Given that Independence Day fell on a Thursday this year, many parents have taken four days off from “work” this week. But whether that means they will have four days off from their overscheduled lives is a different question.
I know that as I’ve gotten older, wiser and in many ways happier, my priorities for myself and my family have shifted. I value unstructured time for relaxation and quality time with family and friends. I have two very busy teen boys.
As a young mother, I was fairly shocked when I learned that their team sports were scheduled on Mother’s Day and other holiday weekends. Although I didn’t agree, I also didn’t question it.
I believe the key to a happier life is in more balance and flexibility. Priorities shift depending on what’s happening in people’s lives. It’s important for parents to consider their individual needs, as well as the needs of children and young teens, when deciding whether to follow or break from the schedule. Many coaches and leaders of other youth activities recognize and even encourage this.
When parents begin to feel that their commitments are taking over their lives and their family’s needs, it’s time to adjust expectations. But how do you do this when you’ve always followed the agenda put in front of you? When I learned that spring baseball makeup games were being held during this Fourth of July weekend, I knew that sticking to the preplanned vacation was the priority for my family.
Here are some suggestions to help parents recognize when their schedules are interfering with their quality of life:
1. Take stock and gain perspective. Ask yourself: Are you able to look at the bigger picture or are you stuck in a cycle of doing what’s put in front of you? When parents go from one activity to the next without considering how these choices impact their quality of life and the strength of family connection, it is time to reflect and answer this question.
2. Reflection means asking yourself, how are things going? Do you feel fulfilled, and are your children happy? Is your family connected to each other? Using a 1-10 rating scale, rate these aspects of your lives. If the rating in any area is a consistent less than a 7 on most days, you should consider some adjustments.
3. Commit to finding out what is keeping you, and your family, in the less-than-fulfilled range. Ask yourself, are you overly accommodating to the schedules designed by others because of your fear or your child’s fear of missing out? If the answer to this is yes, you are not prioritizing your time in a healthy manner. Are you a frustrated athlete who wants to relive your missed opportunities through your child? Or maybe you aimed for an Ivy League college and unconsciously hope that having your child on the robotics circuit will be his or her ticket into an Ivy. Figure out if you’re dedicating more time to your children’s activities out of your needs or theirs. Be aware that too many ears on autopilot increase risk of “burnout” for everyone.
4. Pretend that you’ve achieved everything you want in life, and then think about how you’d spend your time. Interestingly, many people who are in this category choose to spend their time doing the simpler things in life, like spending time with family, reading, volunteering, gardening, cooking, etc.
5. Make an action plan to help you and your family become more fulfilled. This does not require making drastic lifestyle changes, but if you want more quality family time or more time to relax, be prepared to adjust your schedule, including reprioritizing your needs. When you increase the rewards in your lives, you’ll understand how much you missed when you were afraid to miss out on the agenda of others!
Dr. Kate Roberts is a licensed child and school psychologist and family therapist on the North Shore. Ask a question or make a comment at email@example.com.