Your child's after school programs must also work for you!
In the current economic and sociological climate (or as most of us call it—the real world), it is usually up to the mother to make a kid’s schedule fit with her work schedule. I don’t know many fathers who would consider interrupting their day for anything but the holiday play and a final soccer match. Getting offspring to those rehearsals and practices? Not so much.
For Solo Moms, it’s all on us. This is more a fact of life than a complaint. That is not to say that Solo Moms don’t have a network of family/friends. In fact, a lot of interesting scheduling choices happen in the early years, including afternoons with grandparents, godparents, or special friends who suddenly become known as “Auntie” or “Uncle” because they are spending precious hours hanging with your child so you can meet your deadline, finish your project, or keep your job.
In case you didn’t notice, parenting goes on for a long time. No matter how much family, friend, or coworker support you may have, goodwill is like Bitcoins. Intangible, invaluable, and not always usable. It is also true that in the age of Law & Order: SVU and that evil internet, you can’t let your children walk home from school and watch TV anymore—which is why the industry of after-school activities has flourished.
No matter what else they claim to do, after-school programs are designed to help working parents work. From day care through preschool and into elementary school, extended hours allow your children to play and sometimes even learn new and interesting skills like baking, woodworking, karate, computer, basketball, and beginning piano. These enrichment programs warm a worried mother’s heart and erase some of the anxiety that begins every day for many a Solo Mom. Honestly, though, that chess class will probably not turn your child into a grandmaster, no matter how enriching it is. So don’t be afraid to ask for financial help or stand up for what you need.
As a Solo Mom, your schedule has to be the guiding factor in your child’s choices of activities. My children are still astonished at some of the things they learned and did after school in STAR programs. But those classes were discounted or lasted longer or simply had space. So what’s wrong with needlepoint and clay building?
It’s when your kids get a bit older and you find they’re staring at screens instead of doing homework in the homework club, or when they start wanting to dance or swim or play trumpet or basketball, that the going gets rough. That’s when you have to start thinking creatively. You don’t want to shortchange your kids, but you don’t want to go crazy. Crazier. What you need is a compromise between your schedule and budget and your child’s desires.
If that sounds exhausting, it is. You start longing for the days of croup and diapers, when you could solve problems by singing in a rocking chair.
On the other hand, the advantage of being a Solo Mom is that if your whole weekend becomes devoted to kids’ sports, debating, and science fairs, you can call it family time! Flexibility is a Solo Mom’s secret strength. By the time our kids are old enough to require it for extracurriculars, we’ve had ample practice pretzeling ourselves.
Compromising, car pools, and college students (also known to some of us as shleppers) can be assets in the quest to retain a schedule but give your kids the after school activities they like/want.
You want your kids to explore all sides of their personalities. The point is to be practical.
Do they need to have LeBron James coaching them to play basketball or Picasso’s granddaughter teaching them painting in oils? Probably not. Yes, an inspiring teacher/coach can change the life of blah blah blah . . . But again, it has to work for you. If there is a cheaper closer team, then go for it. Don’t neglect the YMCA and your local community centers. They have many programs, and they are usually a safe place for your kids to sit and wait if you’re a tad late picking them up!
If all their friends are on this one special team, then you can arrange a carpool. If there are parents who can drive there, you can pick up. You can drive on weekends to meets in exchange for a little help during the week. See if your child has a buddy who wants to take that special class along with her or him. See if that class is on a bus route they can take together.
(Side note: If that team is pricier—ask for financial help! It can’t hurt!)
If you live near a college campus or know responsible teenagers in the neighborhood, they are good at getting your kids organized, and they are cheaper than full-time adult help. Even if things get lost more often, your kids might enjoy having someone closer to their own age boss them around. They also only need a few hours a day, so it’s a win for both of you.
As for those people who complain that children are overscheduled and reminisce about the good old days, remind them that you, too, are overbooked. And yet, here you are, working full time, helping to raise the next generation of self-sufficient and independent adults. That’s real enrichment.
Image via Shutterstock.com
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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