The Over-Scheduled Child – Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap

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Even though I’d sworn it’d never happen, it had.  By this past spring, my oldest daughter was enrolled in seven extracurricular activities: Girls Scouts, gymnastics, Spanish, art, piano, choir, and book club.  Ridiculous, I know.  Her participation had occurred innocently enough, as half of them required only a monthly or bi-monthly commitment.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t until all activities ceased this summer that I realized I had a problem.  Like so many Americans, I was guilty of overscheduling my child.

Therefore, this month, I’m reading The Over-Scheduled Child:  How to Avoid the Hyper-Parenting Trap by Alvin Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise, in an effort to affirm my decision to drop all but two activities from her list of commitments.  As Rosenfeld and Wise point out, “Hyper-parenting is born out of the best intentions.”  In my case, while my child’s school has a wonderful, small-town camaraderie, the teacher in me felt compelled to compensate for its less than stellar curriculum.  Of course, I know The Over-Scheduled Child is correct when it argues that “parenting should not take all our time, money and energy,” but I did it anyway.  While I know it’s not an excuse, it’s hard to not worry your kid will be missing out if you say no.

According to The Over-Scheduled Child, “When it comes to making life good for our children, we are not quite sure where reason ends and ridiculous begins…Virtually all of us in the American middle class and above are already providing our children with an enriched environment.  Compared to us, most of the world’s children live in abject poverty.  Relatively speaking, our lives are charmed.  Yet rather than feeling grateful, many of us feel anxious, precarious, and vulnerable.”

What do we do as a result? As Rosenfeld and Wise explain, “Many parents are acting as though life can be planned and children programmed, the ultimate goal being admission to a prestigious college and the supposed success that invariably follows.  But let’s not forget that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was a Harvard grad.”  Therefore, I think it’s fair of Rosenfeld and Wise to ask, “Should our goal be preparing our kids to get into the college of their choice or to live the life of their choice?”

“To succeed in life, does every child really need the level of intense involvement that has come to characterize family life in America today?  Does unquestioning acceptance of this fast-track lifestyle indicate a bankruptcy of common sense?  Are all American families so far gone in this madness that, in our blindness, we simply see no alternative?  Or is there, perhaps, a better, easier, more balanced and rewarding way for families to live?”

Like Bria Simpson’s book, The Balanced Mom, which I blogged about back in May, The Over-Scheduled Child, wants parents to consider the following: What do I really believe in?  What do I really want from this life?  While my daughter’s afterschool schedule in second grade didn’t reflect it, I do believe that less is more.  In the midst of the chaos, I’d justify her involvement to my husband by saying that she only went to gymnastics one hour a week whereas other girls her age went for three hours a night.  Granted, my track might not have been as fast as others still it was frantic enough to affect our quality of life.

The way I figure there are worse things than having the best of intentions but, as I’m finding, you can’t take your schedule back until you admit you have a problem.  So if there’s anyone else out there who’d like to come clean, feel free.  You’re in good company.