On a visit to my hometown recently I tried to catch up with an old friend, Andrea. Coffee on Tuesday afternoon? No, Child 1 has swimming lessons after school. Ok, lunch on Thursday? Can’t do that, she takes the littlest one to baby yoga. (Is that a thing now?) The weekend, then. No chance – it’s a mad whirl of football, judo, ballet, drama, and gymnastics. Now, I’m all for kids enjoying extra-curricular activities – but wow.
We never got to meet up, but I’m hoping that by next time she’ll have made a simple change to her life. It’s a little strategy called the ‘pick one thing rule,’ and I wish I’d heard of it when my kids were little.
None of us want our children to miss out. We’re keen for them to try whatever life has to offer. To discover their true talent – what if we denied them singing lessons and they could have been the next George Michael?
Jack – or Jill – of all trades, master of none
The problem is, this often results in them doing everything – all at once. We spend evenings and weekends driving Mum’s (or Dad’s) Taxi, swearing when we get stuck behind a bus as we dash from after-school group to sports club. (“Mummy, what does that word mean that sounds like ‘banker’?”) Our already limited free time gets swallowed up by our kids’ extra-curricular commitments.
They end up trying everything and committing to nothing. We nag them to do their guitar practice, clean their football boots, put their gym kit in the laundry basket. They’re exhausted after concentrating on schoolwork all day and trying to learn a multitude of new skills by night (and weekend).
Every child needs time to stare aimlessly at the wall, binge-watch cartoons and just ‘be.’ More importantly, we need time together as a family when we’re not either too tired to enjoy it or squashed into a car shouting at the traffic.
Pick a hobby, any hobby
So – ‘pick one thing.’ It’s simple. The rule is that each child has to choose an extra-curricular activity. It might be Brownies, karate, horse-riding or an art class. It doesn’t matter – they have to do one, and it’s their choice.
However. The rule also states they can’t do any more than one activity. So if they’ve got a burning desire to bend it like Beckham and dance like Dame Darcey Bussell, they’re going to have to pick a team. At least for now – they can always change their mind later and switch sides.
Don’t forget the small print
Oh, that brings me to the sub-clause. Once a child has decided on their past-time of choice, they have to stick with it until the end of the season/course or until one bit of outrageously expensive equipment can be sold to pay for the next one. I mention this because if your child wants to learn to play the saxophone, for example, that instrument doesn’t come cheap. You’d be forgiven for feeling a bit miffed if they announce two weeks in that it’s harder than they thought and they’d like to join the choir instead, please-and-thank-you.
I think this is common sense. They’re far more likely to find an interest they enjoy and, with only one thing to focus on, chances are they’ll get quite good at it. They’ll still have the opportunity to learn about teamwork, friendship and all the other stuff these things involve, and you’ll get to keep your sanity. You won’t have to plan every meal or weekend around everyone else’s commitments, and you might discover you really enjoy spending time together as a family.
In Andrea’s case, maybe she’ll have time for coffee with an old school friend she hasn’t seen for five years.