Family schedules are on overdrive when the school year is well established as it is now. What we all need is balance. Balancing work, play, rest, time at home, time in community, and the other things that keep us so busy is a huge challenge for all of us. It can be discouraging. We get it right more often than we realize, but there are a few things we can do to feel more balanced.
When I spend time with young families and see all the items on their calendars, I am reminded of an illustration in "The Cat In The Hat" by Dr. Seuss. It is the one in which the cat is standing on a ball while balancing a wide variety of household items on a rake and simultaneously fanning himself with a fan held tightly in his tail. It is impressive until the whole assembly comes tumbling down creating an epic display of havoc. There are similar results in family life. All it takes is one hiccup and our crammed schedules crash.
What compels us to engage in so much that we keep our families in the car, feed our children fast food or fatty restaurant meals, rushing from activity to class to practice to game to school to our homes to the shower to bed for a few hours sleep only to start it all again? Why would we not prefer a simpler and more forgiving schedule? Good questions.
When we put ourselves and our families on these treadmills of scheduling we are actually doing it to offer our children as many opportunities as we can. No parent over books their child while thinking, "I know what we can do! We can overschedule ourselves so that we feel frantic and overwhelmed and our children's lives become so busy and scripted that they become incapable of entertaining themselves! What a great idea!" No. Our motives are good.
We, as loving parents, want to give our children experiences and advantages because we love them and believe in them. We are willing to spend a great deal of money and time on these activities because we love our children so very much. We believe that these experiences will help our children become smarter, healthier, more successful, and open doors for them as they grow. It really is all about love and ambition. It is about wanting our children to have the best and most successful lives possible, and we want to set that up.
What if there were a simpler, more effective way to provide all this for our children? What if we could open doors for our children without the endless struggle to be on time or get from one place to another? What if we could slow the pace, laugh a bit more, scold a bit less? Would our children benefit from this or would the lowered number of experiences shrink their world to an unacceptable degree?
Here are some things to help you think how much time your family spends on what.
The Unintended Consequences Even though you want to give your children rich experiences, children who are overscheduled have some common issues: typically they don't eat right, they don't sleep well, and are too busy to make friends organically. These are important aspects of a healthy life. Keeping your child on a schedule that allows for calm, healthy meals and adequate rest is vital. Honestly assess how often these two things happen.
The Important Work Of Play Children need a great deal of time to engage in play of their own creation. Playing with boxes and cars or mud and sticks may seem mindless and counter productive in the race toward college scholarships but these activities enhance your child's whole brain activity. It makes their minds work faster and with more creativity. It develops problem solving skills and increases their ability to concentrate. Unscripted play is incredibly important for children's development. Does your child have time to do this for unhurried blocks of time?
Fun And Games When was the last time you simply played together as a family? Cards, board games, kite flying, stilt walking, hopscotch, foursquare, chalk drawing on the sidewalk, etc. Fun doesn't have to cost money. Fun happens when everyone is together, smiling, and engaged in an activity that is enjoyable. Keep it simple, but make sure that your schedule allows a lot of time for this.
Just Be Children need time each day to simply be. To draw or read or relax. But this must be a time where there are no screens at all. Children should absolutely not just sit on the couch with a device for hours on end. I can't think of anything worse for children and their brain development. Or their social skills.
Pick And Choose Have your child pick a few activities about which they are passionate. Help them see how those scheduled activities impact the act of living as a family. How much time do you want to spend in the car? What can your family reasonably afford to spend on these extras? Reconsider a sport that is played year round or requires that your children be absent from your faith community most of the time. This is an audacious demand that is made by coaches whose income often is related to how many children travel to how many games during times of worship. Follow the money.
Consider what is going to serve your child better across their lifetime: sports to the exclusion of all else, or a well rounded schedule that includes times of quiet, times of unscripted play, time to play as a family and unorchestrated play with friends. Give your children advantages that come from being well versed in being a kid.