I had no idea before having a child that making friends of my own would be so difficult. Especially as a stay-at-home mom, down time is hard to come by and so are opportunities to socialize. Thus, the play date has become my new go-to, and I try to book one a week to make sure we are getting out and seeing other moms (for me) and kids (for my daughter).
But here’s another thing I had no idea about: how unrelentingly busy kids’ schedules are these days. I’m not talking about teenagers like our babysitter who does softball and lacrosse and has to book up weekend sitting nights months in advance to account for all her responsibilities. Or even the grade-school kids whose parents work full-time and need to load them up on care and activities. I also get that working parents need structured days for their young children, but in most daycares and full-day preschools, down time, play time, and nap time are part of the program. It’s not just go-go-go!
I am talking about the toddlers of fellow stay-at-home or part-time-working parents who literally have an activity, a class, or a plan from sun up until sun down. Lately it seems like every time I reach out for a play date, we are booking weeks and weeks in advance to compensate for the overly full schedules of 2- and 3-year-olds. Is it me, or is this nuts?
Don’t get me wrong: I work from home part-time and have a 2-year-old daughter. Busy is something I understand, and my toddler needs to get out of the house and do things without Mommy, too. It’s good for both of us. She is in preschool for three hours, three to four mornings a week. The structure is good for her, and I know she’s learning and making friends in the process.
I’ve also signed her up for a 45-minute ballet class one afternoon a week. But this, on top of maybe one or two play dates, even feels like a lot to me. On the afternoons and whole days that we’re free, I like to bring her to the park or stay home, talk to her, color pictures, and just, you know, hang. Am I missing something?
I joined a local mommy play date group and have been trying desperately to make new friends in our area. But it’s harder than I ever imagined to actually get a date on the calendar. So many of these women have their toddlers loaded up on gymnastics, soccer, standing group play dates, daily camp or school, and so on. And I’m over here wondering, shouldn’t we give our kids a break?
I feel exhausted for these kids. Many of them are so overloaded on activities that they can’t possibly be taking naps. I know at 2-and-a-half, my daughter might give hers up soon but for now, if she misses it she’s beat. Aren’t they tired being dragged all over town from one activity to the next from 9 a.m. until 4 or later? And what about the weekends? Games, extra practices, meet-ups, and more mean these same 2- and 3-year-olds aren’t even getting two days off.
Of course kids need structure. I am not denying that and it’s why we have our own in part-time preschool and dance. But isn’t there a point at which too much scheduling is happening? Shouldn’t little kids be getting breaks from the constant activity and just winding down, relaxing, or playing quietly at their home or a friend’s?
What ever happened to letting them be a little bored? My own parents always told us that boredom is where creativity kicks in. I feel like most of my friends’ kids aren’t given a chance to be a little bored, a little unstructured, for even a day. It doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be too tempted to pick up a book or draw a picture unprompted if this is how their little lives are run.
And believe me, it doesn’t stop at two. Most of the moms I know with older kids are constantly shuttling them everywhere. With how much homework they get these days, even in kindergarten, again I’m baffled at why there must be so much else piled on their little plates.
I know we want to keep their minds engaged and growing. I understand that all of these activities, when looked at separately, are positive for kids. But I can’t help but wonder if we’re over-scheduling them to the point of no return. Will our children understand and appreciate the value of zoning out? Will their bodies even get a chance to try?
And what about the ones who are more introverted? Will they begin to believe that there is no value in writing a poem or playing quietly with a doll or train set? To me, these are all just as important as the hand-eye coordination that’s learned in basketball or the discipline they teach at ballet. It all depends on the kid, of course, but I’m hard pressed to believe that 90% of the preschool-aged children in my suburban town truly prefer being busy all day, every day.
As for where this leaves our socializing, the jury’s out. I’ve met some wonderful women who seem to apply balance to their schedules and we hang out when we can. I had a fantasy, I suppose, about impromptu get-togethers. About blowing up a big pool in the backyard, buying a ton of snacks, bubbles, and chalk, and having a pack of kids over for the afternoon on a day’s notice. But now that I see the reality of most children’s schedules, I’m learning that it’s not likely to happen.
I have to wonder if it’s a matter of place and not just time. Are other parts of the country outside our New York City suburban bubble less concerned with this seeming activity obsession? Is it because here, and near other major cities, adults are always panicking about how much multitasking they are doing and we feel compelled to pass this sort of harried mindset onto our kids? Are the children growing up in the countryside elsewhere on the map a little less bogged down by their parents’ scheduling agendas?
Whatever the answers, I guess I’ll just carry on as the minority over here, with about 12 scheduled hours a week and the rest of our time free for exploration, learning, and fun. If that sounds like you, feel free to reach out — because chances are, we’re free for a play date!