Modern dance class. Lacrosse practice. Chinese lessons. With school starting, you may be evaluating your kids' schedules and how much they can manage. But, have you thought about what kind of toll their agenda takes on you?
"We have a generation of mothers and fathers who want to be all things to all people," said Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, who specializes in adolescent medicine and behavioral issues at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "They are willing to do so much self-sacrificing for their child."
Sound like you? Then it might be time to reevaluate what you're booking this season. Now, no one is suggesting you become a selfish parent and refuse to shuttle your kids back and forth to their favorite activities. But, Ginsburg said, "There's nothing more important for your child than for you to be doing well yourself."
According to a recent article in The New York Times, the number of activities your children are involved in doesn't necessarily have an impact on their chances for academic success later in life. It might, however, have a negative effect on a parent's emotional state, not to mention a family's finances.
On top of that, if you are constantly overstretched, you're probably not hiding it as well as you think: Research shows that kids not only sense it, but take on some of that stress themselves.
According to Betsy Brown Braun, a child development specialist and parent educator, one indicator that you've gone over the top is your physical appearance.
"When you look in the mirror and say, 'Is that me?'" Brown Braun says, that means you're probably doing too much. "When you look tired, you look stressed. You can tell, there are physical ramifications to stress."
Snapping at your spouse and kids more than usual -- enough so that you notice it's out of character for you -- is another clue that you may be over doing it. Also, if you're constantly rushing but never making it to anything on time, odds are you need to cut out some activities. The same goes for eating most of your meals over the kitchen sink. (And, when "meals" are scraps of chicken fingers or PB&J from your kids' plates because you don't have time to eat…that's not good either.)
If any (or all of this) is familiar to you, consider which activities are really worth all the stress they might be causing.
"Ask yourself, is it important that my child do this?" Brown Braun said. "Or am I really doing this for me? Is it because someone else is doing it? Is this something my child has asked for many times?"
You should also calculate whether everything you want to fit in is feasible. Julie Morgenstern, a time management expert, said one of the biggest mistakes parents make is being unrealistic about what they can accomplish in a given time frame.
"People tend to be over-optimistic and underestimate how long things really take," Morgenstern said. "There are hidden time costs to everything."
Take, for example, a simple activity like art class. There's the time it takes to get your kids to the class, to pick them up from the class and to coordinate with other parents on the days you can't drive them there (not to mention, it takes to time to buy supplies and help them with the art projects they'll inevitably be doing). These tasks quickly add up, Morgenstern said.
The good news is that there's nothing wrong with letting your kids enjoy non-scheduled time. Those moments can be productive for your child, as well as for you.
"You'll have more time to actually think, to talk, to listen, to be tuned into what's going on with your kids," Morgenstern said.
When you do manage to free up some time for yourself, you should have a list ready of what you want to accomplish -- or how you want to recharge -- so you can make the most of it.
"It could be a manicure, it could be going for a quick run, it could be talking to a friend," Morgenstern said. "When the time presents itself, you have your go-to options and you're not stopping to figure out, 'What do I do with this time?' You'll waste it trying to decide."