Does Your Kids’ Schedule Make Life Too Busy?

With the school year starting up again, I started thinking about something I’m very passionate about: some families are just too busy. A few years ago, before my blog really took off, I wrote a three part series on creating a kid’s schedule that contributes to sanity and family time, not detracts from it. Most of you haven’t seen it, and so I’m going to tweak it a bit and run it again today, tomorrow, and Thursday. It’s so important that we think about the big picture–and what we really want for our families.

Does Your Kid's Schedule Squeeze Your Family Time?Do you feel like your family is too busy?

My 12-year-old daughter has recently started intense figure skating lessons. She’s never taken lessons before, and she’s learned quite a bit on her own. But she decided it was finally time for lessons, so we signed her up for one night a week.

It was then that I felt like I had entered the twilight zone. When we showed up for lessons, there are about 25 other children there, with various coaches. One coach immediately grilled me, “why only one night a week”, in a rather judgmental tone. Turns out everyone else is there for at least two nights a week, if not more (and this costs a fortune, too!)

Now these lessons are two hours long. They interrupt the dinner hour (they’re 4:30-6:30). But I felt that it was okay to do once a week, since we’re together most other nights. It was important to Katie.

But she’s starting to question it. She said to me this week that nobody there actually smiles. They’re not practising so that they can have fun and learn a skill; they’re practising to be the best. In fact, many girls are only there because their mothers want them to be. Watching them this week I felt like standing up and yelling, “Take a chill pill, everyone! Nobody here is going to the Olympics. So just have fun!”. But I didn’t. I didn’t want the other mothers attacking me.

And the other mothers are strange, too. They seem nice enough, but everyone I’ve talked to has every child in an activity–or multiple activities. I talked to one mom who is out with the kids four nights a week. I gasped and said, “when do you eat dinner”? She laughed and said, “we don’t! We just grab it on the run, or eat in shifts.”

On the surface everybody looks like nice, middle class families, but I really feel when I’m entering that place that the whole world has gone mad. No child should be away from their family that much. Families need to be together. And stressing sports over family life gives a mistaken idea of what’s really important. I have seen so many nice kids grow up in a particular sport, working like crazy at it, and not having a life. Or, when they’re older, not being particularly attached to their families. Even though they were good kids, they didn’t spend that much time with their families. They did school, did the sport, and did their homework. And that was it.

How can you raise a child to be a Christian like that? You need time to just sit around and do nothing. And you need to eat together.

Before You Let Your Family Get Too Busy, Take the Long-Term View

So let’s take the long-term view and figure out what we’re really aiming for as a family. Let’s focus on one specific goal, and one very general one. First, the specific: we want our kids to develop fitness habits. After all, one of the reasons that we put our kids in sports lessons is so that they can stay fit! We live in a very sedentary society, and we need to encourage all the exercise we can, right?

Do Kids Need Extra Curricular Sports to Stay Fit as Adults?

I’m not so sure. I took ballet as a child. Two nights a week when I was 13 and 14, one night a week from 6-13. I actually was quite good. And you know what? I can’t do any of it now. I took adult ballet lessons when I was 30 for fun, and wrecked my knee because I tried to do the “turn-out” as much as I did at 14, and found my body no longer cooperated. Ballet isn’t the type of thing you can just keep doing. It doesn’t keep you fit. Sure it keeps you fit then, and it does help your posture (and it taught me to suck my stomach in, which I still do today), but you can’t keep it up. There’s no natural place “just to do ballet” in your life. So it doesn’t encourage long-term fitness.

What about sports? Hockey and soccer are almost the same. Some men are involved in leagues as adults, as are fewer women, but it’s not widely done as an adult. So you can’t rely on those things to keep you fit. You may love them, but if you’re only playing hockey as an adult once a week over the course of four months, it isn’t going to cut it.

Skating or gymnastics? Don’t even get me started.

There’s really only one sport that I can see that does have the potential to keep you fit, and that would be swimming. (And, of course, track and field, but few children do this as an extracurricular activity.) So you may have your child in some sport for 5-10 hours a week, and that sport will do diddly squat for them when they are adults. It isn’t going to encourage fitness. It’s simply going to keep them fit right now. There is some benefit to that, of course, and those kids who like being fit are more likely to adopt other fitness activities, but the sport itself won’t do much.

If you really want your children to be fit, they need to develop habits that they can continue easily as an adult. Biking. Walking. Playing soccer and frisbee and touch football with family. Working out at the Y together (if they have kids’ programs). Swimming together. Cross-country skiing. Jogging. As kids get older, these are all things you can do with them, which will keep you fit, too. They contribute to family time, they don’t take away from it. And they’re more likely to meet your goals of raising a child who is healthy than putting that child into hockey 10 hours a week. Even more importantly, if your child is in extracurricular activities multiple nights a week, you won’t have time to develop these activities as a family. So they won’t get done.

How Do Extra Curricular Sports Impact Kids’ Values?

Now let’s look at something more general. I believe that children who are most likely to adopt their parents’ value systems are those children who most identify with their parents and their family as the primary influence in their lives. They’re kids who enjoy their parents, enjoy their family, and want to remain close. Kids who primarily identify with peers do not tend to adopt their parents’ value systems, as Judith Harris’ book The Nurture Assumption showed.

How, then, do you get kids to identify with the family? You have fun. You hang out. You spend time together. You make the default in their lives “being with the family”. So many times kids are in so many activities that their primary relationships aren’t even with siblings anymore. And if you stop identifying with your siblings or your parents to such a great extent, it’s unlikely that “family” will be considered your first priority. Besides, most sports now require practices or games or tournaments on Sunday mornings, and so many of the Christian parents I know are missing more church than they’re actually attending. Fill up your kids’ schedule with sports rather than church, and what message is that giving kids? It’s saying, “your primary identity is in sports, and Christianity is something extra,” not the other way around. I think that’s dangerous.

Kids need to put first things first in their schedules. Besides, you can’t just have fun on a schedule. You need downtime for that. You need time for people to laugh. You need time for siblings to decide that spending time together is actually worth it. Often kids need to get bored before they will do something together, but if everything is hyper scheduled, they’re never bored, and they don’t turn to each other.

There’s nothing wrong with boredom. It’s the birthplace of many a great idea or great game. Kids get bored, so they need to find something to do. That’s when they reach out to little, bratty brothers or sisters. That’s when they make up games. That’s when they use their imagination.

Let’s stop making our kids live a hectic schedule that denies all of us family time. They may enjoy it at the time, but in the long run, what is the most important goal for your family?

Some families may be able to squeeze everything in, and more power to you! But I have seen families who have thought they were doing it well, only to find fifteen years later that their kids weren’t following God and weren’t overly involved with their families. It’s a big risk. It may be one you want to take, because your child is gifted or really wants to do something. Just realize it’s a risk. Count the cost first, so that you can be sure that you are doing everything you can to preserve your family life in the time you have left. But I hope most of you may choose just to hang out at home and maybe, occasionally, throw a football around together. I think, in the long run, that may be more valuable.

Other Posts in this Decluttering Series:
Declutter Now
Family Time, Opportunity Cost, and Kids

PSSSTTTT….Did you hear?

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  1. This is something I am struggling with a bit this week. My 8 year old son LOVES gymnastics, he has been taking lessons one day a week for an hour since he was 3. When he started first grade we switched to evening lessons. I didn’t mind because it was only one night a week, and he truly loves it. Last year we switched from Little Gym to a true gym. He had outgrown Little Gym, both in skill and age. Plus he had watched the Olympics and had really gotten the gym bug and wanted to learn on the boys equipment, most of which Little Gym didn’t have. It is important to note this was all at his request, I loved Little Gym and cried the day we left, if it had been up to me we wouldn’t have switched. Well this summer he tells me he wants to eventually be on the boys team, and to take lessons two days a week. My husband and I discussed it and felt that this was something he loves, and with his ADHD, and heat intolerance issues, the indoor activity suits him well, so we allowed it. Still it is now two night a week out. Add to that, my daughter loves to dance, up until this year she has been taking an hour lesson a week, but during the day, since she was either home with me, or in school half a day. This year she starts first grade and full day, so she is taking lessons at night as well. Since I refuse to do multiple activities a night, since that would mean a lot of driving for me. Their respective schools are a half hour apart. I am not willing to change their schools since we did a lot of research into these schools to find ones with values similar to ours, ( stressing fun, and ability, over being the next Olympian or broadway star)

    I am planning on making Saturday and Sunday lunch our big family meals, as well as obvious Holidays and Feast days. We go to Church on Saturday nights typically. Weekends have always been our focused family time since my husband travels frequently and works in New York, (we live in Southern New Jersey, about two hours away) and is frequently home after dinner.)

    Still I worry that 3 nights a week, even for something the kids love doing is too much, and will it increase as they get older? I want to encourage them and nuture what they love doing, but I don’t want to lose that balance that we have so far had.

  2. I have to agree that too many activities is actually harmful to the family relationship, but I have to disagree that being involved doesn’t have later benefits in life. Social interaction in a competitive (not TOO much, still fun) setting is preparation for the real world. How many jobs are there out there where you interact with others & maintain a camaraderie, yet are competing against them for positions, raises, etc? You learn to maintain those friendships despite not being chosen, or losing a game to your friend.

    Having family “picnics” before soccer/ball practice has always been a fun way for us to keep the family time, but still let the kids be involved in sports with their friends. If I plan ahead, sometimes those picnics are packed & ready to go. If not, it may be a drive-thru or a quick meal at a fast food joint, but we’re still eating together. And there’s a playground for the two NOT practicing/playing a game to have fun on at most of our event locations. With 3 kids, even one night a week means we spend most nights running, as it’s one night of practice, one night/afternoon of games, so we ALL go to everybody’s games when we can, to keep that family time!

    But we’re definitely NOT into lessons or leagues that are all about winning. We play to learn, socialize, & have fun! If we’re not having fun, we don’t play (we’ll finish a season, but not sign up again). We just limit to one sport/activity at a time. No crossovers if we can help it!
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  3. I love this, Sheila. Our daughter dances and is a cheerleader. And, yes, our schedule is fairly busy … but we eat breakfast together every morning and make “chunks” of family time a priority. Another thing is, we have one child. I think it becomes more and more difficult to make family time – structured and unstructured – a priority as you have more children {who participate even in just one activity each}.

    Another factor I’ve noticed among my friends is personality, both of the children and the parents. Some families are just more active, it’s their personality – they are always on the go. But even as their children go to college, their family unit has remained close. Something else is how much the child loves what he or she is doing. We’ve had years where my daughter danced three or four nights a week. But she loved it! And we loved being able to allow her to grow in that area. But now she’s only taking one dance class a week. As she got older we gave her the freedom to choose. She decided to take just one class more for fun with her friends and to cheer.

    Will she cheer or dance as an adult? Nope. But the benefits she is gaining from participating in these activities will make a difference in her life. She’s learning what it is to be part of team, to work together, to be disciplined even when it {literally} hurts, and to allocate her time in order to do what is necessary.

    I think this is such an important issue to discuss. And I’m so glad you brought it up. We live in a sports-crazy small town. But I’ve seen families in other areas just as consumed with other activities. And we need to talk about these types of things and give parents information and encouragement to make the best choices for their children. Thanks, girl! As always you’ve broached a difficult topic with grace and kindness.

  4. I posted this earlier but it seems to have disappeared, so if this shows up twice I apologize.

    This is something I have been struggling with this week. I have a 8 year old son who loves gymnastics. We started out with one afternoon a week at a local Little Gym when he was 3, as a way to let out some energy since he is a very active boy and has heat intolerance problems and severe allergies and asthma, so his ability to spend a lot of time outside is limited. When he was 6 and started school full time he still wanted to continue with gymnastics, so we allowed him to continue going one evening a week for an hour. Last year at 7, after having watched the Olympics and being completely enthralled, he asked to leave Little Gym and go to a gym that had Men’s equipment. He was also quickly outgrowing The Little Gym, in both age and skill. So we moved to a new local gym that has excellent teachers and focuses on fun and learning new skills. His love of the sport has only grown. This summer he requested that he start going 2x a week, since he wants to eventually be on a team of some sort. After a lot of prayer and discussion my husband and I agreed that since it is his request and he loves it so much, and it is still a good energy outlet for him, that we would allow it.

    Enter into the picture my 6 year old daughter. At the age of two, while watching a dance class that was taking place at the same time as my son was in a gym class, she started to get the dancing bug. At 3 I signed her up for one afternoon a week. Which she has continued to this day. This fall she will be taking a class one evening a week, since she too will be in full day school. She also loves her chosen activity, and if allowed would skip school in order to dance, we obviously don’t allow that. Add in Church Childrens Choir for her, which is two Sundays Inbetween services a month.

    If you are keeping track, that is 3 evenings a week we are out of the house around dinner time. I don’t know that I would cut any of it out, since they are both so passionate about what they love, and I think that finding that passion is a good and healthy thing. I don’t allow lessons on weekends ( other than church choir, but that is only an hour a month) to give us family time. Our big family meals have always been Saturday and Sunday afternoon, since my husband travels frequently and has a long commute, we can’t always garuntee a family meal during the week. And we always make sure to celebrate the holidays as a family, meaning now lessons on those days. Easy for the major holidays, but not as easy when you also celebrate the Mosaic Feasts.

    Any suggestions as to how we can keep a healthy balance, while still nurturing their passion are great! I have been blessed with two very passionate children and while it can at times be exhausting and demanding I love seeing that passion grow and develop, so I would hate to squash it.

    • ButterflyWings says:

      JRmiss it sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job of balancing already :) As long as your kids are happy and healthy, don’t feel stressed or that they are missing out or anything, and you’re still getting plenty of family time, I think you have the balance.

  5. ButterflyWings says:

    I think the biggest thing to take away from this is no matter what parents do with their children, that honouring God comes first.

    I come from a family of four siblings and we were always running around doing extra curricular activities and we loved it! Our parents looked at what us kids needed, what was best for us and what would grow us. We did have plenty of afternoons kicking a ball or hitting a ball around at home, but inevitably it ended up in fighting.

    We had lots of extracurricular activies, but in saying that, it was a family affair. My slightly younger brother and I played soccer for a team, same training ground most of the time, first year my brother played it was for the same team as me. My parents were involved in the coaching, and for some time also involved in running the club. My parents had a strict rule – no sunday sport. My mum had had the possibility to play at state level herself and had given it up because it started to involve sunday games. We played in a christian soccer league and as well being surrounded by christian parents and kids, it was a good outreach to community kids who came for the soccer and then came to the church services several times a year with the club and it led quite a number of kids and some of their parents to God in the process.

    I gave it up when I got sick of being the only girl on the team (too young for the womens league) and changed to playing netball – again with a christian team in a christian league, with my mum as the coach, for it be a family thing. It was a way to develop closer friendships with girls at my church, some I’m still friends with to this day.

    I know some kids give up sport when they are adults, but not all. I went back to soccer as a teenager and started playing in a christian women’s team with my mum and other women and girls from church. Only giving it up when I was 22 due to a really bad injury in a game, not once but twice, exact same injury and the doctors forbidden me from playing. Both my brothers and my sister (aged 24-31) still play outdoor in a christian league, and indoor soccer in a secular league but the team is half christian and use the team also as an outreach.

    I’ve used sport as a way to connect with my daughter. I did martial arts as a teenager with my brother as the physical for our duke of edinborough awards and just a fun thing to do hanging out with my brother. I dropped it when I got married the first time, but when I saw my daughter’s school offered it after school and let parents train with the kids, I thought it was the perfect way for my daughter to learn self defense (something she desperately needed) and something for us to do together as there aren’t many sports adults can do together with kids.

    My daughter has taken on the family tradition and loves playing soccer, for years it was something she could do with me and her grandparents too – parents and grandparents are welcome to join in with training – and it helped build my daughter’s hand-eye coordination (something she struggles with) and helped her socially (something she struggles with because of her aspergers) because her first team was from her church, so filled with kids from sunday school, and when our church couldn’t get the numbers for a team her age, she started playing for her school team in the same league, which helped her build friendships with the kids from school (many of whom she did martial arts with) and was coached by her pastor and then by her year 6 teacher (the pastor’s wife).

    I think here in Australia, sport is far more common amongst adults than in other western countries, so most people go on to use the sports they play as children when they become adults. It can build lifelong friendships too.

    But I think what really matters is what the bible says about anything and everything – all things are permissible but are they beneficial?

    If a sport is taking away from church time, if it’s stressing a kid out, if it’s not helping their health, if it’s no helping them making friends, it’s still permissible, but is it beneficial?

    In my family’s case, sport was greatly beneficial. It helped our health, helped build social skills, it didn’t take away from church time, and it has actually been a ministry – for my parents being coaches it reached out to other families, my brother in particular running teams as an outreach ministry, and for me and sister and my other brother, it just being a way to befriend non christians to join and set them a good example of how christians live their life, and that being a christian doesn’t mean giving up all fun and becoming like a monk/nun like some people see christians, also a good way to introduce inviting non christian friends to church and introducing Jesus to them.

    I totally agree with counting the cost – no matter what activities our kids do. Whether it be sport, or music, or chess club, or any activity. Weigh up the short term and long term benefits and costs and put heavy weight on how it helps them in their walk with God and in ministry of reaching out to other non-christians. Most important is to seek out what God wants us to do – pray, speak to christian mentors, work out what God is saying he wants us to do with our kids.

    For some kids that will be giving up sport, for others it will be joining, some kids near more time at home, others need more structured activities, some find sport beneficial, others find things like learning music beneficial, but others just like hanging out at home. All we as parents can do is observe our kids, work out what is best, and find out what God wants us to do.

  6. One thing that has helped immensely in this house (four kids!) is to make a “map” of the week, and write on it everything we are doing on a regular basis. Church, music lessons, band, swimming… it all goes on there. Then we can see what the shape of the week is, and easily tell if there are too many time slots filled in.
    We know we want to leave time free to see friends, and if we have too much going on that just doesn’t happen.
    All my kids are involved in looking at the week and deciding if there is too much, not enough, or just about right. The younger ones are able to participate too, because for every activity I draw a picture as well as writing the word.

    Also, as much as possible, we double up on things. For example, the two who do music lessons have two different teachers at the same time in the same music centre, I only put them in swimming if the classes are more or less at the same time, etc.
    Sure they’ve all got things they’d like to try which there just isn’t time for, but they are also learning that there needs to be a balance.

  7. Thank you for this post. As a mom of young kids, I really struggle with how much commitment activities require. 3 days a week for a 6 year old seems to be average for a child in extra activities. Where are the days of having fun and trying an activity without committing to it for life (I know NONE of my kids are going to be “professional” anything)? Thank you for reminding me that my husband and I can provide just as much fun at home while building our family values. Excited to see the rest of the posts.

  8. THANK YOU for this! I see kids who are too busy for their own good, and families that are so busy they get one meal a week with everyone home – on a good week!

    Aside from the damage this does to the kids, it is harmful to the parents marriage.

  9. I once said that I am glad my second son is disabled or we would be running to his activities too.

    With 5 sons we are very busy, and is not my first choice, but I really don’t know how to change it.

    We are all involved in Boy Scouts, my husband and I are leaders, and the boys of course are scouts. Since we believe in the program, it is not something we are wanting to quit.
    But 3 of our 5 sons are involved in one sport each, the oldest will be playing college baseball, my third son is playing baseball, and my fourth has decided to play football. We are busy, and as you know the practices are at the dinner hour.
    My third son also is involved in high school band, and at our high school it is a graded class. Since he doesn’t drive yet, we have to take him and pick him up.
    My football playing son was so chubby, I worried about him because he was being picked on. But the football practices and workouts have contributed to his incredible weight loss and he now has a self confidence he never had before. I am so proud of him. Is the workout something that will continue as he gets older? Probably, because my older boys are extremely motivated to stay in shape, and they have all worked out together.
    I understand the toll it can take on a marriage. I feel that all I do is drive someone somewhere, and I don’t like it. My husband and I used to have time to bike together, and hopefully that will start again when school starts.
    He works from home so we do enjoy lunches together, and I know it isn’t enough or ideal. But this is the season we are in.

  10. I completely agree with your article! However, one issue I find is that if your child wants to participate in any sport or activity they almost have to start early otherwise there are literally no places for them to go. For example, my 9 year old daughter recently showed an interest in taking dance. I found a “beginner” dance class for the summer and put her in it. It was a challenge as she was the only beginner by far. But she persevered and now wants to take a weekly class. Only thing is, there are literally no classes anywhere for her age and level! By the age of 9 all dance studios here require a student be in at least 2 different classes a week. I spoke with some moms whose daughters are in 3 competitive dance groups to where they are at the dance studio 6 days a week for up to 3 hours a day. They even practice on Sundays when a competition is near. So I struggle with balancing family time with shutting out my kids from ever having a chance to participate in these activities.How can you strike a balance?

  11. I think too many activities for *our* family is not healthy. We homeschool, so we have the option to do things during the day. But we try not to do more than 1 evening class a week for the whole family. Our main goal for each day is to be home by 3pm and stay home all night. We can’t be the family we want to be when we’re running all over the place many nights a week. Now that doesn’t mean we don’t leave the house at night, but rather we don’t have classes/practice at night.

  12. Yes!! Thank you so much for this! I am not a taxi service. We eat dinner, play ball in the backyard and go for walks. I work full time. I refuse to be shuttling to activities every night. When I say this, most everyone looks at me as though I’ve lost my mind….we are losing our kids because there is so little family connection anymore.

  13. Sheila I agree with you about being too busy! I love how your worded the point about some activities aren’t even beneficial long term. Love the perspective on walking, hiking, and swimming. I hadn’t thought of that before. My daughter has been after me to join ballet and for the price your words came at a great time!
    As far as schedules go, I had to put all that we do on a schedule to SEE where we all needed to be and when and this really helped me balance my time better. It’s insane how little “free time” we really have. I just blogged about my WEEKLY SCHEDULE. Basically it’s by the hour Mon-Sun and I plug in everywhere we HAVE to be. Then I can add the extras from there. Soccer is fixed but grocery shopping isn’t…. that sort of thing. I hope you don’t mind me sharing my blog post bcs it might be helpful to someone!
    Love your blog!!!
    Always a fan,
    Mary in CT
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  14. Great post! Two comments I wanted to make:

    I think “quality time” is a huge myth…real relationships aren’t built during vacations etc, but in the day to day….and you can’t have that without quantity of time.

    As a physiotherapist, I see dozens of middle aged adults and seniors who have not been active for decades but insist they were once fit…there is no bank! You can’t make a deposit in your teens that you hope will withstand til you are in your 50s and beyond. Many highschool jocks who played competetive team sports as teens are the ones who are out of shape as adults…Its the people who developed an enjoyment for individual activity (swim, run, walk, xc ski) that are still active now. You don’t need lessons for that!

    • So true! Thank you for backing me up as a physiotherapist. I’m glad I’m not crazy for thinking that way!

  15. Some people may call me old-fashioned but with me, family comes first. I don’t mind the kids having some extra curricular activities .. (My 7 year old is taking up karate lessons on weekends) in addition to his after-class special tutoring on weekdays. But I feel we always have got to have quality time together.
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  16. I agree with your article. True, my children are not particularly athletic, and I do have some regrets that we were not able to afford swimming lessons at the right season of their lives. But as a family we show we value fitness by walking and biking whenever we can. My children deliver flyers, so they see that exercise does not have to be isolated from real life.
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  17. Oh I am loving your blog. I keep clicking on all the links to see more and more! THANKU FOR WRITING THIS. I have four children and my mum us with the Lord so it’s nice to get encouragement and help from others like yourself. Bless you.

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  1. […] out the stuff that we do well together because “more important” things come along. The kids have hockey. They have homework. I have to clean the house. But it is just as important to function well as a […]

  2. […] written about it at length (like this post on why kids don’t need to be involved in every extracurricular activity under the sun). We know we’re […]

  3. […] a moment: competition, fun, exercise, and a social life. Can he meet those needs somewhere else? Does it have to be through hockey? Maybe he can join a different league that doesn’t play as often. Maybe you can have him go […]

  4. […] tons of energy and time on things that don’t build relationships (getting kids in tons of extracurricular activities, working full-time, volunteering at church, creating a perfect home), and in the process […]

  5. […] and as Christians, let’s talk to our friends if they’re spending too much time in extracurricular activities and not enough time as a […]

  6. […] for good grades, or who don’t go to church if it’s a busy week at work, or who choose extracurricular activities over youth group and the like. My family, however, was the opposite. If we were tired, too bad. Get […]

  7. […] I’ve written about it at length (like this post on why kids don’t need to be involved in every extracurricular activity under the sun). We know we’re […]

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