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A Mom's Top Rules for Juggling Kids' Schedules

It's Monday at 3 p.m. You have to pick your middle child up from school, then race home to get your oldest off the bus. Karate starts at 4 p.m. You promised the kids you'd take them to the school book fair around 6 p.m. And all along, your youngest is being dragged along for the ride. Dinner? Let's hope you eat before everyone falls asleep in their hastily prepared grilled cheeses!

Yup, we've all been there. As a mom-of-three, I constantly feel overwhelmed by my kids' schedules. We're rushing to ballet, then soccer, then playgroup. Even though I try to be selective about what I sign them up for, other things always come up—a park play date ("Mom, everyone will be there!"), open gymnastics ("All my friends can do a cartwheel except me!"), or a great discount on swimming lessons. Ugh.

I've realized that if I'm not careful, our schedule quickly spins out of control. That's why I've established a few ground rules to keep my mom mobile from becoming our second home. Maybe my rules will work to trim the fat from your bloated schedule, too.

1. Set boundaries.

For me, setting boundaries means not scheduling an activity during my baby's nap time—no exceptions. A meet-up at 1 p.m.? Sounds fun, but I'm not forcing her to forgo her nap just so my older children can meet their friends for frozen yogurt.

2. Preserve family time.

Our weekends are the only opportunity for us to be together as a family. So I try not to sign my kids up for activities that require us to commit to huge chunks of time on Saturday and Sunday. A practice for an hour or two on Saturday morning is okay, but two away games each weekend? Let's really consider whether we want to say "yes" to that one.

3. Avoid late nights.

It's amazing to me that some parents enroll their young kids in activities that don't start until 6 p.m. or even later on a school night! That means the children aren't getting to bed until 10 p.m. (hello? homework!). First of all, I'm too tired to be carting my kids around so late. And what about the kids? I know mine need more sleep than that. Our curfew on a school night is 7 p.m. Sorry rec basketball.

4. Respect everyone's needs.

As a mom-of-three, I consider it my job to balance each of my kid's needs with those of the others. Yes, my oldest might be the busiest with activities, and yes, I may have to drag her younger siblings around to this practice and that meeting. But their needs still matter. It can't always be about attending a classmate's birthday party at the bowling alley. Sometimes it's about a library singalong for the baby. If I can only manage to drive to the mini music fest, but can't be back in time for a pick-up from the party, so be it. There will be another birthday party.

5. Don't force it.

My daughter played soccer for four seasons. Each time, she would tell us she didn't like soccer, but since all her friends were signing up again, we figured she should keep going. Not this season. I came to a point where I thought, "Why am I forcing her to do soccer against her will?" It's silly, especially because it means I am making myself crazy driving to the practices and games when she isn't even enjoying the sport.

6. Combine when you can.

I wanted my two youngest to take swimming lessons, but their age difference meant they had to enroll in different classes. My first question for the pool staff: "Do you have any times that overlap?" Luckily, the girls can both swim at 9 a.m. with their own teachers. Otherwise, I'm at the pool for hours, and there goes the morning!

What's your best tip for keeping kids' schedules in check?

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