Getting it All Done

Photography: (above) © Kaspars Grinvalds – stock.adobe.com; Soccer game © Nina/peopleimages.com – stock.adobe.com; Man at desk © Kaspars Grinvalds – stock.adobe.com; Woman at desk © DimaBerlin – stock.adobe.com

If there is one thing Kim McGrath has learned as the parent of two active and athletic teenagers, it is that there is no offseason. There are gaps in the schedules, sometimes a week or two between seasons that offer a chance to reset, take a breath, and prepare mentally for the next unyielding cycle of practices, games, dinners on the fly, and weekends spent at baseball and softball diamonds, football fields or ice rinks. Sometimes, it’s multiple sports for her children Aidan and Madelyn in the same weekend.

McGrath and her husband Michael are not alone in navigating the non-stop schedule of sports activities, school events, family obligations, and church while also balancing work, finances, and relationships with friends outside of their activities circle. The House of Cards is finely tuned, extensively detailed and offers only slight wiggle room. A rainout, child sickness or something worse – hello, Covid – sends the House of Cards flailing as if it had struck by a midwestern summer twister.

“Every Sunday, I look at the schedule on my phone,’’ McGrath says. “I have things coded by color on my phone. And if it’s not on my phone, it’s probably not going to happen. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my phone.”

 

JUGGLING ACT
Tressa Kinahan wages the same battle with four children between the ages of 4 and 11. She is a teacher at Strawberry Hill International School and rises at 3:30 each morning to squeeze in workout and alone time. After work, Kinahan’s whirlwind begins in escorting kids to dance, hockey, soccer, swimming, cheerleading and even ninja warrior training. Tressa’s youngest child started playing hockey this year, and Tressa coaches a cheerleading team at Strawberry Hill. “They all want to try lots of different things,’’ she says.

Kathy Fox juggles similar schedules for three girls ages 10-15 who all play multiple sports and travel softball in the summer. While she can start to see the other side of the mountain, there are still plenty of challenges ahead for her and her husband, Bryan. “We understand that at this point in our lives this is the way it is,’’ she says. “It’s a constant juggling act, but we know it’s all going to come to an end at some point. We only have two more years with our oldest daughter in high school and then we’re down to two kids. So if we have a night where all five of us can sit down together and have dinner, we take advantage of it.”

TECH SUPPORT
Today’s parents have some advantages over previous generations. Many leagues embrace technology that allow for schedules to be uploaded directly to mobile phones. Quick group texts alert everybody to updates. Car pools are common. For many, the teamwork on the playing field between children extends off the field between parents who work together to keep the family railroad on track. It’s a team game, in more ways than one.

“I find for myself I need to be organized,” Fox says. “My husband and I sync up our calendars, but I still write everything down. Every day, we review the schedule and divide and conquer. I say here’s what I have and here’s what you have. We’re trying to manage three really busy kids, work schedules and make sure we have something on the table for dinner at the end of the day.”

THE 7-DAY 365 CIRCLE
In previous generations, sports seasons were set by the calendar. The only year-round commitment for many parents were religious education classes, which remain part of the weekly ritual for many families. Doctor appointments, family gatherings, scouting, after-school activities, social events, homework and work commitments also need to be included in the daily dynamic. Heaven help the parent whose child comes to them at 7:49 on a weeknight and tells them the science project that they had four weeks to complete is unstarted. A quiet evening at home suddenly bursts in a 3-alarm fire drill that requires all hands on deck.

The scramble drill for parents has become even harder with the evolution of year-round commitment to individual sports. For generations, baseball and softball were spring and summer recreation opportunities to play with friends on the city’s diamonds. Kids played soccer and football in fall, basketball and ice hockey in winter.

Now? Forget it. Coaches ask – and sometimes require – children to dedicate to their sport year-round. Some parents push back, some coaches allow their athletes to participate in other sports. There are a handful of coaches and parents, however, that want kids to train, practice and play year-round in one sport. Most parents negotiate some compromise that allow children to achieve some balance. They might attend a practice for one sport one night, and play a game in a different sport the next. The cycle perpetuates throughout the week, month and year.

“We can’t be in all places at all times,’’ Kinahan says, who receives support in managing the daily grind from her children’s father, as well as family, friends, coworkers and parents of teammates. “Sometimes I can’t even commit to prioritizing because it’s a matter of what I can take on myself and what I can ask someone else to help with. Sometimes you have to decide who misses what.”

During one winter weekend, Kinahan took her son to an 8 a.m. hockey game, while her daughter played in a 9:20 hockey game in an arena 45 minutes away. The next weekend, she took her son to a hockey tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y., bringing the younger siblings along on the trip, but her daughter and younger son missed their weekend hockey practices and games. “For the younger ones, their activities are still a little bit more for fun, and they’re not necessarily taking attendance and seeing who is missing here or there,’’ she says. “But for the older ones that becomes problematic. My son will not miss practice for anything. That’s his personality. He recognizes that it’s a commitment and he takes that seriously.”

For many families, the plate is full. Parents, most times mothers, need to be a quarterback, taxi driver, part-time teacher, chef, employee, and house caretaker. If there’s a child’s meltdown, they’re also required to flip into therapist mode. The role they need to play can change like the flip of a switch.

 

DEALING WITH CHANGE
One of the hardest aspects in solving the complicated family jigsaw puzzle is unplanned changes in the calendar. A sickness, a rainout, a snowstorm or some other unforseen circumstance can cause instantaneous mayhem. The doubleheader scheduled for Saturday afternoon, for instance, might get moved to Sunday. And don’t even mention Covid, where suddenly kids had no organized sports or structure to their days.

“When that occurs, the first thing I try to do is calm myself down,’’ McGrath says. “And say, OK, whatever it is, we can handle it. Covid was not friendly to our family, that’s for sure. When you have kids that are so involved in sports, and then something like that happens, your like, OK, so now what do we do. I just deal with the situation and regroup and change the schedule as needed.”

Fox believes the occasional schedule changes offer her family a breather, a chance to re-set and take a break from the craziness. “A cancellation can really be something of a blessing,’’ she says. “It opens the schedule a little bit, even though you know it’ will be rescheduled and make another day crazier.”

One of McGrath’s daughters participated in time-intensive Irish dancing. “She was worried I would be upset when she said she wanted to drop it,’’ she says. “I was somewhat relieved, I have to be honest.” The pandemic rearranged schedules for everyone on a moment’s notice. Kinahan says that while it initially triggered a focus on family time and a realization of what is important, many of those lessons have been quickly lost.

“We promised we were never going to get back to where we were,’’ she says. “But I think now in 2023, we’re actually busier and crazier and more stressed, than ever before. My kids missed out on a few years of activities and experiences. And then you sort of feel this guilt about trying to make up for that.”

DEVELOPING THE ROAD MAP
For all three families, there is no one answer in solving the jammed schedules that can shift on a moment’s notice. There is no road map to follow.The best strategy, the women say, is to create a game plan early in the week and remain flexible. Deal with the coordination mayhem to the best of your ability, enlist support and if a kid misses a practice, don’t fret. Coaches, for the most part, are understanding. The one thing that can’t happen – and while it’s infrequent, it does occur – is to leave a kid hanging at practice without a ride home.

While the women embrace technology, they also appreciate the effort of past generations of parents who managed their kids activities without text messaging, schedules that can be uploaded to mobile phones and other technological advantages.

“I was thinking about when I played sports,’’ McGrath says. “How did I get there? We got schedules on paper? I don’t remember. I guess you had to pick up the home phone and call. In this era, maybe what it has created is a world where they can play more sports at once. It has kind of created a monster. I give parents a lot of credit for keeping me involved in sports. I don’t know how they did it without communication like we have today. Because that’s one thing that I’m thankful for now.”

 

Beat the Clock

3 REAL PARENTS‘ tips on how to keep our busy schedules on track.

Plan and prepare
Sunday is set aside for grocery shopping, meal preparation and making certain food is available for school lunches, quick snacks and something that can be whipped up easily for dinner. “I’ll cut up fruit and put some snacks in bags and put them in the cabinet so that I can grab them and get going in the morning,’’ Kim McGrath says. “I do that on Sunday so I can start on Monday. It really helps with my anxiety.”

Find “me” time
Tressa Kinahan wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to practice yoga, read and get the day started on the right foot. “I need that time in the morning to get myself ready for the day,’’ she says. “Whether it’s packing the hockey bags or getting the leotards and tights for dance class, it’s important to have that quiet time in the morning when I can focus without everyone else awake. As hard as it is to spend time for your own self care, if you’re going crazy and you’re stressed, you’re not going to be able to get through the week.”

Know the schedule
Kathy Fox says she reviews her calendar for the week and makes sure she and her husband know who’s responsible for what. “We then coordinate with carpools to figure out which leg we can take because the schedules overlap constantly. The logistics can be complicated, but we do have family and friends that jump in and help in a pinch whenever needed. It takes a lot of hands to make it all work.

 

Expert Advice

How to MAINTAIN BALANCE – and ease up on busy-ness

Apps Help
Many parents use digital options such as a Google calendar, and there are popular apps such as Cozi, a family organizer, and AnyList, which can be used for grocery shopping, to-do lists, and other shared tasks can also be beneficial. She also said setting aside times when no activities are planned can tighten a family bond. “It’s important to have a time when everyone can be together to enjoy something fun or meaningful together, a sacred time free of competing distractions.”

Printed Matters
Jocelyn Kenner, a member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, believes a good first step is going old school – a desktop calendar in which kids can visualize their activities on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. “When you have young children, a visual calendar in a place that everyone uses, such as the kitchen is very, very helpful,’’ she said. “Assign each member of the family their own color so they can see their activities at a quick glance. “Oh, my color is purple, and this is the day I go ice skating. And my color is blue, and that’s when I have soccer.””

Let It Go
Kathalynn Turner Davis, a Stamford psychologist, tells parents to acknowledge that they are doing their best and accept it, rather than feeling guilty. “It’s important to know your priorities,” she says. “It’s called letting go and a lot of times when the feelings come up, everything seems to be chaotic and you feel out of control. I ask myself the question, could I let go of this feeling of wanting to control? I find that when I do that, I’m very centered.”

Good. Not Perfect
As parents wrestle with their own feelings, she believes they need to realize they are not going to be perfect. “I think the most important thing is just to give yourself some approval,’’ Turner Davis said. “You don’t have to be perfect to give yourself approval. Let go of wanting your approval and give it to yourself.”

 

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