Sign Me Up For That! How Busy Kills Us


Kids activities: I love them! And also: I loathe them.

Our kids’ extracurricular activities can cause the wheels to come off the bus. We’re not alone. Talk to any parents of school-aged children, and this is bound to come up.

The year we started homeschooling, I had stars in my eyes and big plans for my daughters. My head spun with the possibilities for customizing their education. The world would be our classroom! They would have opportunities to try it all.

  • Spanish immersion
  • ballet
  • gymnastics
  • Scouts
  • P.E.
  • swim
  • drawing
  • tennis
  • nature study
  • bible study
  • drama

That’s a partial list of “opportunities” to which I shuffled my five-year-old on a weekly basis. Additionally, she attended a co-op where she covered core subjects, public speaking, and field trips. I booked (or double booked) activities every day of the week. We could barely breathe.

Why did I run us so ragged? Good intentions, of course. We had flexibility to try everything, so why on earth wouldn’t we? Why live this lifestyle, if we weren’t going to maximize it? I wanted my oldest to try lots of things so she could find that one thing she loved and focus on it.  I had good intentions, and maybe a pinch of insecurity. If I signed us up for all these fantastic opportunities, nobody could accuse me of having weird, unsocialized children. Right?

My poor, sweet girl. What I hoped would be a process of discovery just kind of overwhelmed her instead.

And then, there was me. Poor, well-intentioned, frazzled, depleted me.

I spent countless hours wrangling my little people out of the house. I raced against the clock, hunting down missing ballet slippers, scout badges and swim goggles, so we could arrive to the activity up next on time.

We’d arrive only to realize I’d forgotten essential items for the baby. Diapers, for instance. Stress upon stress.

This picture of my youngest illustrates a common scenario of those times. Here, I’d packed everything we needed for swim class except a shirt for her to wear home afterwards. So, I ran my errands with her looking like this. Just kidding. I couldn’t do that.

"My mom remembers many things so that that my sister and I can attend simultaneous swim class. But she's not 100%. I wish she would have remembered to bring me a shirt to wear home after class. Sheesh…"
“My mom remembers to pack many things when my sister and I go to swim class. Swimsuits, towels, hairbrushes. But she’s not 100%. I really wish she would remember to bring me a shirt to wear home after class. Sheesh…”


I could never get my act together because we were in a state of perpetual motion. I also had a traveling husband. It was rough, and it wasn’t bringing out the best in any of us.


A little perspective

A human can function on overload for a surprisingly long time, but not without consequence.

I confessed to a friend my tendency to over-commit. She recommended I read the book Margin by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.

Since I’m not the only mom to struggle with overload, I’m going to summarize the book and explain how I see it addressing our rampant “busy parent sickness.”

Modern life leaves us crunched for time and overloaded in every way. Progress has been great, but it has a tendency to fill every nook and cranny of our lives and spin us faster and faster. This overload causes us pain we often can’t pinpoint. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to modern life, or we feel compelled to keep doing more. To restore our health, we need margin.

Margin is having necessary “wiggle room” in your life. Not operating at full capacity. Having reserves of energy–emotional, physical, time and money to dip into when life hands you the unexpected.


Power – Load = Margin


Power is the sum of your resources. This may include what you are good at, your faith, your finances, neighbors who’ll bring you casseroles and girlfriends who will drink wine and talk with you.


Load is your calendar spinning out of control, your in-law troubles, your debt, and whatever else takes it out of you.

When our load is greater than our power, we burn out. When our power is greater than our load, we have margin.

To increase margin, we need to increase power or decrease load–maybe both. 


The road to restoration

So, back to our stressed out family. We reassessed the family calendar and cut a bunch of activities. We can breathe now and it’s so much better.

I recently asked my now seven-year-old to compare this year (far less frenzied) to the previous frenzied year:

“This year was way better, Mom. Back then it was all–hurry up we’re gonna be late where are your shoes get in the car right now it’s time to go!


With fewer commitments on the calendar, we’ve found time to have more fun as a family. We go camping. We listen to live music. We’re hometown tourists. We’re trying to invest in relationships more, entertain more, serve in our community more, laugh more. We might get a pet (and not another fish–one with four legs.)

With fewer structured activities, my oldest daughter's creativity has flourished! She made a theater out of cardboard, fabric, colored pencils and string. Love!
With fewer structured activities, my oldest daughter’s creativity has flourished! She made this “theater” out of cardboard, fabric, colored pencils and string. Love!

We need to further slash commitments. These are hard decisions; I can’t make everybody happy.

Since we can’t say yes to every activity that looks enticing, we have new criteria. Extra points go to activities that…

  1. benefit the entire family, not just one kid
  2. can be enjoyed over a lifetime
  3. involve less driving for the mama

Before my daughters leave the nest, I really want to give them:

  • parents they actually enjoy being around
  • close sibling relationships
  • good habits
  • a love of learning

We can’t give our kids every thing we desire for their education. Nor would we expect an institution to. We have limits. They may never play stringed instruments, ice-dance like Charlie and Meryl, or stick a perfect vault landing. If we gave our kids everything they need or want…would they ever leave home? To a certain extent, they need to make their own way in life. Our part is to give them a good start.

We need more margin. If not signing the kids up for another activity means a healthier home, then sign me up for that.


  1. Karla I have thought for many years that young parents have been trapped in the “structured” activities for their kids. If you watch the very young children at most organized activities it appears to be unwelcome supervision for the most part and they would rather do what kids have always done, “Play” ! The stress is divided between the children and the parents, but the children deal with it better by ignoring the poor adult that has volunteered his or her time trying to be a better parent. I think you are on the money! Let us relax and enjoy life as it certainty speeds by at Mach speed!

    • Amen, Uncle Jiggs! You are right, that is exactly how the littles cope with it. 🙂 And also right about the Mach speed of life. Here’s to relaxing more. Cheers!

  2. Karla,
    I love your insights. i am often tempted to do things I know will stretch our time. Going to take your advice and try to do activities that benefit the majority.


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