Do you remember being stressed out when you were a kid?
Childhood is meant to be a simple time, but kids’ days are scheduled from morning until night.
By Pilar Mitchell // Commissioned by Lucy Glen
Do you know what I remember best about childhood? Having lots of spare time.
I played in my room or wandered to the neighbour’s unannounced to see if they wanted to ride pushbikes. I sat in the window at my grandma’s and watched dust motes floating around in a sunbeam.
I went to school and did piano lessons once a week, but other than that, my job was to play.
Those delicious periods of having nothing to do stand out for me today because I don’t have them anymore. As an adult, I’m stressed. I have three young kids. I work, I cook, I clean, I exercise, I try to have hobbies. One thing I don’t do much is sleep.
And it’s not just me. My kids are stressed too. A quick look at the calendar of my older two reveals a well-rounded, super busy pair. They do karate, soccer, Spanish, drama, robotics, swimming. I want them to take up an instrument, but I’m not sure where to fit it in, not to mention the cost.
As for the baby, he’s only nine months old, so no extra-curriculars yet. But then again, his brothers were already in swimming at his age, so sometimes I feel guilty for not signing him up.
On top of the activities, there’s homework. When sitting at the dining table working on a paragraph, my eldest sometimes yells out, “Mama! This is too much for me!”
I know it sounds like a lot. It is. But it’s no different from any other family I know. We’re all doing too much and we’re all stressed out.
Fridays are their only day off
All those activities plus after school care means that there’s only one night a week – Friday – that my kids go home early to relax.
Every other night, we get home at six. Then there’s the race to get dinner on the table, followed by homework, baths, bedtime stories. At the end we all fall into bed, exhausted.
What happened to chasing down the Mr Whippy truck after school with a gold coin in hand? What happened to making up elaborate plays starring all your soft toys? Those moments for fun and imagination are all filled up.
Downtime is replaced with screen time
And although juggling activities is tricky, a packed schedule has nothing on technology.
I remember getting up early for Saturday morning cartoons – the timing of which was clearly to allow parents a lie in (they were smarter in the 80s). Around 11 am all my favourites were over and most of the day still stretched in front of me. With nothing more to watch, I went outside.
I didn’t have Minecraft or Nintendo Switch, or endless shows to watch on Netflix. When I was 13, my parents didn’t have to argue with me over why I wasn’t allowed to have an Instagram account.
Now kids have access to constant entertainment and communication in the form of screens. Moments for imaginative play are stolen away as they binge-watch seasons Pokémon. And as teenagers, time is spent worrying over how many likes a TikTok got.
What if we cancelled everything?
Imagine if our children had no extra-curricular activities and no screens. (*gasp* I know).
Instead of rushing off to morning language class, they’d sleep later. Instead of weekend sport, they’d stay home and build LEGO or catch bugs outside.
Many families, mine included, put their kids in activities instead of after school care so that their time is productive. But I never stopped to wonder, why should kids have to be productive? Productivity is exactly what makes my own life so stressful.
Without directed activities, kids will find things to do. And if they get bored, so what? Boredom is a fertile ground for creativity.
When my kids look back at their childhood, I want them to remember how much fun it was, not how busy they were. I think this term I’ll cancel everything and see what happens. If it’s a disaster I can always book them back in.
Who knows? Maybe giving my kids nothing to do will bring down stress levels. And maybe, a long time in the future when they’re parents, my kids will remember these moments as some of the best in their childhood.