"If we slow down, everything lasts longer.” Paulo Coehlo
It was a typical Wednesday. I worked until three p.m., picked up the kids, bought poster board for a science project, walked the dog, did two loads of wash, forced the kids to turn off the video games and start homework, called my mother, and cooked turkey enchiladas for dinner. My husband came home late, ate some forkfuls of enchiladas while standing up at the stove, then rushed off to Boy Scouts with the boys. After scouts, the kids finished their homework (Can you quiz me, Mom?). In between French vocabulary, my husband and I discussed switching our auto insurance, why the powder room smelled weird and whether I needed a haircut. Then the boys took turns in the shower, we tucked them in, and flopped down in the living room. It was ten o’clock. My husband said to me, “Are we supposed to be this busy? We must be doing something wrong.”
Welcome to family life, 2016 style.
When kids have back to back activities, it means the parents have back to back activities. Because we not only drive the kids back and forth, we also attend the practices, games, performances, and are volunteering and fundraising for those activities as well. When all we do is race from place to place, home becomes just a stopping place. You eat, sleep, change clothes and head out again to the next exciting event.
But kids grow up so fast. How can we savor the years instead of just rollicking through them?
A few years ago I let my two boys (ages 8 and 10 at the time) have the summer “off” and they had no schedule at all. No camps, classes, organized sports or reading clubs. They just played. It was great, and I ended up writing a book about it, Why Can't We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy. A few things I learned that summer have made a big difference in our lives.
Stop Keeping Up with the Joneses
First, I recognized that there is a huge amount of conformity going on; most parents just go with the flow when making decisions about their kids’ schedules and activities. The peer pressure looms and you might feel like a slacker if you don’t sign your first-grader up for soccer. And scouts. And piano lessons.
So … you have to dare to say no. Activities for your kids can be wonderful, but are they worth it if they eat into family time? Eating dinner together, having time for board games, or enjoying rambling conversations while you fold laundry are the sweet and simple building blocks of family closeness. They can’t happen when everyone is rushed, or stressed, or exhausted.
I learned that I needed to lower my expectations. Our culture expects so much of families these days.The kids are supposed to be challenging themselves with travel sports teams or extra math lessons, and we parents are supposed to be piling on the experiences: interactive museums, enriching nature hikes or thrilling vacations. This is too much pressure! In the mad pursuit of all that accomplishment, how can we possibly have the time to cherish the kids at each of their stages?
Slowing Down is Not Just For Kids!
Don’t just slow the kids down, slow yourself down. This is so hard for me. I am constantly trying to cram more into each day, and always feel behind. I do everything fast: throwing dishes in the dishwasher, slapping sandwiches together, talking on the phone while emptying the trash, etc. One day I realized I could barely wait for my son to finish his sentence, and was cutting him off to finish it for him. Yikes! How could I expect them to relax if I couldn’t?
In order to listen to them more carefully, try to look at your kids when they’re talking. It seems obvious, but think about it -- we all talk to each other while doing something else: tidying, driving, checking email, wiping up a spill, etc. Things change dramatically when you give someone your full attention, and my kids actually spoke more when they felt I was really listening to them. They need to me to look at them and hear them, not just toss them a protein bar in the car while we drive to karate.
I try to remember how little they are. They are so young, and they need time each day to process everything. I have a new rule of thumb: if they go more than a day or two without getting bored, they are too busy.
In doing less, I am less stressed, hence a better mother. And a happier mother. Our culture bombards us with the temptation to have more, do more and be more. I know for certain though, that less is more.
Pam Lobley has written comedy, plays, newspaper columns, blogs and books. Her latest book "Why Can't We Just Play?" is a sweet and funny memoir of a summer she spent “doing nothing” with her kids. You can keep up with her at www.pamlobley.com.