Navigating non-essential activities

Originally Appeared in : 9821-10/11/18

Isabel had her first violin lesson last week. Per the rules, Isabel could begin her musical studies only after I was able to master “Twinkle twinkle little star.” It’s a good way to make sure the parent overseeing daily practice has a modicum of violin-playing knowledge, which I now (mostly) do.


This is not the first time we have attempted violin lessons. Years ago we planned this for Ethan. I went to the meeting, signed up for my first “parent lesson” — and gave birth to our son Augie a few weeks later.


Because Augie was our fourth child under the age of five, Ethan’s violin lessons were quickly shelved. I didn’t realize until after the baby was born just how stressful (and wonderful) it would be to have so many little ones. The thought of getting Ethan to a weekly lesson and a twice-monthly group lesson, all while keeping track of a daily practice schedule, felt impossible.


Earlier that year, we also had Ethan signed up for soccer. There he was in a pack of small, dazed 5-year-olds, running up and down a patch of grass chasing after a ball only a few of the children seemed to notice. I barely noticed it myself because I spent every game chasing my two other children (Elliott, 3 and Charlie, 1) while six months pregnant.


It sounds crazy to me now, signing such a young child up for these extracurricular events while having other small children and being (I seem to recall) totally exhausted. But I clearly remember why we did it. I had such a heavy burden of the need to get my children “involved” at a young age because they wouldn’t turn out okay if we didn’t.


I was motivated by fear, which is one of the worst parenting motivators you can ever use. Operating out of fear — fear of missing out, fear of bad stuff happening, fear of how your children will turn out if you don’t do this thing or that — those are bad reasons to do things.


I learned my lesson. After that first soccer season, I looked at the coach (who happened to be my husband!) and said, “Can we wait a few years until we do this again?” And he replied, “Gladly.”


So we learned, all those years ago, that decisions about non-essential, non-school related activities would be made at a very personal, fear-free level. We would consider family size, age, time, mental health and how many other things we had going on in life. We would not make decisions based on what everyone else was doing or what would happen (in theory)


if we didn’t sign up.


Fast forward a few years. Our youngest is 8, and she has an interest in violin. And so we are signed up and are starting the adventure. It’s working for us now, in this season of life. We can handle the schedule; we’re in a different place.


And Ethan still found success with music. It didn’t work for him to take violin as a 5-year-old, but a few years later he learned guitar. He has led praise and worship and music at Mass at our school — and also sings in a local rock band. He’s even taught guitar lessons, and any fear I had about music passing him by was unfounded. 


My take away, as I watched Isabel begin her lessons, was that every family needs to navigate these decisions in peace. Be at peace. If you want to do all the activities, that’s great. If the thought of it all robs you of your peace, you are allowed to say no.


As we were leaving Isabel’s lesson, I passed my sister-in-law heading out to a soccer game. My nephews, ages 3 and 4, had a game that night. And she loves it. It’s the perfect way for them to spend a few hours on a Monday night, running around and getting tired as the sun goes down. 


It works for them, and that’s awesome, too.


Rachel Swenson Balducci is a freelance writer and member of Most Holy Trinity Church, Augusta. She can be reached at

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