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The season of ‘no’: You don’t have to sign up for all the kid’s activities, mama

Soccer sign-ups approached and I did what I always do—waited until the last minute. That’s probably not entirely true. In the early days, with my firstborn, I hunted these things down. I researched ahead of time.


How early can they start? What are the age requirements? When does registration begin?

I knew these answers well in advance back then because it was finally our turn! A cute little soccer player, tiny shin guards and cleats. Cleats! For a 5-year-old. Does it get any cuter?

I sent my kid out onto the field, all shiny and new, and our initiation as soccer parents, our season as parents with kids in activities, began. We progressed naturally from there. Fall soccer season. Spring soccer season. Next kid turns 5? Add new player. Repeat cycle.

And it was good. Kids love the snacks after the game...I mean, playing soccer. It’s fun to visit with other parents, meet new families, make new friends, chat with old ones. We all enjoyed it.

So we did that for a dozen or so seasons.

Each year, though, I became slower with the process. Slower to sign up. Slower to dive back in.

Yes, of course, we would still play soccer (not to mention ballet, co-op, piano, choir), but being gone from home a couple evenings a week isn’t easy. We needed to strategize and figure out how to make it all work.

We puzzled our schedule together carefully—figuring out how to add all the activities in, plus squeeze in the one evening a week I needed to work or that meeting either my husband or I needed to attend. Season after season we were (somehow) making it all work.

But questions began to linger, causing me to pause before I robotically signed up yet again. Is “making it work” what I’m really after here? Is this really good?

Dinners were often (always?) rushed and processed on soccer nights. Conversation and connecting with each other sounded something like “Shoes on! In the car!” Or, “Hurry up, we’re going to be late!”

There are seasons of motherhood that are inherently busy. There is probably a degree of crazy I signed up for by bringing four children into the world. But too much of this sort of connection leaves a metallic taste in a mother’s mouth.

Is this really how it has to be?

My husband and I recently took a hard look at our schedule and our home life. We asked tough questions and put it all on the chopping the block. Sports, church activities, music—it was all fair game.

What is truly serving our family well in this season?

We sat with that question. And began to sift things out.

We dished out more no’s than ever before. No soccer. No piano. No co-op.

A few weeks into our “Season of No,” I’m noticing a few things.

1. Blank space is life giving.

Truly. I’m not being dramatic here. The life I wish to see in my home is regenerating. More time to read books together. Slow dinners that don’t involve hot dogs or a drive-thru.

2. Conversations need space.

The real and true conversations that I want to have with my kids, the organic ones that land on bigger ideas, morality, character issues or faith don’t naturally squeeze themselves into rushing moments. They come in the lingering, the waiting, the unscheduled.

Questions are coming out of nowhere—I think they needed more space to breathe. My kids need slower and quieter minutes to wonder.

3. The thing is never just the thing.

Not just in this season, but in this broader season of my life I’m learning—the thing is never just the thing. Profound, I know, but let me break that down.

Soccer is never just soccer. Soccer is washing water bottles and extra laundry. Soccer is getting dinner on the table extra early so the kids don’t lose it all on the soccer field. Early dinner means rushed afternoons. Rushed afternoons mean, “Sorry, mom doesn’t have time for a story today.”

Will less reading time together be detrimental to my children’s health? Of course not. But soccer is never just soccer. What we choose to do and not to do, impacts our family life far beyond the activity itself. Choosing wisely means acknowledging that fact.

4. There are other options.

This one is most surprising to me. Too many activities has been fraying the edges of my family for a little while now. It has been eroding what we value, what we truly want to prioritize. But I had somehow forgotten there are other options.

Soccer is what we do here. If registration is open we sign up. How had I forgotten that ‘no’ is always an option and sometimes, it is the very best option we have?

More and more in this season of motherhood, I’m learning that my battle is not against the evils of the world, but against the good. There is an eternal list of good things available to our children these days—ice skating camp and voice lessons, art classes and science clubs. You name it and it’s out there. And it’s good.

But the bigger question we need to ask ourselves is—is it good for us in this season?

This fall we have bought back blank spaces on our calendars, evenings of slower and healthier meals. We traded rushing out the door for stories on the couch. I’m sure this season won’t last forever—this won’t always be our best yes. But for now, saying ‘yes’ to a brave ‘no’ has been a very good option for us.

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