The Hyper-Scheduled Ohana
When busy is an understatement, how can you keep your schedule and your sanity? Four families tell us how they make it work.
The Kaopuiki-Clark Ohana
Photos: Karen DB Photography
Trini Kaopuiki, co-host of KHON2’s Living808 and her husband, Sean Clark, an attorney at Hawaiian Telcom.
Mālie, 11, and Kalā, 8.
ACTIVITIES Parents Sean Clark: surfs, Jiu Jitsu and a father-and-son camping group with Kalā. Kids Dance teams, dance at school, volleyball, flag football and skateboarding class.
Gym bag, check. Soccer cleats, check. Ballet clothes, Boy Scout uniform, ukulele, check, check, check. Preparing for after-school activities can feel like packing for a family vacation, with the real work beginning when we leave the office. As parents, we often have a love/hate relationship with our ohana’s extracurricular activities. On the one hand, they’re fun, improve our skills and give us a sense of community. On the other, we long for more sleep, beach, barbecue and family downtime. Is it possible to have both? We asked four busy families what works for them, and a local psychologist for tips to balancing it all.
“There are weeks where I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to get through this week?’” Trini Kaopuiki says.
On a typical weekday, the TV co-host wakes up between 4 and 4:30 a.m., leaves the family Manoa home and arrives at work by 5:30 a.m. Her husband, Sean Clark, makes breakfast for Malie and Kala and drops them off at school. The former Miss Hawaii is on air from 8 to 9 a.m. and finishes her office work by 2 p.m.
“When I leave KHON, I shift to mommy mode and I’m pretty much a chauffeur taking the kids to their many activities,” she says.
When the children were younger, and Kaopuiki was working part time, she was a classroom parent and took them to everything from Gymboree and toddler soccer to baseball, basketball and Scouts.
“There came a point when I said, ‘This is too much,’” says Kaopuiki.
“The line between over-scheduled and enriching, growth-promoting activity can be thin and often difficult to define,” says child and family psychologist Jason Keifer.
He says activities should be encouraged as long as parents are not pushing them out of a fear of missing out or in an effort to raise a textbook “successful” child.
He warns that “in our attempt to put together the perfect childhood, we can unintentionally miss out on the most valuable aspects of a child’s development: family dinners, sleep and family downtime (without screens and electronics).”
Finding space to do that is not easy, even for experts. Keifer says that, with three children under 5 and a baby on the way, as well as a house remodel and an office move, he often feels over-scheduled, too.
Kaopuiki and Clark realized their family needed a break. So they asked their children to cut back to two extracurricular activities at a time.
Malie welcomed the change. Kaopuiki says she “knows her limits.” In fact, Malie had already chosen to cut some activities out on her own, opting to stop playing soccer because “it stopped being fun because it got so competitive,” Kaopuiki says. “She was burned out by 8 or 9 and wanted to quit.”
Kala, however, had a harder time letting go of some of his activities, and wishes he could sign up for “everything.” He also resents it when his mom misses his games and performances. She says he tells her: “You care more about work than you care about me.”
While this makes her feel guilty, psychologist Keifer says that she’s actually teaching him important life lessons.
Keifer says parents often think they should always put their children’s desires first, but he warns that can give keiki a “narcissistic view of the world, leaving the child unprepared for the real world as an adult.” Children need to learn to accommodate others, he says.
Given how busy they are, Kaopuiki says she’s thankful her husband is “very hands on” with their children. The two work well together, easily swapping cooking and kid duties at a moment’s notice.
“You can’t really know (how you will co-parent) when you marry someone so we lucked out,” she says. While some of it may be luck, the couple also makes sure to put marriage first, something psychologist Keifer says is key to family happiness.
“Over-parenting and over-scheduling carry real risks, over-marrying does not,” Keifer says. “There is no substitute for a child seeing his parents’ marriage thrive and be the healthy center of the family,” he says.
The couple frequently gets babysitters so that they can have date nights. Both sets of grandparents—Clark’s live in Kahaluu, Kaopuiki’s parents are on Maui—have also watched the kids for extended times so the couple could travel alone to places such as Bali, India and Turkey.
Nuuanu parents Melissa and James Moniz also fit couple trips in between their kids’ soccer, math academy, music and hula classes and more. In addition to having their parents fly over from the Big Island to babysit, the parents of Taylor, 13, and Kylie, 10, find other creative ways to have some alone time.
They squeeze lunches together into their work day. They also trade sleepover nights with other families so they can go on dates, or attend work dinners.
“It’s essential to have time together,” Melissa says. “We forgot we were a couple when the kids were younger.”
They’ve also gotten creative with scheduling solo time. Melissa uses the girls’ soccer practice time to run errands and also gets her own workout in by running around the field. James meets friends to play basketball at 5 a.m.
“Although we’re busy, it’s a good busy, it gives us purpose,” says Melissa.
When they travel with the kids, both the Moniz and Kaopuiki/Clark families enjoy family time without scheduled activities. Kaopuiki says one of their best holidays was to a lodge in Kokee on Kauai. There was no cell phone reception or internet access, so the family played board games, talked and enjoyed some much-needed quiet time.
Her advice for other families is: “Do what feels right for you; only you know what you can handle.”
The Ebalei-Hassett Ohana
Tehani Ebalei and Warren Hassett. Ebalei works at State Farm and ISEC, a specialty construction company, and her husband owns Artistone, a stone masonry and pool tile company.
Kamalei, 15, Kaeo, 12, Kamaile, 7, Kala, 4, and niece and foster child Tehani Kahawai, 3.
Tehani Ebalei: Canoe club, soccer coach, fifth grade room parent, first grade reading group volunteer, Aina docent (school garden program volunteer) and Make a Wish volunteer. Warren Hassett: Sings in a band, surfs, and coaches football, flag football, and surf club.
Junior lifeguards, surf team, Jiu Jitsu, soccer, football, flag football and hula.
“I have my calendar in my purse. I have a wall calendar. I have five different school calendars. I get erasable pens and I have them in all the colors so each kid and each bill has its own color,” says Tehani Ebalei.
Extra organization is something that’s essential to the Kailua family. The five kids attend four different schools. And that’s just the beginning. Ebalei works more than 40 hours a week at two jobs and husband Warren Hassett is always on call as the owner of his own company, but they somehow find the time to coach their kids’ multiple sports. She also paddles three afternoons a week; he sings in a band.
No doubt, life has gotten busier with each child, but, Ebalei says, “I always find a way to make it work because I want to give each child the same experience as the others.”
It does take a team. Ebalei says her grandmother, the children’s great-grandmother, 72-year-old Pua Kang, is a “little shuttle,” dropping the kids off at school and taking them to activities.
“When Warren and I are spread thin, she steps in for any task. At any time. She’s a super grams!” says Ebalei.
With the high cost of living in Hawaii, many families rely on grandparents as caregivers for their children. While this can bring the generations together, psychologist Keifer warns that grandparents can get worn out.
Ebalei advises anyone asking family members to watch their kids to have a “plan B” and not take for granted that they can always be there.
“Don’t be upset or disappointed when they can’t help,” she says.
On weekends, Ebalei and Hassett make sure the entire family is there for each child’s game day. When the little ones get antsy, they’ll either take advantage of the nearby playgrounds, or Ebalei makes sure her “mom van” is always stocked with balls, scooters and art. Even if they’re not watching the entire time, Keifer says it’s beneficial.
“Learning to support and cheer for each other is good for the child and family as well,” he says.
The entire family also dedicates time to volunteer with Make a Wish Hawaii, a mission that’s close to their hearts. Daughter Kamaile is a former Make a Wish kid; fortunately her auto-immune disease is now in remission. On rare open days, the family keeps it simple by heading outdoors to surf and camp.
Ebalei and Hassett do weekly date nights. And, every year for the past 15 years, Ebalei has taken a girls’ trip. “It does wonders for me,” she says.
Hassett is an only child and always dreamed of a big family. Now that he has one, he loves that there is always something to do and the kids keep him and his wife on their toes. Still, he says, “Sometimes I just need a good surf and a nap.”
The Schiffl Ohana
Michelle Schiffl, Punahou Middle School girls’ PE teacher, and husband Lou Schiffl, a civil engineer for the U.S. Air Force.
Children Kaila, 9, and Ty, 6.
Art, hula, Japanese, science, sewing, soccer, tennis, ‘ukulele, garden club, swimming, church and Sunday school.
Last school year, Kaila and her brother, Ty, were involved in more than a dozen extracurricular activities.
“Kaila was a very shy little girl and I wanted her involved in hula, ‘ukulele and ballet so she could get up on stage in front of people and find her inner voice,” says mom Michelle Schiffl.
Performance arts “really helped Kaila’s personality bloom,” Michelle says. It also kept them busy.
With Michelle’s first class starting at 6:30 a.m. Monday and her last ending at 6 p.m. Friday, even her stamina gets depleted. She and her husband, Lou, often tag-team their parental duties during the week and “divide and conquer” on the weekends, she says, lamenting that they are sometimes like “ships passing in the night.”
With all of their close family on the Mainland, it’s very difficult to work out a date night or even get babysitters to cover the kids’ daily routines when Lou is out of town for work, which happens frequently. But, it’s also the performances and after-game potlucks that bring them together. Being so far from grandparents, aunts and uncles, they gain a new ‘ohana and “a genuine sense of community being a part of these programs,” Michelle says.
Kaila and Ty usually want to keep adding activities to their weeks. But, recently, they asked to quit tennis lessons so their Saturdays would be free.
“I understand, as we sometimes want a day free, too,” says Michelle, adding that, while tennis would develop specific skills, “Children learn so much through free play at this age.”
Psychologist Keifer couldn’t agree more. “Free time leads to the development of self-directed learning,” he says. It helps them “learn about decision-making through trial and error.”
He also cautions that too many organized activities can create a “happiness trap,” whereby children feel they “can only be happy in a structured activity, producing something.”
Now, the Schiffl family spends Saturdays building forts, copying dad’s D.I.Y. house projects and “getting creative,” Michelle says.
Of course, that is, until soccer season starts again.
In addition to meticulous calendar planning, Michelle’s trick to squeeze extra time into their over-stretched weekday schedule is to prepare meals for the week on Sunday.
Given all the sports classes she teaches, at least she doesn’t have a hard time fitting fitness into her routine.
Overall, she says, “I feel tired by the end of the day, but I feel accomplished.”
➻ While some parents and children truly enjoy packing in the most activities possible, others feel over-scheduling is an unfortunate but inevitable reality of raising kids.
Keifer says it doesn’t mean you have to stop all extracurricular activities. Instead, he suggests making free time your priority instead of the other way around.
Schedule family meals, activities and downtime as well as time for your marriage. Then, fit lessons, sports and other activities in around those moments.
This may sound nearly impossible. But, Keifer says, just ensuring that 10 percent of our waking hours are free—one to two hours daily Monday through Friday, two to four hours on weekends—can do wonders, mentally and physically, and for our children’s development. If you include meals in your downtime, it really doesn’t sound too hard at all.
But, he says, be sure to put away cell phones and electronic devices.
That way, not only will you engage with your family, you won’t be able sign up for new classes, email plans or add to your online calendar, either. At least for an hour.