It starts out with a small feeling of being overwhelmed. Your baby has become a toddler who has become a child who now has…activities!
Soccer, gymnastics, dance, music, art, t-ball, girl scouts, boy scouts, [need I go on??] or any of the other many activities our children love to do – and we love watching them do. As one activity (many with multiple practices or games per week) is added to your orderly lives, then another (and perhaps a sibling’s as well) your feeling of being overwhelmed changes to frazzled, and frazzled soon leads to one of a mom’s worst nightmares – the state of perpetual motion.
You know what I’m talking about – you come home only to begin immediately thinking about the next time you have to leave. You wake up in the morning with a plan because music is at 11:00, dance starts at 3:30 and your other child has soccer practice at 4:00. You have to time meals, snacks, and naptime with all the errands that must be run in addition to said activities, and it all becomes too much. And if you don’t homeschool (as we do), you struggle to find quiet, relaxing, quality time with your child(ren) that doesn’t involve dinner, homework, or bedtime stories.
In case you can’t tell, this scenario happened to us, and began to enter our lives for the first time as our daughter began her first real “activities” at 4 years of age. By the time she was 6 1/2 she was enrolled in gymnastics, trampoline, fencing, and piano [what can I say, she's got a LOT of energy]. What started out as exciting [and do-able], quickly and easily became too much for our family.
And just when we thought it had become too much we looked around and found that everyone else appeared to be doing the exact same thing. They drove to and from practices, games, meetings, and never batted and eye…even spending supper time sitting around waiting for a 2 hour practice to end. We began to think that this was normal, and that all the frenzy, car pooling, and only seeing your children when partaking in their essential care – feeding, homework, and putting them to bed – was just a part of raising a young child in a highly competitive city like Dallas.
Let me tell you - it’s not. And if doesn’t feel right to you, it’s OKAY to step back.
Towards the end of October last year I suddenly turned into full-on frenzied mom [see Scary Picture above]. Between dashing to and from practices, finding naptime for my 20 month old, and trying to keep my 4 year old from perpetually falling asleep in the car – or getting just plain old sick and tired of being IN the car – we took a big step back and decided to check our family out of ALL activities for one month. The change in the lives of our family were amazing!
Interested? Here’s how you can too:
1. Wipe everything off of your calendar for ONE MONTH, and use one day to send out emails explaining that your family is taking a month off due to chaos, stress, getting back to the basics, or however else you’d like to phrase it. Communication is key – so people don’t think you’ve: a) gone crazy, b) drowned under your obligations, or c) just plain ole’ forgotten about them.
2. Be UNEMOTIONAL when you reasess your child’s activities. This is soooo important! We had been taking L. to gymnastics and trampoline that was a full hour roundtrip. Twice each day she had practice. And she had to be dropped off in Dallas rush hour. Why did we stay so long? Because we had a relationship with them, we liked them, and [if I'm being honest] I was terribly worried about hurting their feelings by leaving. AFTER our break we looked a LOT closer to home and found her a new gym that is 2 miles from our house, less expensive, and a much better fit for what her personal desires were.
3. Use your month of time-off to really have some family time. I used my new brainpower to be to be a bit more inventive for how to squeeze in quality time with each of my little ones. We moved our 4 1/2 year old’s bedtime a bit later, so we could have frequent and regular family game nights after the baby had gone to bed. I also took a page from a seminar I’d seen and used every opportunity they asked to watch television (which I’d previously let them do so I could get things “done” in my hurry, hurry life) to instead offer to read books on the floor or color with them.I had groups I felt obligated to attend, but that were in reality taxing both me and my quality time with my children. They’re little for such a very short amount of time, and I began to be sure that I was missing a lot of that time to car rides and car-induced crankiness. We created a family goal of one month wherein we never “needed” to go somewhere, spending more time at the park, engaging with my children in free time, and generally decluttering mentally from all of the stresses that had accumulated.
4. Ignore the feeling of “Being Ready to Start Anew” that will begin a week into your family’s time out. Yep, it’s true…you will quite quickly feel that you’ve made progress and that you are ready to jump back into the line of fire. Please, please don’t. Give yourself the full month to truly decompress and allow yourself several weeks of the feeling of being “unscheduled”.
5. Ignore the haters. There will be people who think it’s silly, or who will tell you that you might be jeopardizing your child’s chances of getting a scholarship by taking time off. (Yes, I’ve been told this. And in the Big D where competitive cheer starts at age 5 and soccer starts at 3, the scare factor can actually work!) There will even be people who will tell you it’s normal! Follow your gut.
6. Don’t become a martyr! Taking time off for your family does not mean that mom doesn’t get a break. Whether it’s going to the gym with childcare (ahhhhh, how I love Lifetime Fitness!), or letting your spouse take over in the evenings so you can go get a nice foot massage, DO take the time for yourself.
When your month is up you may very well find, as I did, that several activities did not get renewed. The habits I’d formed during that month of truly making time for my kids (as I used to do when my oldest was still a toddler) had been reinstated and I was so much more relaxed. Family dinner time was back, and everyone was so much happier. We made choices and let our now 7 year old help us in those decisions. And as our 4 1/2 year old has begun to ask for dance lessons, violin lessons, and to be on the gymnastics team, you can bet we’re taking it VERY slow with her, as well.
Have any of you ever felt overloaded by you and your kids’ schedules?