Kids’ activities: How much is too much?

I sat across the table from a woman old enough to be my mother. She asked me about my writing. Why this? Why now?

That was 3 years ago. My youngest child was just out of diapers and I was finally noticing a bit of relief from that sweet and long season of babies and toddlers. “Oh!” she quipped quickly, “You are entering the taxi cab stage of parenting.”

I laughed nervously, half pretending I knew what she was talking about. “Taxi cab, yes, I guess so…”  The following fall I would finally get it.

I won’t pretend to fully understand how these changing seasons of life knock us up side the head when we know all along they are coming. But they do. I’ve realized for years I would someday have teenagers and yet when my son turned 13 last month it felt like I ran into a brick wall or stepped off a ledge. Not because anything changed, per se. He went to bed, he woke up and he’s pretty much the same kid. But at the same time, oh my gosh, I HAVE A TEENAGER!

Who am I and how did this happen? It’s weird. But I digress.

I landed myself firmly in the taxi cab stage of parenting several years back and I have settled in a little awkwardly but with excitement. My kids were finally old enough to do all the things! Those dreams you have when you think about starting a family, cute ballet tutus and t-ball hats, tiny fingers on piano keys or chasing balls up and down a court – we arrived in this land of opportunity and all the humble brag photos. Fun!

I had thought about this stage before. I watched a mom with four kids a few years ahead of mine, manage her troop while I was still in toddlerhood I asked her how she did it. “One artistic pursuit and one sport per kid”, was her reply. I tucked that wisdom away, wrote it on a recipe card in my mind and felt fairly confident that I could mix that into perfection when my family arrived at this stage.

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And this is where I will tell you how much I have fought writing this post.

Living this out has been awkward and clunky at times. There are about 900 variables that make hard and fast rules, specific methods and directives, difficult. Work schedules, family dynamics, the age, sex and number of children you have, which activities are available in your area, the mix of personalities in your family – it all matters.

At the same time, we get input from friends and family and the world at large and it’s not always helpful. We have unique goals and priorities, we value different character traits and bring our own one-of-a-kind history and expectations to the table. There are hopes and fears that lean in heavy, cause misalignment, and we don’t notice them.

None of these variables are helpful when I prefer to offer up whatever wisdom I can in tidy packages and no-fail recipes. There is no one size fits all packaging for this.

But as we begin to form any recipe for our family, any mix of inputs and outputs and schedules that helps us thrive and moves us toward what matters most, here are 4 things that are critical to keep in mind.

Your mission is to protect your family

This perspective is vital. Please realize this fact – there is too much good stuff. At least here in the US, there are too many good opportunities, too many camps, too many events and sports and performances and clubs for one family to enjoy.

Many of the activities we learned in our backyards, tried out with ruddy imperfection with the neighbor kids or our own brothers and sisters, have now been honed into specialized camps, classes and teams and from what I can tell this is not producing any more incredible human beings that our own backyards did twenty years ago. They may be good, they may have value, but your kids don’t need them all.

Sorting through the wild mass of opportunity is difficult but it helps to begin by knowing your role is to protect your family. Your job is to set priorities for what you want to instill in the hearts and minds of your children and create boundaries that will protect against whatever might compromise those priorities. This does not mean isolate and shelter your children, it simply means protect them. Run your decisions through a filter of what matters most. Your job is to set priorities for what you want to instill in the hearts and minds of your children and create boundaries that will protect against whatever might compromise those priorities.

One simple way to do this is to re-frame the question. Rather than asking “Should we do this activity?”, instead, ask “Will this activity move us closer to what we ultimately desire for our family?”

With every yes and no we are teaching our children what we value, what we prioritize and what matters most to us. Choose carefully.

And remember, this point can swing both ways. Sometimes our kids don’t wish to be involved in anything and protecting them looks like helping them say yes to new and scary things. In this way, we are helping them develop and use the time and talents God has given them. Fear makes our world small and that can start at an early age. We must protect against that as well.

Don’t believe lies

The fear of missing out lingers in the back of many parents’ minds today. Our kids’ activities become our social experience. The pressure to start young and do more is contagious. If we don’t get on a team now, the opportunity will be lost later. We did it for one kid, we must do it for the others. Stack all of this reasoning up and you are soon saying yes to things you don’t even desire for your family.

Our drive for more at a younger age is not producing better equipped, more highly skilled phenoms. We must base our decisions on something other than fear, external pressures and the constantly changing tides of culture or what everyone else is doing. We can do it differently, but it takes courage and determination to play by a different set of rules. We must base our decisions on something other than fear, external pressures and the constantly changing tides of culture or what everyone else is doing.

Know what is motivating your decisions

Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and give honest answers. Why are we saying yes to this activity? What benefit does it provide our family? What are we trading or giving up by saying yes to this? Time? Money? Rest? Creativity? Healthy dinners? Quiet evenings? Weekends? Friendships? Family connection? Every yes costs us. That doesn’t make it bad, but be honest about the costs, clear about what is motivating your decisions and confident that you are making a worthy trade.

There are plenty of ways to do this right

I really hope you have read this far. Because we need to land here. Parenting is hard. Tradeoffs are hard. Our desire to raise these kids well, give them opportunities to learn and grow and invest our time and resources in what matters most feels weighty at times (all the times?). But there are so many ways to do this right.

There are seasons where no activities might be the very best thing your family; be brave enough to say yes to that. There may be seasons where you and your spouse decide to take on a little more running, give up your slow Saturdays for ball games. There is nothing wrong with that.

Just be honest about what you are trading. Say yes from a defined set of priorities. Know what you truly want to pour into your kids and start there. Pray hard that you will be convicted quickly, obey without hesitation no matter what every other family around you is doing and have the courage to make tough changes when you have gotten off course.

And don’t worry about stubbing your toe along the way, signing up for a season that is a little to quiet or a little too loud. This is what learning looks like. Re-set, re-group and keep walking bravely; your kids are blessed to have parents that care so much.

Learn more about bringing your family closer together with Kirk Cameron’s new online video course: ENGAGE! 

This post originally appeared on I Choose Brave and was republished with permission. 

Katie Westenberg is a wife and mother to four, who is passionate about fighting fear and living brave. Married for 15 years, she lives in Washington state, enjoying life outside the city limits and any adventures that involve friends and family. She writes at encouraging women to fear God and live brave.




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