By Bev and Phil Haas
Our summer schedule has been more laid back and we’ve really enjoyed the change of pace. However, with school about to start, I’m feeling like we’re about to get back on the activity wheel again. What can we do to keep our sanity once school and extracurricular activities begin?
When my (Phil) brother and I were kids, we had several pet hamsters. We bought them a nice cage and filled the bottom with wood shavings from our dad’s cabinet shop. Hamsters love to burrow in the shavings and hide. They also like to run like crazy. After letting them out and losing one, we bought an exercise wheel so the original hamster (and the replacement hamster) could run inside their cage. That was our mom’s idea—or should I say ultimatum?
Like our pet hamsters, many of us end up on our own activity wheel that keeps us running but gets us nowhere. It sounds to us like you’re beginning to question running from place to place and activity to activity. More parents need to be asking the same question!
Most American families believe activities are good for the kids—and the more the better. They help kids develop social connections, allow children to have new experiences, and even give them a jumpstart on other kids. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. This is where we want you to press pause for a moment and ask yourself, “When is enough, enough?”
Many families are over-committed. Family experts agree that busyness is one of the greatest threats to marriages and kids today. An extra commitment here and a harmless obligation there added to your busy schedule can mean additional stress that may be harmful instead of helpful to your family. This school year, do things a bit differently. Resist getting back on the activity wheel. Instead, hold on to what matters most—keeping your family and your faith top priorities.
Helpful Tips from Top Christian Psychologists
We’ve gleaned some practical tips from two well-known Christian psychologists to help you make the transition to a less hectic lifestyle so you can manage your upcoming school year better than before. Dr. Juli Slattery, Christian psychologist for Focus on the Family, recommends filling out a weekly calendar of commitments before the school year begins. Once you’ve recorded your commitments, look to see if you have any margin left. If your family calendar is already full, then you’ll need to say no to an existing commitment before saying yes to a new commitment. Dr. Slattery also reminds us of the common advice never to say yes to a new commitment on the spot. Responding in the moment, we most likely will not consider the full impact of adding more. A great suggestion for those who have a difficult time saying no is to come up with a phrase that will buy you needed time. You might want to use a phrase that allows you to “run it by my husband or wife first,” or if it’s a spiritual commitment, to “let me pray about it and get back to you.”
Dr. Kevin Leman, also a well-known author, adds several more tips. The first one we’d like to share is to make the hard choices. It can be tough saying no, especially to your kids. But if we want to avoid burnout, we’ll have to make some countercultural decisions. As Dr. Leman says, “Giving your kids everything they want may produce fleeting happiness. But encouraging a greater commitment to your family’s values by sometimes saying no produces healthy children.” Leman also cautions not to expect the change to happen all at once. Taking baby steps is better than a giant leap. Change takes time. You can’t reinvent your family’s routines overnight. The earlier you begin the shift in focus from doing it all to balancing what you do with your God-given priorities, the better off you’ll be.
Remember, as you head down this new path, that you are the parent; they’re the children. God has put the responsibility of family well being on your shoulders. Some of the decisions you make will not be cause for celebration from your kids’ perspective. What your kids at first consider a limitation may in truth be a gift that allows them to live a more balanced life. The phrase “train up a child” in Proverbs 22:6 (NIV, 1984) includes directing her down the right path. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t be easy, but if you sit in the director’s seat while being loving and firm, you can get your family off the activity wheel.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have one grandson.