Years ago, when my kids were still young, I read a story about a woman whose children were so overscheduled that she stocked her minivan with food and beverages they could eat in transit. There were cases of juice boxes under the seats, nonperishable snacks in crates in the back. The kids were charged with bringing their backpacks to the van so they could do homework while their siblings participated in various activities.
They were like nomads. Except they weren’t hunter-gatherers chasing the growing seasons or the migratory patterns of their favorite prey. They were simply tied to the kids’ sports teams.
It’s easy to judge parents like her. I confess to judging this mom pretty harshly all those years ago. I assumed she had failed at setting boundaries for herself and her children. My assumptions weren’t based on anything concrete, but they certainly gave me the illusion of control.
Neither my partner nor I wanted an overscheduled life like hers. So we decided our kids could each participate in just one sport.
Both our kids settled on soccer and have been playing for several years now. Meanwhile, I’ve come to understand that very few parents set out to lead overscheduled lives. It just happens. Sports have a way of engulfing family life.
Living the soccer life
I thought about that mother and her minivan food truck recently while driving 300 miles in a single weekend. I was busy shuttling my daughter to and from games in Hudson, Wis.
I thought about that mother again as I packed granola bars and filled water bottles before driving to Shakopee to watch my daughter play. Then I turned around and drove back to Minneapolis to see my son play.
I thought of her a lot during the past two weeks. My partner has been out of the country for work, leaving me to manage the kids’ schedules on my own. In the past 14 days, we’ve had only two days with nothing scheduled.
Even though our kids play soccer exclusively, their practices and games are at different times and different locations. On average, they each have soccer four times a week during the fall, spring and summer seasons. During the winter, they each average twice weekly. Yes, they both play year-round.
That means vacations, family visits and outings with friends are planned around the soccer schedule. Once, when we were trying to make plans, one of my close friends remarked: “I really resent soccer.” Of course, now that her daughter is swimming competitively, she understands.
Why do we do it to ourselves? For my partner and me, it’s because our kids love soccer and we love watching them play. It’s because our kids pick up valuable lessons from the sport. They’ve learned sportsmanship and teamwork. They’ve learned to challenge themselves and push through disappointments. They would never quit willingly and we would never pull them out. So here we are. Unintentionally overscheduled.
And here’s what we, the parents, have learned from the situation.
We’ve learned that even a single sport can throw life into disarray. So our kids had better enjoy it, and we’d better see the positives, too.
We’ve learned to divide and conquer. In the coming months, our daughter has a tournament in Duluth at the same time our son has one in Blaine. So one parent will go to Duluth, the other will stay here. We’ve come to see their conflicting schedules as an opportunity to enjoy one-on-one time with each kid.
We’ve learned how to avoid eating out for every meal. Every week my partner and I sit down with the family schedule and plan our meals accordingly. We focus on meals that can be prepared in advance and quickly reheated. Or we plan simple meals that can be prepared quickly.
And we’ve come to accept that sometimes family dinnertime comes later in the evening. Yes, we eat on a European schedule.
Most of all, we’ve learned that being overscheduled has nothing to do with an inability to set limits. Nor does it mean we’re constantly pushing our kids to achieve. It’s much simpler than that. Our kids love their sports. And we want to give them the opportunity to do what they enjoy. Nothing wrong with that.
Vikki Reich is a writer, editor and consultant. Her writing has appeared on the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, the Star Tribune and Brain, Child Magazine. She is a frequent speaker at blogging and social media conferences and has taught social media at the Loft Literary Center. Her writing was published in the book, “Listen To Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now” (Putnam 2015) and she won first place in the 2016 Erma Bombeck Competition. Find her online at www.VikkiReich.com.
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