I have to plan my kids' activities months in advance. I understand why, but it only makes life more hectic.
I have to sign my kids up for summer events months in advance.
I have in the past forgotten about signing them up and not shown up at all.
Our needs, both as parents and kids, can change in months, so it's hard to keep up.
Last spring, I gave myself a huge pat on the back. Registration had opened for craft camp at a local art studio for one of the weeks in August between summer camp ending and school starting, and I was right there. In the middle of a work call, I logged in and got it done.
My daughter would have loved it — if I'd actually remembered to send her.
Five months after my victory over this particular sign-up gauntlet, we were driving down to the beach for the week when my friend texted me to discuss carpooling to craft camp the next day. But without an email confirmation or an entry on our family calendar, it had completely vanished from my radar. The registration I treated like a Taylor Swift ticket window in the middle of my workday was for naught, lost in a sea of short-term triaging and long-term planning that leaves parents like me unsure of how we're supposed to get it right.
I'm my children's chief of staff
There are times I must be a full-time chief of staff for my children and times I must be a mind reader because everything requires extreme foresight.
Extracurricular activities run four days a week and book four months out. Programs are at capacity the minute registration opens. Summer-camp tours are maxing out for next summer just for kids to potentially attend two summers from now. There are more deposits, more sign-up sheets, more consultants, and more deadlines. Everything is more, and everything is sooner.
Technology drives this madness. Most programs use online-registration tools now, and I understand the benefit of gaining more certainty over participants earlier from a business standpoint, especially in this economic landscape. And from our standpoint, signing up for swim lessons at the click of a button is easier than handing in a physical form with a check. But it does feel like the simpler the process is, the slipperier the slope can get.
A task parents would have previously had some wiggle room to handle now must be dealt with at 9 a.m. and not 9:15 a.m. Fifteen minutes will dictate whether your child can take dance the following school year even though this year's recital hasn't happened yet.
There's more demand
Demand is a contributing factor, too. The pandemic motivated many millennial families to flee metropolitan areas, but most landed in suburbs within commuting distance of the cities they left. Communities do not have the infrastructure to support the needs of this demographic. That means more parents are fighting for the same number of slots for just about everything, particularly after-school programs and activities that double as childcare.
I've watched many friends scramble to piece together extended afternoons for their children when their employers' in-person work expectations shifted on a dime. These dynamics are still in flux, driving many of us to adopt the "commit now, sort it out later" approach. But when "later" comes, we still may not have what we really need because we can't predict the future. We can't use the moons and planets to predict whether our children will need three or five days of aftercare nine months from now. Parenting is never that certain.
Not only do our needs change, but our children change. How my 7-year-old first grader wants to spend her time is quite different from how the same girl, as a 6-year-old kindergartener, predicted she would last year. I am not sure it's fair to expect them to make informed decisions about their own interests and comfort levels when they are growing at a pace neither they nor we can control. Putting that on kids or their parents is a heavy load. We are not mind readers — we are just hoping it works out for all of us.
This all begs the question of, "How soon is too soon?" Don't ask me. I spent last fall talking to a camp consultant about summer 2024. I just didn't want to miss the window. But, maybe, I'm the reason the window exists in the first place.
Heather Joelle Boneparth is an attorney and writer. Her newsletter, Our Tiny Rebellions, searches for greater meaning in women's subtle wins and losses. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.
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