You should never have to choose between your child and your spouse. But to keep that balance, you may need to choose between some of your child’s activities: dance, soccer, football, or violin.
Shuttling kids around non-stop leaves little time for you and your spouse. If your child’s constant extracurricular activities are draining you—or your marriage—it is probably time to trim the schedule.
Children involved in one or more after-school activities are less subject to peer pressure and have higher self-esteem. But if your child is involved in numerous activities, cutting out one or two shouldn’t do any harm. And it could do you, your marriage and your children a whole lot of good…
A child-centric universe can drive your spouse to the outer limits. And constantly putting your children before your marriage may ultimately end up hurting your kids too. When a marriage is neglected, the relationship deteriorates rapidly. Divorce may follow. But a healthy marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your child. A stable, intact marriage is associated with many positive outcomes for children. These include lower rates of teen pregnancy, school drop-outs, incarceration and unemployment.
“To raise healthy kids, simply put your marriage first and your children second,” says David Code, author of “To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First.” Regularly prioritizing your kids above your spouse can be an avoidance tactic. “The truth is, we often find it easier to be with our kids than our partners,” says Code. “This seems child-friendly, but we don’t realize we’re using our kids as an escape from our spouses.”
To protect your sanity, your marriage, and your children, set reasonable limits on the number of extracurricular activities each week. Sit down with your children and let them know you need a break from the current breakneck schedule. If whining, screaming, crying or guilt-tripping ensues, stay firm. Let your children know this adjustment is part of an overall commitment to strengthening the family and protecting everyone from overload. Set an activity calendar in advance of each semester; plan for any overlaps in seasonal activities.
Allow your child to have input into which activities he/she gets to keep. Your child’s hobbies should be something that he or she (not just you) enjoys.
If you have the strength, try doing something together as family in lieu of an after-school activity. You’ll cut down on your drive and wait time while enjoying more quality time together. Start a family bowling league, have a weekly game night, or just enjoy a leisurely family dinner together. Studies have found that in families who eat together regularly, children and teens perform better academically, have healthier diets and are less likely to do drugs.
Be sure to also carve out a little time for date night too—just you and your spouse. Alone. Most children secretly crave assurances that their parents are happily married. Giving plenty of attention to your spouse—as well as your child—helps provide this sense of security.
By cutting back on your child’s after-school activities, you may feel like you are depriving your child of opportunities. But you may actually be helping protect them. While your children may have more energy than you, they can get overloaded too. Studies have shown that young children who are stressed from too many extracurricular activities are more vulnerable to illness.
The truth is, most children won’t grow up to be professional athletes or musicians. Most children, however, will eventually marry and have families of their own. As spouses and parents, they will have to juggle priorities and strike a balance between work, play and family. The example you set for your children now in managing these priorities can set them on a path toward a richer, more rewarding life.