When your family is addicted to schedules

"We’d fallen into the trap of overscheduling life; rushing from one planned activity to the next."

"We’d fallen into the trap of overscheduling life; rushing from one planned activity to the next."

I recently had to read my four year-old daughter a book to explain the concept of free time. Her life had become so over-structured that spontaneous play was a foreign concept.

We’d fallen into the trap of overscheduling life; rushing from one planned activity to the next, rarely allowing her to get bored and play spontaneously.

A recent study commissioned by IKEA, The Time to Live Report, reveals that mine isn’t the only family in Australia to live like this.

The study, which was based on interviews, observation and surveys of 1400 family members, found that nearly half (47 percent) of Australian kids do three or more after-school activities each week. In the last month, 43 percent of teens and parents say they haven’t done anything spontaneous.


According to the report, free time is such a foreign concept to families that when they do get it, they don’t know what do to with it. Half of all teens and parents admit that they’d have to stop and think about how
to spend an extra couple of hours of free time.

Not only do we not know what to do with free time, we are so out of practice that the very idea of it is stressful. 53 per cent of teens and 46 per cent of adults surveyed admitted they are anxious when presented with free time, with unplanned time giving rise to unpleasant feelings of chaos, loss of control and impossibility.

But despite free time being outside of our collective comfort zones, it’s exactly what we crave. Sixty-six per cent of kids and 73 per cent of adults agree that the best family times are unplanned. A whopping 89 percent of 6–11 year olds said they wish they had more time to spend with family.

Kids are so keen to just hang out with their parents that they even claim that they would be happy to do things they don’t particularly like in order to achieve it.

Over a third of teens said they’d be willing to watch a TV program they don’t like if it meant spending some additional time with their family. And two thirds of 6–11 year olds say they would help tidying up their room and putting toys away if they got to spend a little extra time with their parents. Just over half would cook dinner and almost one in four kids are even prepared to empty the rubbish bins.

It seems that when it comes to managing time within our families, many of us have it wrong. It’s easy to see why. Ours is a culture that demonises supposedly ‘unproductive’ time as wasted time.

Add to this status anxiety and the pressure for perfect parenting, and you have the optimum environment in which to create overscheduling. After all, who wants to turn up to parent-teacher evenings to find yours is the only kid who hasn’t developed perfect pitch and mastered Mandarin. By age 7.

But are routines and schedules all bad? In many cases they’re the only way to balance the needs of everyone in the family and manage the daily grind such as transportation, meals and money.

Routines don’t just benefit adults either. Children have such little control over their lives that having routines — knowing what they will be doing and when — affords a sense of security and comfort.

But there’s a difference between having a routine and scheduling life to the point where it’s deadened routine, devoid of spontaneity and the joy of just being together without having to be somewhere or having to achieve something.

As John Lennon said "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans". It seems that our kids are crying out for more life and fewer plans.


Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com



4 comments so far

  • I better schedule in some time to read Kasey's book. Ah, by doing that would it become scheduled time or relaxing time? Just thinking about that is making me anxious. Better schedule a lie down later in the week as a bit too busy right now..

    Date and time
    October 11, 2013, 9:27AM
    • We have a lot of family "success" on camping holidays. Without TV and chargeable battery-powered things, the kids have to play cards, make cubbies, invent games. Even better if we are camping somewhere they can ride off on their bikes without having an adult come too.
      School term time is more scheduled because we have sporting and homework commitments to fit in, plus both my husband and I work - which makes fitting things in more complicated, I personally hate schedules but we have to be very organised to honor all our commitments.

      Date and time
      October 11, 2013, 11:55AM
      • Adults with children need to understand the fact that 'parenting' isn't about them, it's about ensuring each child grows and develops in a healthy, ethical manner. Sure - give them learning experiences and opportunities to do new things...but do it in response to things they are interested in, not because it's the in thing to do, or that's what [insert name here]'s kids are doing. My daughter will be 4 in a few days, we both work, and she's in care 3 days a week. Other than playing - and she gets to choose what she does - the only activities she does each week is a 30 min swimming lesson (for obvious safety reasons), and Soccajoeys on Saturday morning. The only things 'scheduled' are meals and a 7pm bedtime. In a few short years she'll be forced to conform to timetables - so for now she gets to do what she needs to do - she plays.
        How sad and pathetic that so many kids in this country are so desperate to spend more time with their parents - while their parents are busy paying other people to spend time with their kids.

        Working mum
        Date and time
        October 11, 2013, 1:00PM
        • Completely agree - I have a family member who over-schedules her children to the point of obsession. Each of her three children (ranging in ages from 9 to 14) attends between 1-2 activities Monday to Friday, with additional activities on Saturday and Sunday. Her 9 year old attends a total of 10 activities per week. The academic performance of her 14 year old has already been compromised by her 12 hours of extra curricular activity per week. Are these activities really about the children, or about the parent finding a way of validating her own identity? Are the children merely a vehicle upon which to project the ambitions of the parent? All children were enrolled in multiple activities from the age of 3, so never were able to negotiate the terms of their participation (which has only increased over time). Like you Working Mum, I think swimming (mandatory) and one other activity if more than enough (especially as my children are also in childcare, which is a very full day for them).

          Date and time
          October 11, 2013, 2:33PM

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