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Time is precious – don’t use it all on after-school activities

I signed my daughter up to everything and I’ve learned that sometimes less is more

Jen Hogan and her children

‘He makes an interesting point” said my hubby of a former Republic of Ireland soccer manager as our usual weeknight routine played out. He was listening to sports podcasts as he made the school lunches, while I was racing around in search of either another pair of school tracksuit bottoms without a gaping hole in the backside or indeed a tracksuit top with a working zip.

No matter how carefully these are laid out each weekend, in preparation for the week ahead, when Armageddon hits the children’s rooms in the form of the morning school rush, all functioning pieces of uniform disappear into a black hole never to be discovered again – or at least until Sunday evening, when they mysteriously reappear covered in ketchup or something equally delightful.

“Why, what’s he saying?” I asked, only half interested and unsure I had the time to wait and hear anyway. “Just something about the lack of modern-day street footballers, because kids are tied up with screens and running from A to B for their activities,” he replied.

“He’s right, I suppose,” I said, before scurrying away again wondering if I’d ever get to bed that night.

It’s the same routine in our house every evening. A chaos of sorts as we race against the clock, trying to get all that needs to be done, done, while hoping there might be time to collapse in front of the TV for 20 minutes before bed. Sometimes, the stars align and that’s a possibility. Other nights, the universe conspires against us with the sudden realisation tomorrow is the last day to pay for an upcoming school tour and there’s not a cent in the house.

Because life is busy, and while my numbers certainly contribute to that, it’s not numbers alone. These days, expectations of parenthood are higher than ever before. We are expected to be all things to all people – mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, friend and work colleague, while providing our children with every opportunity possible at the same time.

The recent mid-term brought a welcome reprieve from school lunches and uniform hunts. While even the dreaded “I’m bored” on repeat could not dampen this homework anarchist’s delight as the diningroom table was declared a battle-free zone for the week. And the break in most after-school activities gave us the added freedom to reclaim our evenings and fill them as we pleased.

Like most parents our evenings and weekends are generally surrendered to after-school activities, training and matches – fun on a schedule, supervised by adults. Free time is a thing we dream of and something modern-day kids aren’t used to occupying.

I’ve cut down on the number of after-school activities my children do. Some, because my hand was forced and the gift of omnipresence is not yet mine, but mostly because time is precious for us and them – and family life matters too. I’ve learned through experience that sometimes, less is more.

It’s easy to see how we as parents can fall into the trap of doing too much – of filling our children’s evenings and days with activities and opportunities. Some, so they have the chance to do something they really enjoy and others, lest they miss out on an opportunity afforded to their peers – because the “fear of missing out” applies to everything.

It was that same fear that led me to sign my daughter up for every activity possible when she was younger, giving little regard to the time pressure it placed on the whole family.

Dancing, football, basketball, swimming, drama, music and even French lessons filled my little girl’s day. There was no time to be bored and no time to learn the lessons that boredom teaches. Her activities, naturally, were supervised by adults so there was no opportunity to learn the negotiation skills needed on makeshift pitches of the local green area during a game of football or rounders with just the neighbourhood kids to call “foul” or otherwise.

These days with the complex issue of childhood obesity a huge concern, many children are not reaching near the levels of physical activity that they should. Our generation’s main exercise of choice – playing outside for hours at a time – is a scene not observed so much today.

Playing outside has always been more fun with friends but friends and families are busy – and when they’re not, the lure of the screen is strong. Sometimes too strong to compete with real people.

It’s a hard one to balance.

Naturally we want to give our children every opportunity, but at what cost – probably more than just that of the modern-day street footballer.