According to a September 2017 Ipsos poll, 54% of Canadian families feel financially strained from expenses related to their children’s extracurricular activities. The poll, which was completed for Global News, took a sample of 1,001 Canadian parents ages 18 and older. As many as 1 in 4 parents have even gone into debt to put their children in extracurriculars, which includes sports, community programs, and arts programs.
As a mother to three children ages six, four, and one, I am just entering the world of extracurriculars. I have always been opposed to spending money on programming for preschool-aged children, but the time of ignoring extracurriculars is quickly ending for me.
This summer I have been home with my three children, and have been trying to find frugal ways to entertain them. A full two weeks of daily swimming lessons was one of the most affordable ways to get my kids active and busy for the morning.
Now that we’re entering into this new phase of extracurriculars, my six-year-old, Penny, has taken an interest in athletics, particularly gymnastics. My husband was a competitive gymnast, and watching our daughter take on this passion has been special for our family. We both agreed that a week of gymnastics camp would be a fun introduction to the sport and a perfect way to feed the bug for now.
Gymnastics is hardly an inexpensive extracurricular. As a family living on one income we are barely able to afford swimming lessons, an elite sport is absolutely out of our budget. But thinking about my daughter and her newfound passion has made me realize that I may not be able to give her the opportunities she wants.
What if my six-year-old loves a sport that we can’t afford? Am I willing to go into debt to feed my child’s passion?
As a child, I didn’t get to compete in any sports. My mom was a single mother working weekends and evenings, and she didn’t have the budget or the time to enroll me in extracurriculars.
The loss I feel over my own childhood has certainly spilled over into the way that I approach raising my children. I work from home because it offers the stability and presence that I felt like I missed out on. But I also overspend and overindulge my kids because of my own guilt over my frugal childhood.
I recently had a conversation with my husband, who was raised in an affluent household, about my fear that money will result in a lack of opportunity for our kids.
“Maybe I could have been an amazing athlete, but I’ll never know,” I said to my husband, tears in my eyes.
I felt grief over my own childhood and the opportunities that I felt I lost, and I was using that grief to feed an unrealistic expectation on myself as a parent.
My children have experienced an incredible childhood so far, from exploring all of the wonderful free events and festivals in our city, to visiting museums and our local library regularly. My husband and I are both active in our children’s lives, and we listen to their wants and their desires, and we seek ways to find creative outlets for their passions.
We are entering a new stage, as our kids get older and start to develop real skills. Maybe we can’t afford to put our daughter in competitive gymnastics, but we can probably budget for her to take a weekly gymnastics class for one season each year. Not being able to afford every single opportunity for our children doesn’t mean that they’re missing out, it just means that we may need to get creative to find ways for them to grow in their skills and chase after their passion.
Releasing the guilt and pressure I felt helped me to appreciate all that our children have, and also appreciate, what I received as a child.
I was a deeply loved child who may not have had every opportunity in the world, but I still managed to have a wonderful life.
And no, I’m not willing to go into debt so that my kids can play sports or chase their dreams, but that doesn’t mean I won’t help them chase their passions.