Well, it’s happening. At last, I get it. After watching generations of parents before me surrender to the chaos of the calendar (after vowing to never be foolish or weak), I am now in the same position, struggling to keep family time alive against a schedule chock-full of my children’s activities.
It is tough to say no, to withdraw from the race, to pull your kids away from various opportunities to make solid friends. I want to help get their little bodies in motion and their brains processing. I want them to soak in the wild blue yonder, rather than the television, Xbox and iPad.
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I recently became more aware of how my gang of 6 is responding to this societal norm. After a year of becoming increasingly overbooked (and increasingly stressed), I started paying more attention to the anxiety stirring in our bellies. What did I see? We needed to start saying no more.
As of late, I’ve been building a barricade around Sundays. I want that day to hold sacred time for worship, joy, family dinner and rest. It’s been worth it, but it hasn’t come easy. For example, I had to break the news to a man who generously volunteers his time to coach one of my kid’s sports teams. He opted to add Sunday practices, but I chose (and still choose) to not send my child. While I may anger some for creating intention around our family’s boundaries, I feel I need to fight for this time of rejuvenation and bonding, just as I would fight for any other form of happiness or survival in our lives.
Expert on character education Philip Brown, PhD recently compiled “5 Tips to Avoid Overbooking Your Kids and Create Life Balance”. Dr. Brown, a senior consultant at the National School Climate Center, aptly pointed out, “Finding balance is not an easy task in a society of great abundance.” Our interests and our desire to give our children every opportunity to succeed can inadvertently pull us into adding an ever increasing number of activities, dates, plans and obligations.”
A list that imparts valuable guidance on how to build a sense of self in children, regardless of which activities are on the calendar, here are Dr. Brown’s “5 Tips to Avoid Overbooking Your Kids and Find Life Balance”:
1 Let your kids know that you care about them for who they are, not just what they can do. Children need to know that your love is not contingent on their achievements.
2 Remember that children do not have the same sense of time that you do. Part of growing up is being able to put things in perspective. There will likely be another friend, another team, another trip if this one does not work out.
3 Give kids free time to try new things, as well as the permission to give them up and try something else.Working hard at something you love to do is one of the best parts of life. It takes some of us a lot of experimenting to find those things we love.
4 Be sensitive to individual needs and persistent in offering opportunities. Some kids organize their time and find their interests with just a little exposure; other kids may need a bit of a push to try things that don’t seem attractive or interesting (or may be threatening). If you need to be pushy, try to offer alternatives, so kids have a voice in what they will be doing. For example, some children thrive in competitive sports, and others may find their niche in hiking or dancing.
5 Remember to include exposure to helping others in your family activities. One of the best ways of developing empathy in our children (and ourselves) is to feel the gratitude that is expressed when we help others. This doesn’t happen if we don’t have the opportunity of interacting with others in need or whom we help. This can happen within the context of the family itself, as well, and doesn’t necessarily require a formal charity event. Create opportunities in which children can feel that they have meaningfully helped other family members or the whole family accomplish something. The combination of caring, responsibility, feeling respected, and gratitude is a powerful stew that nourishes the soul.
“Saying ‘no’ when demands become more than we can handle, or to children who may feel that they are supposed to be involved with everything their friends are doing to keep up, is not easy, and can be particularly difficult if our sense of self, who we want to believe we are or should be, seems dependent on saying ‘yes’ and doing it all,” explained Dr. Brown.
Time is such a precious commodity. So much is said about the meaning of life, and when those before us remind us of lessons learned, the common theme is to live life to the fullest. To me, that doesn’t mean schedule every minute of time – it means live in the moment, enjoy those you love, and do what makes you happy whenever possible. As a mom and woman in charge of my family’s calendar, I feel it is my duty to pay attention to all competing forces and make decisions that are right for us over the long-term.