired, I'm still tired, I don't ever want to go back to that time.

  • Bron Maxabella

    I do I do I do I do. Thank you ever so much for the link. Our conversation obviously sparked something in me!! I am examining EVERYTHING and making changes. Something's gotta give. I agree that no activities for first term is a necessity – for all the kids, not just Poet. We tend to go very lightly every first term and always have. The trick for me is to make Term 1 our everyday! x

  • Marnie

    Yes definitely. My daughter started Class 1 this year and with that came the realisation that no after school activities for the whole year was completely fine and necessary for my girl and me. And we are both so happy with that decision. Class 1 where they are learning to read and write and the recorder, the lyre, knitting and trying to fit into the 'big school' is so enough. Even my daughter said, very dramatically, 'I can't do anymore Mum' when I suggested piano lessons after her showing a love for music. All in good time. So now I just need to fix the school morning rush and I will be one happy mama! Thanks for the great article as always xx

  • Jessica Welsh

    I completely agree with your friend's comments about an activity needing to be sustainable for the whole family if it's to be a goer. I've even gone one further and calculated the financial cost of various hobbies over their potential lifespan (children's interest/schooling years). Realising that a single extra-curricular activity for one child can easily add up to $10,000 certainly encourages you to choose ones that have longevity and further develop the child's personhood, rather than it simply being an activity.

  • Kitty

    Oh yes, so true! I have 3 girls, 8, 6 and 2 and boy is it hard to fit it all in. I have a friend locally who also has 3 and has started to predict what her almost 2 yo will do in the future and move the older girls dance classes in anticipation of the littlest joining in 2 years at the same time and location.

    We don't do much … swimming I won't budge on, a life skill and we spend time each winter (summer in NZ) on Poppa's boat so I feel that has to happen (although it is SUCH a mission with a 2 year old in the mix!).

    Dance for the middle one on a sat am and Kumon maths programme with a class when we can make it. The older two do piano lessons in school. But really, despite the hassle I get locally about Brownies etc. we don't do the things we do justice unless we practice and there is only so much time.

    I have decided the summer and easter hols will be one week of everyday tennis or sport or whatever, and will try to say no to the afterschool clubs for as long a I can.

    I really think they are doing too much, but there is such a sense of "missing out" or a missed opportunity. I am not sure we are setting them up for life, and this has come at a great time for me as we are winding down one school year and thinking about how things will look in the next!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Jacinta

    We actually don't do any extracurricular during the week. We do swimming lessons one or two terms a year, but that is a weekend (hubby still takes our youngest in the water) and only if we can get all three girls lesson at the same time.
    My eldest wants to do gymnastics, but wrangling my youngest (who will want to join in) for two hours, then the eldest waiting for the youngest, and the youngest waiting for the eldest and getting home late and homework and dinner and school the next day…it just isn't gonna happen!! They have so much structured learning from such a young age (WA, my middle girl started 3 days a week at 3 1/2 and full time at 4 1/2) our afternoons are homework then free play, usually outside, until dinner. Maybe when they get older and bedtimes get later we will take on extra curricular, but til then having free afternoons works for us. =D

  • Niccola Milnes

    Your post was exactly what has been going through my head these past few days. And Bron's definitely resonated with me as well. I really wonder sometimes if we are going against nature by working full time and raising children at the same time – how can you do both properly? But at the end of the day, so many of us must work. I do agree that a good school can provide enough stimulation to justify calmer extra curricular schedules. I guess sometimes you just have to let your child lead – if they discover a passion and want to pursue it, how do you strike the balance? I still haven't figured that one out yet, but my children are quite small still.

  • Gaby

    Agreed. Our Steiner playgroup is one of the highlights of our week, but the logistics of making it happen is totally overwhelming, especially with a baby in tow. I have to pack an enormous bag of spare clothes + supplies, and I've also worked out that I need to have lunch ready for Clementine to eat in the car ride home because there isn't enough time before her nap otherwise. Preschool days are a similar situation, and I've worked out that a big part of the problem is the car trips. So on the 4 days a week where I don't need to drive anywhere, we just stay in our neighbourhood!

    I can't even imagine what the juggle is like with 3 kids and school thrown in the mix!

  • Carling Cozens

    Hi Jodi,
    I find that kids are so busy with school that other activities are to stressful for me and for them. So they dont take any class'. They just wanna be free and play. So I let them play. Thats it. No Stress needed.

  • Aimee

    Here's my 2cents worth (for what it is worth .. probably not a lot!)
    Extra curricular is hard (no escaping that driving about, after school, close to suppertime, in rush hour is no fun!) .. But … I think that encouraging children to pursue their 'interests' as opposed to solely the reading, writing and maths that makes up a lot of the 'learning' that they do is invaluable. Allowing them to find out what makes them happy, what sparks their love. I think that letting them choose activities that help to shape, mould and determine their personality and character is super important.
    Just because something is hard for us doesn't mean its not worth doing (obviously I'm not advocating pushing exhausted children into activities)

    As to how to coping myself – I have a few things I do.
    Swimming day for us coincide with grocery day. Which means we don't get home until after 5pm. So its hot roast chook from the deli day.
    For every activity day I pack togs/towels or leotards/dance gear, extra layers in the bags the night before (I love cotton on kids eco bags for this … we have one for each activity) and put it ready to go in the morning …. with water and snacks (fruit, fruit leathers, nuts or cookies/crackers). Homemade drinking yoghurt also makes a great energy boost grabbed out of the fridge before dashing out the door – especially if combined with some fruit and a cookie or two.
    We won't swim through the winter term and I will confess its rather nice to have one less thing to plan around. Ballet day will become grocery day instead.

    Much like how you manage it, many of my daughters friends are limited to two activities a week to stop them getting exhausted. Particularly in those early terms at school.
    Also every kid is different. My daughter would be crushed if I told her no more dancing/gymnastics. But other kids aren't yet ready or interested in these activities. I guess it just comes back to everyone having to do whats right for them.

  • Brandi

    I could go on about this. In fact, I wrote a 'letter to my children' about it last month. It was almost an apology, because some things I know they would love to do are just too difficult to make work for us as a family, whether that is financial cost or otherwise. I think where I live there is such a push to get kids to commit to one thing or another at such a young age, and I'd rather give them the time to just be–until they find their own interests (as opposed to one that I *think* they are interested in).

  • Narelle

    I have 3 daughters aged 7, 10 and 14. They each play a winter sport (field hockey), the youngest has a weekly swimming lesson (life skill) and the older 2 learn an instrument through school and attend girl guides together on a Friday night. I also play field hockey in the winter.

    Fortunately, all our hockey trainings are at the same place and we all play games on a Saturday at the one place. This helps but there is still some juggling and often we take 2 cars to games so my husband can take the girls home while I stay for my game.

    Also, I am fortunate to be a stay at home mum. This makes a big difference in what our girls can do. If I worked things would have to be different.

    Hockey runs from March through to the end of August – over the 2nd and 3rd school terms. This allows us to ease into school in term 1 and also leaves room for all the end of school things in term 4, just before we have our long summer/Christmas break (I live in Australia). We go from having activities 4 afternoons and Saturdays to only the swimming lesson and Guides. All activities stop over summer break.

    What gets me through the busyness of activities is planning dinners for a month at a time. This saves my sanity! I use the slow cooker or do a quick meal or prepare something that just needs to be put in the oven by my teenager when she gets home if I'm still out with the younger 2.

    A few years back when my youngest was a baby, my oldest girl was doing a couple of things and my husband was on a committee. One night he was at a meeting that ran late so he couldn't collect our daughter as we had arranged. I had to quickly leave my regular night time routine to pick our daughter up. I was so stressed out with having young kids and running around to various activities, I reversed out of our driveway straight into a car parked on the other side of the road. That was the deal breaker. Everything got simplified after that.

    Now that I don't have a baby or toddler it is easier but I am still very mindful of over committing our family. Our activities list sounds extensive but since there are double ups with multiple kids doing the same activities it is easier. Also, we stay pretty local.

Leave a Comment