End of Summer, Back to School (and a rant about extracurricular commitments)

End of Summer, Back to School (and a rant about extracurricular commitments) // jessconnell.com

Well, this year we had a long summer. Longer than normal.

And it was fabulous.

Here are some highlights:

  • Our family of 9 spent 12 days on a backpacking trip around Mt. Rainier. We were completely phone/internet disconnected during those days, and lived off of (1) what we could carry, and (2) what we stashed in 2 food/fuel caches dropped off at ranger stations. It was ridiculously beautiful, an excellent way to be together as a family, and very, very challenging. You can expect that a LOT of my posts this fall will deal with observations, lessons learned, and experiences gained on the trail. It was a wonderful trip.
  • The kids and I built a raised garden bed and a garden pathway. We used (free) cedar mulch from a tree that was cut down one street over, a $5 bunk-bed-drawer-style trundle bed we no longer needed (for the raised garden bed), (free) bricks we had collected from a torn-down chimney in Portland, (free) pavers left in the yard when we bought this house, and a $30 roll of garden cloth from Costco. I’m so pleased with how it turned out, and being a total cheapskate, I really really love the minimal cost of it.
  • We did a ton of hiking, and spent time learning about ultralight backpacking. We got serious about it, y’all– even running bleachers with packs on. We didn’t want to get out on the trail and be unprepared. It was so good to be active, and engage with the beautiful wilderness available to us here in the SW Washington/NW Oregon area.
  • Baby #8 and I made it completely through the 2nd trimester, and then some. Today, I’m roughly 10/11 weeks out from the time when we’ll meet our new-little-person. We didn’t found out the gender this time (haven’t done that since baby #1, 14+ years ago), and so that should make delivery-date even more exciting.
  • MORE, too, of course: We celebrated a heap of birthdays and  went on 2 trips with our church family. I decided to stop kvetching about politics and the lousy options we have, jump in, get involved, and do something: I ran for, and won the primary for, the basic party office in our community: PCO. I took on some extra writing/editing jobs so we could gear-up with quality supplies for our backpacking trip. I flew to Texas for my mom’s 60th.

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And now, we’ve moved into fall.

  • My podcast, Mom On Purpose, will be launching this month!
  • I’m back to blogging. So, y’all be sure to come back around!

And we’re back into our school year. 

  • I’m still using a one-Bible-chapter-a-week focus for our Bible time (in addition to one day a week in some topic-focused books I love by Sally Michael). This year, we’ll work our way through the Gospel of John.
  • We’re still reading aloud for the bulk of our school time. OH HOW MUCH I LOVE the effects of reading excellent books aloud, together, as a family!! Our time-period focus for this year will be the Reformation & Renaissance.
  • We spent the week before school decluttering our main rooms, and I’m so thankful we did. Everything feels very airy, tidy, rightly-appointed, and well-sorted, so now I can devote my mind and body to this task of purposefully educating 5 people. Phew. 
  • Our outside-of-home commitments are limited to two things: (1) NCFCA speech & debate for our 8th-grade-and-up kids, and (2) my daughter’s weekly violin lesson. We are super super careful about the commitments we make, and these are two that we see both short-term and long-term fruit in.

On that last point:

EXTRACURRICULAR SKILLS & COMMITMENTS

We are very wary about adding events and commitments to our family calendar. Too often, extracurricular commitments:

  • suck up time and money
  • leave the child with very little long-term benefits
  • make everyone tired
  • leave the child with a very niche-skill that can only be pursued in intense, individual ways

Individual pursuits can all too easily contribute to a long-term dissatisfaction with one’s family involvement. Oftentimes, these “skills” end up being something that competes with the future young adult’s marriage, family, and eat up evenings and weekends. Many skills obtained in extracurricular commitments can only be pursued in formalized, expensive, time-intensive ways, and are not (in any real way) accessible in a family-friendly way that all age levels can participate in.

These types of commitments would not only pull our family members away from one another now, but they would also (within 1-2 decades) threaten to pull our adult children away from their future spouses and children, as they continue to pursue the talents/skills/commitments WE’VE encouraged.

Instead, we opt for things that can be learned within the family environment, that (mostly) can include all ages, and that will/can contribute to long-term ongoing fruitfulness within their God-appointed roles, long-term.

So that includes activities like:

  • graphic design, coding, computer skills
  • cooking/baking
  • musical interests
  • group sports & outdoors activities that include a wide variety of ages (we prefer these over individual-focused sporting activities)
  • building projects
  • landscaping work
  • anything that beautifies, maintains, fixes, or improves the home
  • creative pursuits that can be done within the home environment without requiring excessive amounts of alone time or excessive amount of floor space/protection (i.e., building large models that need to be built, painted, stored, and displayed is something that would continually be a drag on not only our home and family, but put undue pressure on the adult child’s future family)
  • pursuing small business ideas together as siblings
  • overarching skills (like speech/communication) that will contribute in any/all professional, church, and personal settings
  • spiritual growth/development (which is part of the purpose/focus of NCFCA speech & debate– apologetics and theological growth)

Simply put: we believe we are responsible for the appetites we invest in, develop, and encourage in our children and we want to consider not just the current culture’s perspective on a particular sport or skill, but actually put the skill itself under the microscope and consider the long-term pull it will have over the course of a child’s life, even in the context of his/her future family, church, and professional life. 

WHY WHAT WE PERMIT (AND PURSUE) MATTERS

It is disconcerting to me the level of pressure many parents labor under, feeling the need to offer each child multiple activities, at every age/stage/season, carting kids back and forth to activities they often grow weary of and want to quit. We have seen that these pressures often act as a major detraction from family togetherness, even though the appearance is that the family is technically *together* while running to and from the events on the calendar.

These pressures not only threaten the stability and simple joy of family life, but they also contribute to the feeling many parents have that (even if they would otherwise welcome another little adorable person to the family) having more kids would just be too too hard and expensive.

Without purposeful discernment, extracurricular events:

  • fill up the family calendar
  • take up the family’s money
  • require the whole family to spend far too much time in the car, eating sub-par expensive foods
  • make everyone more tired and crabby
  • give the child (sometimes in subtle ways) a different set of values than the parents truly wish to impart
  • offer the kids very little by way of long-term benefits that can not be gotten some other way
  • make the parents less delighted and more bone-weary in their role as parents

So we choose to be VERY selective in the activities we invest in, and we say “no” to a lot of things that might appear “good.”

We realize these may not be everyone’s priorities, but these ideas have deeply influenced the commitments we make and the expenditures we take on, and we continue to be pleased with the fruit of choosing to prioritize family togetherness and long-term tangible GOOD in the lives of our children over the pursuit of highly-individualized sports or activities.

 

So.

That’s what our summer was like, and what we are expecting for fall.

And, there’s a little bonus rant about extracurriculars. 

What say you? 

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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17 Responses

  1. Katie says:

    Yay! So glad you’re back!

    I’m on the first week of saying some major “no’s” to very good extracurricular activities (for myself and my 4 kids) that are not as beneficial as simply staying home. We love our neighborhood, our own nearly daily family bike rides, homeschooling, and doing homemaking activities together- all of which benefit the whole family and will benefit my kids their whole lives. So we limit our outside commitments very carefully as well. Out of all that is GOOD, we choose only what is BEST for us in this season.

    • Jess Connell says:

      It’s hard to say “no” to those ‘very good’ things… especially if a majority around you, or people close to you, are doing them.

      Keep at it! Sounds like you’re operating with wisdom!

  2. Diana says:

    Welcome back! I’ve been wondering when you might pop back in. I’m so looking forward to reading your new posts!

    I’m also hugely admiring of your summer backpacking trip. Go, you! That’s so impressive.

    I’m so glad to hear that you and baby #8 are doing well. Hurray for quickly approaching due dates!

    We too are also now expecting – for March. :)

    I love what you said about extracurriculars:

    “It is disconcerting to me the level of pressure many parents labor under, feeling the need to offer each child multiple activities, at every age/stage/season, carting kids back and forth to activities they often grow weary of and want to quit.”

    Yes, AMEN. This is ME.

    I’ve really been fighting this battle lately. It seems that a huge majority of homeschooling families around here have two or three children, each of whom is involved in about TWO BILLION EXTRACURRICULARS. (Minor exaggeration.) It’s frustrating, because we simply do not have the money to follow that lead, and I find that my rope with outside activities is VERY short – if I leave the house once a week, I’m pretty much done. But a lot of these mums are in and out of the van all day, every day. And there is a lot of pressure by association.

    I appreciate your wise words very much.

    Welcome back!!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Congrats on your spring baby!

      You said: “I find that my rope with outside activities is VERY short – if I leave the house once a week, I’m pretty much done.”

      I have found the same thing. When we are over-committed, the house gets messier. The kids get crabbier. The food gets more expensive and ends up eaten quickly, with bits left on the floor of the van. And we’re all more stressed and exhausted and the kids aren’t actually having fun. I feel motivated by guilt and association to do things I don’t even want to be doing… and and we’re all irritated with one another.

      The way out is by getting off the hamster wheel and saying a lot of hard “no”s. And it turns out, the best part isn’t really saying “no” to the “no” things… but it’s all the things you get to say “yes” to because you finally have energy and mental bandwidth and calendar space for it.

      You’re finally swimming along with your eyes above the surface, able to see the real possibilities you have the ability to choose, rather than desperately gasping for air.

      I don’t know how the other moms do it… the ones in and out of the van all day long… but I’m not responsible for them and their families. I’m responsible for mine. And for us, it’s better when we swim at a pace that lets us breathe.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  3. Jamie Butts says:

    I am so glad you are back too! Thankful for your blog and looked up baby articles this summer, particularly postpartum advice. Thanks sister!

  4. Allison says:

    I love that you are back, and I look forward to reading your blog again!

  5. betsy says:

    Glad that you are back!

    We do sports as a family. We have a smaller family (4 kids; 3 of whom are elementary aged, so they participate). That helps with logistics. My oldest child has some behavior/what-not (I suspect significant ADHD, though no diagnosis yet), and the sports help control that to a huge extent, which is a blessing not just to him, but to our entire family. He is difficult to live with without regular exercise, difficult to motivate to exercise independently, and is in much better shape with more endurance than anyone else in the family. Bad combo. :) I manage practices alone because my husband travels during the week, but because he also played in high school, it gives them all a huge commonality to reconnect with. We also hike as a family, but that’s something that can only happen on weekends. This is a nice extra.

    All that to say that yes, I think busy-ness as a culture is something we fall way too prey to. I’ve done it at times myself–busy just to be busy. And it’s a good reminder for every family to re-evaluate their committments on a regular basis to make sure their family is living the life that we want to live.

    But sometimes things look like one thing on the outside, but have different motivations at the heart.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Sounds like purposeful commitments! This definitely is not a rant against any-commitment, but a rant against guilt-ridden overcommitment that kills family life.

      And I totally agree that being active makes a HUGE difference in my wiggly boys (and thus, our whole family life).

  6. Katie S says:

    Your comment that “we opt for things that can be learned within the family environment, that (mostly) can include all ages, and that will/can contribute to long-term ongoing fruitfulness within their God-appointed roles, long-term,” is helpful. Our oldest is going to be five this week and kid-related outside commitment opportunities will be rolling in soon I know. This article will help my husband and I discuss and define how to evaluate those – I think specifically that realizing we can/ought to evaluate the long-term implications is helpful. (It’s quite possible HE has thought of this, but we’ve not had a specific discussion thus far. :) )

    If you get a chance, would you share more details on your outdoor adventures? I’m interested in equipment, logistics, and particularly management (like how do sleeping arrangements work, how do you help the littles to sleep if it’s still light out, etc). My husband camped and backpacked while growing up, I did not, and we’re trying to figure out how to introduce it to our family.

  7. Candice says:

    Glad you’re back and that you had such a wonderful summer!! Looking forward to posts again! :)

  8. Kondwani says:

    I was interested to see what you said about extracurriculars potentially causing future problems. My husband and I were recently talking about how we can’t see how you can have certain hobbies and not be selfish in terms of family. For example, people who regularly run for 4-5 hours at weekends, or are involved in whole day activities on a regular basis. We’d both like to run more than we do – but need to balance that with commitment to the family. (I’ve taken to running 3 Km loops and picking up a fresh child each time, so they get 3 Km themselves and I get about 9 Km – seems a good way to work it)

    I hadn’t quite translated that thought into thinking about what we have the children involved in, although I have often thought that I wouldn’t necessarily want my child to be an olympic level sportsperson or a world renowned musician. Guiding them in their early years towards skills and hobbies that can serve and bless others is important and you wrote clearly about that.

    • Jess Connell says:

      We have had the same thought (RE: Olympic/famous child). I think we have grown up with too many rotten examples of kid-stars who struggled. It’s hard to “peak” too soon, and to have too much fame, money, power, before you’re wise enough to rightly handle it.

      I want our kids to find their niche and what God has made them for, but I won’t be the one pushing them toward extreme levels of skill or pursuit of fame. If one or more of them launched into something big on their own interest and desire, that would be more acceptable to me (and seem more God-arranged, somehow) than me pushing and positioning them into it.

  1. December 13, 2016

    […] End of Summer, Back to School (and a Rant About Extracurricular Activities) – Jess Connell […]

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