Overscheduling: A Cautionary Tale

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I don’t like to be wrong. Especially when it comes to parenting. I’m okay with life’s little mishaps, like thinking people are admiring my designer jeans only to realize later that I have a Barbie sticker stuck to my butt. But parenting mistakes carry real consequences for our children: therapy, addiction, a life in food service …

A couple of weeks ago I was filling in the monthly calendar when, to my absolute horror, I realized that my 5-year old’s life was ridiculously overbooked. I had become “that mom.” I’m a little embarrassed–okay, a lot–to share our schedule with you, but in the name of full disclosure, here it is: gymnastics on Monday, tennis on Tuesday, yoga on Wednesday, dance on Thursday. And preschool Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And she goes to the gym with me on Tuesday and Thursday. And then I decided that Ava and I needed to start attending church on Sunday. You know, because we weren’t doing anything else that day. And … well, I suck.

On Friday, Ava came home early from school in tears, claiming to have a headache. Monday she cried about going back to school, citing the same sudden headache and an unreasonable fear that she wouldn’t know who to play with. I talked this over with her teachers and they said that they would try to get to the bottom of it. In the back of my mind, I had my suspicions about the source of her seemingly premenstrual undoing, but I still wasn’t ready to admit it to myself. Surely she was overcome with the amount of knowledge in her head or maybe she was allergic to the classroom guinea pig–you know, the headaches and all.

I Googled “anxiety in children.” Don’t ever do that. I sat fixed to my computer reading about children decapitating stuffed animals. Possible causes? Overscheduling. New environments. Pressure to perform. Having me as a mom.

When I picked up Ava from school, her teacher pulled me aside to tell me that Ava was feeling anxious about attending kindergarten next year. “We see it every year,” she assured me. I volunteered that it probably wasn’t helping that we’d been a little busy lately, “With tennis and dance and all.” I just didn’t tell her that the “and all” meant every sport featured in the summer and winter Olympics.

That night, Ava told me through her tears, “Nothing is fun. Life isn’t fun.” I consoled her until she fell asleep and then I cried for two days.

In an attempt to give my daughter everything, I gave her too much. And I think the part that makes me the angriest is that I know better. I was exhausted from hurrying her in and out of leotards and tap shoes and shuttling her here and there and I wasn’t even the one doing the damn somersaults and forehands. I got to sit there, admiring my beautiful little girl embrace all these new and wonderful experiences. That is, until her little body, heart and mind couldn’t take all the new and wonderful experiences- certainly not when they were stacked precariously together like a Jenga tower.

Throughout this week, some well-meaning friends have suggested that I force Ava to do the activities she once enjoyed. Others say that she’s just looking for attention (yeah, because my only child is lacking in the attention department). But I know my child and I know that they’re wrong. More importantly, I know that I screwed up.

Making a mistake doesn’t make me a bad parent. I’m guilty of forcing her to perform for relatives as if she’s a trained monkey. I’m guilty of encouraging her to color inside the lines. I’m guilty of making her wear an uncomfortable outfit just because I paid too much for it and wanted everyone to appreciate her fabulous style (which, in this case, was obviously mine). However, if I failed to right my mistakes, I would consider myself to be a bad parent.

So I’m cutting most of the extracurricular activities. After all, by the time she’s 13, she’ll be looking for any excuse to get away from me. For now, I’m pretty cool and I’m going to take advantage of these precious moments we have together. I wish I hadn’t already wasted so many, but just as she’s learning to be a good person in this world, I am learning to be a good parent. I’m trying to acknowledge her fears without playing into them. I’m trying to help her feel more in control of her surroundings. I’m trying to rebuild her fractured confidence. I don’t actually know how to do any of this, but the point is, I’m trying.
 

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