7 Signs That You Might Be Yo-Yo Parenting

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  • Are your weeknights and weekends busier than your weekdays?
  • Do you often feel like more of a chauffeur than a parent?
  • Do you secretly get excited when it’s raining so your child’s practice or game will be canceled?
  • Is it hard to remember the last time your whole family sat down to dinner together on consecutive nights?
  • Do you have more miles on your car from going up and down Main Street than from the highway?
  • Are you more stressed on weeknights and weekends than during the weekdays?
  • Do you feel like every conversation with your spouse or children is “on the go” and you never really get a chance to talk to them?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you might be part of a growing trend in our society that I would like to coin “yo-yo parenting”. Everyone has heard of helicopter parenting. Remember Lenny from Of Mice and Men? He loved that mouse so much and wanted to hold on so tight that he ended up squeezing it to death. Okay, maybe that analogy is a bit of a stretch, but in some ways, helicopter parents are the same way. They are always with their kids, keeping an eye on their every move and totally involved in every aspect of their kids’ lives. They hover over their child, constantly ready to intercede at the first sign of any trouble. Meanwhile, the children learn to be totally reliant on their parents, unable to handle the world for themselves.

Yo-yo parents are a little bit different. Yo-yo parenting refers to the parents who spend almost all of their time taking children from one event to another. They’re going from the soccer field, to karate, to the library, to the baseball field, to a friend’s house, and back again. Just like a yo-yo.

But we just want them to be happy…

Of course we all want what’s best for our kids. We want our kids to have fun, we want them to make new friends, we want them to be active. We get them involved in sports and activities. It’s good for them to be active, right? Activities and sports are a great way for them to make new friends, right? Most of us probably played sports as we were growing up and were involved in activities, but at some point, it gets to be so draining on a parent. When is it enough? At what point do we finally say no?

What are we really doing here?

For me, minimalism’s greatest gift has been the ability to step back and enjoy the things that are important in life. I’m not really sure the parent that I would be had I not come across minimalism. Maybe I would have been exactly the same as I am now or maybe I would have succumbed to yo-yo parenting. But the endless rushing to each afterschool activity is taking away from all of our lives.

Yo-Yo Parenting Takes Away Our Valuable Time

I find that a lot of my writing ends up circling back to time. We’ve all been guilty of wasting so much of it. Our kids deserve our time; quality, meaningful, intentional time. Driving them from point A to point B in this huge rush is not quality time. Instead, slow it down to be able to enjoy the good moments with them. Let’s really pay attention to our kids. When are they happiest? When are they most content? Do they seem to enjoy the stress and anxiety of running from one place to another?

Kids do not always have to be busy. It’s okay to be bored sometimes.

We try to really limit our kids to one activity per season. There have been a couple of times that we have had a couple of activities overlap. Even with keeping this loose rule in place, I still find that there are days that we are running around and feel ridiculously busy. So I can’t even imagine what it would be like for people who take on three, four, or even five activities each season with multiple kids. Before you know it you’ve become that yo-yo parent and you are running around from one end of town to the other and back again trying to get each kid to every place on time somehow.

Who benefits from yo-yo parenting? Not the kids and certainly not the parents.

C and B stumbling across some bugs in between truck races

Kids would benefit more from doing one activity that they really enjoyed, and then having time to read a book, play a board game, ride their bike or play basketball in the driveway.

More Harm Than Good?

Research has shown that too many extracurricular activities can actually do more harm than good. In a study conducted by Dr. Sharon Wheeler, families reported having multiple activities to attend to each night, some not getting home until 9 or 10 pm. The worst ramification, according to Dr. Wheeler, is the lack of quality family time. There is simply no time to sit down to dinner together, or have a family game night.

The forgotten victims of all this, however, are parents. Think about it, many parents work a full-time job, only to come home to a second full-time job of shuttle minivan driver. What should be enjoyable, relaxing time off from work instead becomes a stressful and exhausting zig-zag across town. In many ways, the weekends and weeknights become even more stressful than the nine-to-five workweek. The stress and anxiety continue to build up, and we become worse parents because of it. I have had more stressed out moments when I have been short with my kids than I care to admit, and I’m sure most of you have as well. Parenting is hard enough when we feel relaxed, rested and calm. Yo-yo parenting hurts the adults as much as it does their children.

So the question becomes: When is enough, enough?

When are we willing to say no and realize that don’t have to always be busy?

Basketball, Piano, Karate, Gymnastics….

It reminds me of my first year of coaching soccer. We signed my oldest son, C, up when he was 4 years old. I ended up coaching with another father who had a few older children along with his four year old. I remember another parent coming up to him to talk about their plans for winter activities. Their conversation shocked me.

Dad: Hey Sean, what did you sign Owen up for this winter?

Coach Sean: We have him in karate and basketball.

Dad: Yeah, we’re doing both of those, but I feel like we need to “fill in the gaps” with a few other things.

(What gaps? And how much filling could possibly go in there!?!)

Coach Sean: What else are you thinking about?

Dad: Well, we want him to do swim lessons and then we were thinking about having him try out hockey for a year to see if he likes it.

(In case you haven’t been counting, Little Johnny is up to four separate activities for the winter! FOUR!!)

Assuming each of those activities meets at least once a week if not twice, Johnny’s parents have now signed him up for at least four days after school plus some weekend commitments.

Slow Down

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re rushing out the door, yelling at your kids, “hurry up, hurry up, hurry up”, you can feel your anxiety rising as you worry if you’re going to be late for wherever it is that you’re going. So, when does this happen? For me, I find myself doing that a lot more when we have to be somewhere at a scheduled time.

With yo-yo parenting, parents are saying the same things, but so much more often. They are on board the never-ending hamster wheel. Additionally, the constant rush can create anxiety because everything’s on the go all the time everything’s in a hurry all the time. There’s never time to slow down and relax for the parents or for the kids. As Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. says in his book, Crazybusy, “Stop and think. Ask yourself, ‘What’s my hurry?’ Take the question literally. What is your hurry? It is a lot of rushing around, trying to squeeze in more stuff than you should, thereby leading you to do all of it less well and making all of it less enjoyable.” Slow down!

Finding Balance

Ultimately, like almost everything, a balance needs to be found between activities and downtime. Involvement in numerous activities is healthy. Thinking back to your younger days, I’m sure many of you have fond memories of playing a sport, marching in the band, or learning a musical instrument. Extracurricular activities should be fun, and they are definitely beneficial, but there also needs to be time set aside to relax and recharge. Be mindful of the number of activities children are doing and decide if it is really worth it for them, and for you. There’s only so much time with them at this age, so appreciate the moments we have with them.

What about you? How do you try to avoid the yo-yo parenting trap? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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