My Tween Might be Overscheduled, and I Might be Okay With That

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The thing you have to understand about me -- right from the beginning -- is that I'm not the kind of parent who believes my kids have to be involved in everything. We never did Little Gym or Mommy And Me when they were tiny, and as they grew, they were each allowed one activity outside of school, which then grew to "one sport and one other activity" over time. And I thought that was plenty.

But on top of all the other changes going on with my pubescent daughter, now we have this: She wants to do everything. She has scheduled herself to the max, and I don't know what (if anything) I should be doing about it.

I remember the "lazy days" fondly. She, apparently, at all of 12, does not. Last year was her first year of middle school, and she waded into the extracurricular waters cautiously. She joined the academic team, much to our secret delight. (We had to be careful not to act too excited, you know, lest she realize she had our approval and immediately quit.) Then there was yoga class with a few friends. Later, she also joined a book club. We were continuing with piano lessons and now she was also in band, so that meant she needed to fit in flute practice as well as piano. Of course, school became more demanding in that transition year, and it was a lot, but she enjoyed it.

This year, she hit the ground running, determined to make 7th grade her best year yet. Last year had its rough spots, so I was happy to see her so filled with enthusiasm. She went back to band and academic team and book club right away, of course. She also decided to join her school's elite math squad (insert your nerd joke of choice here), and that's how the doubt started creeping in. Because, on the one hand: Academic rigor! Continued pursuit of and love for a field in which most girls are losing interest by this age! A group known statewide for its winning ways! But on the other: Whereas many other clubs/activities at the middle school meet one day a week, the math squad meets every day -- ninety minutes before school starts. Which means my darling's love of math has her walking out the door before 7:00 every morning, and not returning until 5 or later. That's a long day for a kid who hasn't even reached the teen years, yet.

Blackboard in Classroom

Okay, we said. If you can do all of this, continue your flute and piano practice, keep up with your schoolwork, and manage your chores, we won't fight you on it. Math squad, academic team, book club, flute, and piano. Oh, and school. And maybe yoga, if she can fit it in around everything else.

Honestly, I thought it was a lot. More than enough.

A week into school she came home with a form. "Can you sign this so that I can join FFA?" Ever the supportive mother, I blinked at her and asked when she'd decided she might like to become a farmer. She rolled her eyes and told me that it's agroscience, Mother, and probably a good organization for her to be involved with if she continues with her current plans to study veterinary medicine. Oh. Well, we'd have to talk it over, I said. Because really, she's already doing a lot.

She coaxed and cajoled, and pointed out all of the excellent students who were winning fair awards with their science projects through FFA, and we repeated the same thing we'd said before: If you can do this and keep up, okay. So: Math squad, academic team, book club, flute, piano, and FFA. And school. And maybe yoga.

A week after that she came home with an application to join the Yearbook staff. And seemed perplexed when I took one look and said, "No. NO. Are you crazy? When do you think you can possibly do this?" She ran through her schedule with the precision of a machine, noting which activities were on which days. I reiterated that I didn't think it was a good idea. She countered that if she kept her grades up and met her responsibilities she didn't see why she shouldn't be allowed to make this choice for herself. And besides, Mom, for this one you have to submit an application. "I might not even get in," she said, "but I'd really like to try."

We let her apply. She and three of her friends submitted their applications. None of her friends were picked ... but she was. She still wants to do it, even without her pals, which is kind of huge for her.

I think we may have talked her into dropping book club (though it pained me to do so; Hi, I'm a writer and I just talked my child into giving up book club!) to accommodate Yearbook. Still: Her schedule is crazy. Her days are long and she's taking on a lot, and it worries me.

Now, I believe it's my right and duty as a parent to start pulling her from activities if all of this proves to be detrimental. It's a clear call if, say, her grades slip. Or she's not doing her chores. But what if her attitude is lousy? Or she drags around in the morning? What do I do then?

Because the truth of the matter is that as much as I think, "This is too much, she needs down time. At 12 she still needs time to play and chill and just be," the reality is that in the last year or so, my daughter has been filled with The Attitude. But since school began and her schedule booked up, she's 1) here less (read: less available time to pick on her brother or backtalk me) and 2) a lot more pleasant to be around when she is. She thrives on this stuff, so she's happier, plus she knows that if she causes problems we'll start pulling activities, so the stakes are high. She's much more motivated to be cooperative and respectful.

So I'm trying to let go a little ... to let her make these choices, and face the possible consequences. It's really, really hard to know if this will ultimately be okay for her. And all I can do is outline the rules, put extra snacks into her backpack, and cross my fingers. (I think I'm going to encourage her to stick with yoga, too -- the kid is going to need a scheduled time to unwind!)

I've also taken to substituting, "Nice to see you again!" for the nightly "Goodnight," which she finds hilarious. For me, though, it's a reminder that all of this is a glimpse into her future, and the best way to make sure I get to stay in it is to let her shove me out of it more and more.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir is still somewhat astonished that her sweet little baby now has bigger feet than she does. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and posts all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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