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How to Instantly Stop Being an Overscheduled Mom

Photograph by Jill Simonian

"Like I said before, I just can't right now. That's the final answer." I was shocked as I typed the words and hit send. I was surprised at myself—and a little nervous and shameful for being so cut and dry. Yet, a part of me had also grown really irritated over the multiple-email exchange the previous few days that I also felt like leaping through my computer to scream, "I SAID I CAN'T RIGHT NOW! WHAT DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!"

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In case you're wondering, this was all about volunteering at one of my daughters' schools for a special event that I was not able to commit to last year. Someone reached out and asked me to volunteer during a time that was not remotely accessible or doable amidst my other existing commitments.

What seem to be trivial choices can add up to big things.

"We really want to get you involved..." her email read. "I understand, but right now I'm writing a book, have just started a brand new (big) job and am on the committee for my other daughter's school fundraiser. Plus, I do volunteer in her class here and there. I just can't do this extra thing right now ... check with me next year."

Yet, the well-intentioned mom on the other end didn't seem to understand the meaning of my response the first time ... or the second time. Yes, it took me three times to drive home that I was going to sit this one out, because, if I didn't, it would make my life a living hell for the weeks of planning involved. And I didn't have the time, patience or energy for any of it.

So I said no—three times—much to her disdain and evident frustration through my computer screen. But I had to do what was good for me, which coincidentally is the same thing as what's good for my family.

And that's when I realized that's what it took to stop over-scheduled hell: Serious, unwavering commitment to say no. It's not easy, especially when you say it and then are approached again by the same person who refuses to take your "no" seriously and somehow tries to convince you to change your answer.

We're all aware of the over-scheduled child epidemic, and most of us are reasonable enough to realize when it's happening to us. But how to avoid it when there's so much pressure from others and all sorts of adorable and can't-miss-it things happening with our kids? These are my additional rules for not falling into the OMG-why-are-we-so-freaking-busy-and-tired-all-the-time trap. Here's what I've stayed committed to saying no to:

Birthday parties: Unless the party-thrower is one of my girls' best buddies at school (meaning, they play with them all the time on the playground and/or talk about them at home), we kindly decline the invitation. It has nothing to do with not liking the friend that invited us, but we simply cannot go to every single birthday party for every single person all the time.

Extra goodie bags at school: Unless I've signed up to host a particular holiday party, I opt out of sending mini goodie bags with stickers, lollipops and/or cute colored pencils for my child to distribute to all her classmates just for sake of it being Halloween. Or Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. Or Spring Break. Or the end-of-the-year. These kids are getting some kind of organized celebration at school and there's no rational reason why they need to get more than 20 extra goodie bags from each student "just because" it's cute. It's a waste of time and money all around. (Have no fear, I DO send Valentine's Day cards ... that's legitimate tradition!)

After-school activities: Ever notice the research and commentary about how it's developmentally healthy and good for kids to be bored sometimes? (It's out there, look it up.) Limiting our extracurricular endeavors is the key to my sanity and family's grounded happiness. No mom should be forfeiting normal family life for her family for the sake of having little Judy in an after-school activity every single day (unless you're using it for childcare as a working mom, that is ... now that's a different story). My 4-year-old has one dance class and one music class per week. Done. My 6-year-old has one dance class and one gymnastics class per week. Done. The rest of the time, they play and write and draw and learn to get along with each other and just live life. Maybe next year we'll add more, maybe not. We'll pursue and develop what they're good at and passionate about rationally.

Now's the time to take advantage of eating dinner together as a family (before the real activities that actually count start when they're older).

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Not ready to start carting your 6-year-old to gymnastics class three days a week on account of her "getting a head start" for the pre-team? Just say no. Not sure you can commit to baking and taking three dozen treats for the school staff that particular day? Just say no. Not able to get to that mom's wine night on account of not feeling physically ill all day because you woke up several times the night before worried about this, that or the other? Just say no.

Life will go on, people can/will/should understand, there will be other opportunities, and the sun will come up tomorrow. Take care of you. Because no one else will. And if you don't, your family is screwed. Stopping over-scheduled lives starts with our commitment to do so, no matter who tries to change our minds.

Just. Say. No. What seem to be trivial choices can add up to big things. At least, they do for me ... for all of us.

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