Q.Why do people "busy" their lives rather than live them?

I especially notice the "sports mania" that affects our metropolitan area. So many of my friends and acquaintances are consumed by the sports their children play. When this happens, they don't have much time to "live" life and their kids don't have time to just be kids.

This not only applies to sports, but to dance, ice skating, music, after-school tutoring, karate and many other activities.

I think this is a dangerous track for both parents and kids and many parents agree, but seem unable to stop it. It's almost as if they think their children wouldn't excel without all this busyness.

A.Parents are doing really well with their children today -- better than they have in years -- but many of them have, as you say, gotten on the wrong track. It probably isn't dangerous, but it is unwise.

Children do enjoy a weekly class after school and they usually like to be on a team -- which means one practice and maybe one game a week -- but more activities add up to more stress for them, rather than more fun.

Blame this busyness on our culture, which has changed more in the last 50 years than in all the decades that went before.

Until the '60s, most mothers stayed home because home was where they needed to be.

Dad worked from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, and washed the car, painted the den and pushed the lawn mower on weekends; mom followed her relentless round of household jobs, day after day, and children helped them both, especially the mother. There was just too much work for her to do alone.

In those days she cooked meals from scratch -- there were few prepared foods back then; washed dishes by hand -- there were no dishwashers -- and dusted the furniture every day. Without air conditioning and storm windows, the dust swirled into the open windows in summertime and seeped inside in winter. Skipping the dusting was not an option.

She had to hang the wet clothes on a line to dry, then iron them -- wrinkle-resistant fabric hadn't been invented -- and repair all the rips and tears. Few families could afford new clothes just because their old ones needed to be mended.

By the late '60s, though, most middle-class families had labor-saving devices and a little more money, and mothers had time to focus on their children. And they sure did.

Instead of tending them casually, between chores, they began to center their lives on their children. They gave them enough toys to stock a nursery school; let them invite the whole class to their birthday parties instead of five or six close friends; and bought a second car so they could drive them wherever they wanted to go, even though they could usually bike there just as well.

And to afford all of this -- and to feel more useful -- many women got paying jobs. This helped them, psychologically and financially, but they still had to manage the house and the children, which was at least a half-time job, even with help from their husbands.

So much work has put parents into overdrive and it only got worse when they started scheduling activities for their children every day after school and then felt guilty if they didn't see every game and every performance. So much attention has put children in overdrive, too.

What they really need is a sitter or a granny to watch over them after school while they test themselves on the playground, invent some goofy board game or start their dog-walking business. They need someone to give them time to imagine. To dream. To figure out how the world works and where they fit into it, rather than classes, sports and hobbies every afternoon.

They also need some relaxing time with their family every day -- playing checkers, making cookies, taking a nighttime walk -- because these are the moments that memories are made of.

And they need to weed the garden, make the salad for supper and clean the garage, too, because children feel so good when the family depends on them and so clever when they learn small skills. Chores give children not only the confidence to master big skills later but also the right to try and the right to fail. Only then can they dare to go wherever their talents lead them.

To convince your friends, lend them a copy of "The Essential Daughter," a seminal book by Mary Collins (Praeger; $30). They'll learn how responsibility turns children into strong, caring adults, which is more than you can say about soccer, karate and dance class.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com or to Box 15310, Washington D.C. 20003.