Now that August is here, it’s time to prepare for back-to-school time. There are football games and volleyball tournaments, choir practice and band rehearsals.

Add in homework, and it’s quite the full life.

Before bed, we look at each other and say, “Okay, what’s happening tomorrow?” as we carefully plan out who’s driving whom to what corner of the city.

Our family calendar on the wall is so complex that it almost requires an advanced degree in mechanical engineering to make it all work! At the start of every school year, we wonder, “Have we taken on too much? Are our kids involved in too many activities? Should we cut out something?”
As we discern these questions once again, we’d like to share with you some of the guidelines we consider.


Are the Children Thriving?

First, we discuss how our children are doing. Are they happy? Are their attitudes positive and cheerful? Are they juggling their activities successfully and keeping up with school work? If the answers are Yes, these are all good signs.

Can they play independently? Or do they look to you for constant entertainment? Are they exhausted? Do they mope around the house? Are they so busy that they can’t keep up with regular chores and homework? These could be warning signs.


Do They Have Free Time?

Kids need time to be kids. They should have plenty of unstructured time to allow their imaginations and independence to flourish. Hyper-scheduling so they are on the go from one activity to the next turns childhood into a job and risks burning them out on the activities they once loved. It may also pigeonhole them too early in certain skills.

Free time allows them to discover a wider array of interests and talents they may not have known they had. Make sure their extracurriculars aren’t preventing them from playing with friends, reading their favorite new series or shooting baskets in the driveway.


Do You Have Family Time?

Don’t let activities be so all-consuming that you have no family time at home. Sure, some of us rationalize and say that time spent at Bobby’s soccer games is family time, since we are all there together, but let’s be realistic: Bobby is playing soccer, Mom and Dad are chatting with friends on the sidelines, and little Susie and Timmy have run off to the playground because the game doesn’t hold their attention. That is not sufficient family time; family time means interacting, doing something together, like sharing a meal and conversation or playing a game — and, of course, praying together.

We all know how crucial dinnertime is: Make sure activities don’t prevent your family from ever sitting down to eat together. Of course, some days are extra crazy, and there may be some special event that prevents a sedate family meal, but the norm should be dinner together, even if it means eating early or late to accommodate schedules.


Do You Have Spouse Time?

Don’t forget about your own marriage in the midst of all the madness! There have been days where Caroline comes screeching up to a soccer game with a ballerina in tow, while Tom zooms in with the other car, loaded with a quarterback and a sleepy 4-year-old. We look at each other and say, “Oh, hello! Nice to see you!”

We know too much is happening when we can never attend an event in one car: Make a conscious effort to carve out special time with your spouse, even if it’s just snuggling on the couch drinking coffee and watching your favorite TV show. If this is impossible, something must change in your schedules.

It is okay to say No. Our kids do not have to play every sport, audition for every play, join every club or attend every party.

Remember: Just because an activity is a great opportunity for your child doesn’t mean you have to sign him or her up — great opportunities will come along again.


Tom and Caroline McDonald are the parents of five children,

from a toddler to teens. They teach high school and are

the family-life ministers for their parish in Mobile, Alabama.