“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” Socrates
A few years ago, as I was preparing to send my children back to school, a tangible sense of dread filled my heart. I was not worried about sending them to school. After a summer of trying to keep them
from killing each other entertained, I was more than ready for them to jump back into a structured learning environment. It was all the extras – the sports, music lessons, dance, scouts, and youth groups – that I could hardly think about without my blood pressure rising.
I wanted my kids to be able to participate in those activities, but the previous school year had been almost too much for me. We spent that year constantly running from one activity or lesson to the next in an effort to give the kids “good experiences.” While that hurried lifestyle was not my preference, I was worried about them falling behind the curve. It seemed like a parental requirement to help your children find their niche before age five if you wanted them to have a shot at being successful in any sport, musical endeavor, or otherwise.
At least that was the message that I heard loud and clear, even if it was never verbalized.
Carson, who was then just a year old, spent most of his life in a car seat between school carpools and extra activities, which made me feel terrible. The other kids, while they enjoyed their activities, were often stressed because they did not have adequate time for homework, let alone time to be kids. Outside play was sparse. Relaxation was a thing of the past. I was irritable because I had little time to recharge, which I truly needed in order to function.
What was I doing to their childhood? Was this routine really the best thing for them? Was the time and energy spent giving them “good experiences” really worth the toll that it took on our family as a whole?
Those questions weighed heavily on my mind while I anticipated the start of another school year.
As a growing sense of dread filled every corner of my heart, I knew what I needed to do. I gave myself permission to break free from the feeling that I needed to keep my kids busy in order to be a good parent. I decided that if packing my kids’ schedules with activities was among the defining factors of good parenting, then I was better off being mediocre. And if my kids did not discover their calling in life while they were in elementary school, their lives could still be happy, successful, and fulfilling.
That decision changed my outlook and gave me more confidence to do what I felt was best for my family, even if it deviated from the norm.
We did not clear our schedule of all lessons, sports, and activities, but we did start being much more selective. We said no to things that we knew would end up being too much, even if the kids did not like that decision. If one child really wanted to try something, we would try to make that work, which usually meant giving up something else.
I tried to arrange our after-school schedule so that we always had at least a couple of free days, which made all the difference. The kids showed fewer signs of stress. They no longer worried about having time to complete their homework. They started playing outside again. I often found them curled up on the couch with a book. Although they sometimes complained about not being able to do everything that they wanted to do, they were definitely not suffering.
I also found that I was much more relaxed after my decision to slow down and allow my children to do less. I had more energy and patience to deal with the inevitable challenges of life when I was not constantly on the run. The slower pace was exactly what I needed in order to be more emotionally available for my family.
While there is value in extra activities, and I am not suggesting that you give all of them up, personal experience has convinced me that there is also value in down time. There is value is unstructured play where kids get to make the rules. There is value in having a leisurely weeknight meal at the kitchen table, talking about the day and enjoying good company. There is even value in boredom, because boredom is where imagination is born.
With five children, my life will never be void of busyness. I doubt any of our lives will ever be completely unbusy. However, I have learned over the years that a large portion of being busy is a choice. While a certain amount of time and effort is required to provide for a family and keep the status quo, nobody is forcing me to enroll my kids in soccer, even if that is what all of their friends are doing. I can choose whether music lessons are a good use of my time. I can say no to gymnastics if I do not feel like we can commit to hours at the gym every week without sacrificing something more important in the process. I do not have to volunteer to be the room mom at school or work on the PTA. I get to decide how many non-essential things I want to add to my schedule, and am free to reevaluate if I start to feel stressed or overwhelmed.
I don’t have to fit into the busy mold that society pushes my way.
And, guess what? Neither do you.
If you, like me, long for a simpler, less hurried life…give yourself permission to pursue it. Abandon the mindset that busier is better. Do what feels right to you, regardless of what everybody else is doing. Give yourself and your family time to breathe, to notice, to live. Choose to be less busy.
Sometimes the road less traveled makes all the difference, but you have to start walking before you will know. With a new school year right around the corner, are you ready to take the first step onto the slower, less traveled road? It might be just what you need to minimize stress and discover more peace.