We live in a world where we have to make choices all the time. There are the small ones such as which brand of pasta to buy all the way up to the big, life-changing choices. And it is a fact of life that seems to be growing instead of retreating. Take children's activities, for instance. Over the course of my 18 years of parenting, it seems every year there are more and more options of classes and activities for which to sign children up. On the face of it, this doesn't seem to be a bad thing. Many of the opportunities available to our children are really good things. It's just that there are so many of them and it is so easy to start to think that because the option exists, that one is a bad parent for not giving our children every learning experience possible. The plethora of options quickly becomes a burden and creates a lifestyle in which very few people feel good about the choices they have made.
If you choose to participate in as many classes as possible, family life quickly degenerates. If the family spends all their time running hither and thither... dropping off, picking up, classes, rehearsals, practices... there is little time to spend eating together, creating memories together, and making a pleasant and welcoming home. Conversely, it is very easy for the parents who do not sign up for every class or sport under the sun feel guilty that they are somehow cheating their children and possibly ruining their life.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Just as with other decisions in life, we don't have to make everything that is available a viable option. If families would discuss what their values are and think carefully about their ultimate goal is as far as their children are concerned, I believe it would become significantly easier to choose outside activities that fit into the family's life well, are not overwhelming, and without guilt.
How does this happen? First, the parents need to discuss how they would like their family to be. For us, family dinners are very important. As a matter of course, we do not agree to do things which conflict with dinner time. Even if those things seem very good or even if it is something our child would really like. We believe that eating together is far better for our children and the life of our family than any activity which would be put in its place. Since we have made that decision and since we know the reasons behind it, it is very easy for us to just say no to activities which would conflict with it. Our children are aware of our beliefs and except for brief and occasional bouts of disappointment, it has never been an issue. The same goes for things which happen on Sunday. In our town, AYSO soccer plays all its games on Sunday and after a couple of years, we decided this didn't work for our family. Sunday was not a day of rest and worship if we were preoccupied with soccer games. (Especially if these games were scheduled during church!) If it happens on Sunday, we just say no. The decision is made for us and we don't really have to think about it.
We have other parameters we use. Our ultimate purpose in raising our children is to raise them to be adults who love God and who want to serve him. With that in mind, it becomes easier to make choices about activities, especially if there are conflicting activities. How does our participation fit in with our goals? Does it fit? Is one better then the other? We also limit our participation. Children need to have time to play, sit, think, learn to occupy themselves. If we commit to too much, this can't happen. When you know your schedule is as full as you like it, just say no to something else. And if you can remember why you are saying no... because you believe that to not be involved in something (even if it's good) is because you are choosing better, you can keep the guilt at bay.
Lastly, there are some basic logistical factors which can help with making choices. Before agreeing to to anything, I try to look at the calendar and double-check that we can be available for all of it. Too often, I have seen (or experienced as someone running a program) children who are overly committed and suddenly they find that they can't make a key class, performance, game, or rehearsal because another activity has something at the same time. You can't do it all, even if some try. Isn't it better to completely participate in a class or activity than to give partial participation to a lot of classes?
I realize this is walking into some tricky territory and that some people become angry at the thought that they can't do everything. But since it's true, isn't it better to teach our children how to make good choices as to how they fill their time and to model good decision-making practices? I personally find it freeing to know I can't do everything and so don't have to try.