In the current parenting atmosphere characterized by “gotta get in” thinking – to the college, music program, or elite sports team – many parents lose sight of the importance of leisure time. Pressing pause long enough to enjoy a favorite movie, book, or game is a little luxury that can go a long way.

My husband and I have been fortunate to raise our kids on a cul-de-sac where old-fashioned neighborhood games like Manhunt and Capture the Flag still set the stage for summer fun. We hear squeals of delight and see shadows racing by from dawn until dusk, Memorial Day through Labor Day.

I’m afraid that spontaneous play is not the norm today. I recently read a cartoon poking fun at a mom who scheduled in unscheduled play. I’ve observed kids who don’t know how to choose teams for a pick-up basketball game and I know an SAT tutor who gives each student a crayon to place on his desk while taking the test as a reminder that he’s just a kid.

In our quest to gain advantages for our child, we might have lost ourselves and compromised her childhood. It’s difficult to sit around the table and talk about our day with Kate zipping off to debate club and Sam running late for squash lessons. While I’m all for organized sports and investing in our child’s potential, the building blocks of self-esteem are laid at home, where children come to refill their tanks and reconnect with family and self. I believe it takes quantity time to allow for quality time. And I’m afraid many of us have given up both when it comes to our children.

The balance between ambition and self-nurturance is difficult to achieve and a fine line to walk for two reasons: the community anxiety around achievement can be contagious and for that reason, the competition gets steeper by the minute. I advise parents struggling with this issue to recognize and honor the values and rhythm of their particular family and each individual child. Rebecca may want to visit 12 colleges while her brother feels comfortable looking at five. Billy might strive for straight A’s while Sean prefers B’s and a weekly basketball game. The best we can do is encourage our child to discover what balance works best for her and then talk about what that might mean moving forward.

A teenage boy recently explained to me, with a bag of chips in his lap and clicker in hand, that he’s an economist who tries to conserve energy starting with his own. It made sense because, even those who know better can get caught in the “Race to Nowhere”, the one Vicki Abeles powerfully portrays in the titular film. Years ago a local gas station attendant pounded on the back of my van as though he was part of a pit crew at a NASCAR race.

Younger moms often ask, “In hindsight what would you do differently?” This week I’d say, “Cancel the music lessons or SAT tutors every other week and on the off weeks tell the kids to go fly a kite!”