The SPARK Parenting Philosophy
Values: Cultivating Character
Life Skills: Preparing Kids to Succeed
Memories: Weaving Joy Into the Family Culture
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by Lisa Beach
Does today’s fast-paced, frenzied lifestyle leave you catching your breath most days? The pervasive notion that you need to do it all and do it faster causes families to dash through overscheduled days, leaving everyone feeling disconnected and overwhelmed.
If you want to put the brakes on this frenetic, energy-draining existence, use the following tips as a springboard for slowing down the pace of your own family’s life:
- Take a breather. Put your life on hold temporarily while you take time to reassess your current schedule. Set aside a few hours on a weekend to pull your whole family together and discuss everyone’s activities, commitments and responsibilities. First, talk about the current level of busyness and how it impacts the whole family. (Is five-year-old Connor getting to bed too late on school nights because you’ve got to take him with you when you pick up his older brother from hockey practice across town? Is Olympic-bound Emma cranky on Saturday afternoons after she’s been to gymnastics lessons all morning, even though she begged for the lessons? Does Mom rarely have time to cook a meal because she’s busy chauffeuring the kids to afterschool activities all week?) Next, ask family members to clarify their top three interests, and then use this information to prune your schedule. While you can’t eliminate certain responsibilities (such as homework) you can decide which activities are keepers and which ones you can ditch. Just because activities are available, convenient, affordable and even enjoyable doesn’t mean you need to do them. Focus on priorities and pare down everything else to create breathing room in your schedule.
- Understand the benefits of slowing down. Studies continue to underscore the value of slowing down, particularly the value of free, unstructured time for kids. Some of the benefits include the leisurely opportunity for kids to use their imagination, learn social skills, play, solve problems, relax, form friendships, create, process information, recharge, focus and explore. These benefits don’t necessarily accrue during structured activities where others define the rules, outline a desired outcome and impose a time limit on the activity.
- Set boundaries. As parents, you make the rules about what you will and won’t allow in your house. If your little guys spend too much time glued to the TV, limit TV to an hour a day or only on weekends. If your teens spend much more time hanging out with their friends than with their own family, set limits on the quantity or frequency of these get-togethers. You probably won’t be popular at first if your kids aren’t used to such boundaries. But remember, parenting isn’t a popularity contest. Setting and enforcing limits provides much-needed structure for your kids.
- Learn to say no. Don’t succumb to saying yes to commitments because of guilt, societal pressure or just to avoid conflict. If saying yes to something will derail your quest for a slower-paced life, then say no. Just because someone requests a favor, seeks your involvement or makes a demand on your time doesn’t mean you need to acquiesce. If it feels right, do it. If not, don’t.
- Build in downtime. Everyone needs time to recharge, so make time to relax, dream, create, play and explore. Such activities nourish your body, mind and spirit. If you have to, schedule downtime on your calendar just like an appointment. Pay particular attention to days or weeks when you’ve got a lot going on, and try to balance them with calming activities to buffer the onslaught of activities.
- Take a technology break. I’m a big Facebook fan, but if I find myself connecting with my old high school friends more than my spouse or my kids, I’ve overindulged. Same goes for all family members and their use of cell phones, TV, email, iPods and videogames. Institute a weekly Technology-Free Day – one day a week when you make all electronic gadgets off-limits for kids and adults. Let your entertainment be each other. Rediscover the joys of playing board games, telling jokes, planning a family outing, or looking through family photo albums.
- Eat family meals together. While it’s probably not realistic to eat every meal together as a family, you can shoot for a bare minimum each week and build up from there. If a family breakfast works best, make that the meal where you slow down, eat something nutritious and share your plans for the day. If dinnertime brings everyone together more often, make that the relaxing meal where you linger over conversation. Start eating family meals together at least once a week and add more meals as your schedule allows. The keys to success? Keep mealtime relaxed; ban TV, phones and other electronics; and focus on enjoying each other’s company.
- Adopt a new mindset of Less Is More. This concept holds true whether you’re talking about overflowing schedules or cluttered closets. Less activities, less busyness, and less stuff means more time, peace and order. Talk about this concept with your kids. Lead by example – pare down your own schedule and declutter your own closets.
- Connect with the people in your life. It takes time, effort and face-to-face interaction to connect with others and deepen your relationship with them. Watching TV together doesn’t usually make for deep connections (although it can provoke some stimulating conversations). Eating dinner separately doesn’t foster deep connections, either, nor does texting friends. But sitting down, face-to-face, sharing a meal or a conversation does work in nurturing relationships and building friendships. In this warp-speed, tech-savvy world we live in, make sure your family doesn’t lose sight of the value of face time.
- Let go of competitive parenting. Math tutors. Saturday classes. Summer academic camps. Intensive training. Specialty sports clinics. While all these resources can help kids do better if they’re really struggling, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Do my kids really need this? Do they enjoy it?” Sometimes parents (with the best of intentions) focus more on wanting their kids to achieve than simply helping their kids pursue and enjoy their passions. Instead of fast-tracking your kids to success, indulge your kids’ interests (be it art, music, science, baseball or whatever) with an eye toward moderation, balance and personal fulfillment.
- Schedule Family Days. It might sound counter-intuitive to suggest adding something to your already full calendar. But, too many times, families try to squeeze in time together in between all the other separate, individual pursuits. Take a proactive approach by setting aside a regular Family Day, perhaps once a week or once a month – whatever works best for your family. Make these Family Days a priority – no friends, no extracurricular activities, etc. Then get in the habit of fitting everything else in between Family Days, which should come first. By carving out time for your priorities, less important activities simply won’t make the cut.
- Savor life instead of rushing through it. Instead of shooting a quick email to a friend, invite her over for coffee and conversation. Instead of grabbing dinner at the fast-food drive-thru while you take your kids to soccer practice, cook a healthy meal at home and eat dinner together before or after practice. Instead of volunteering for three committees and resenting it, sign up for just one and enjoy it. Slow down, take on less and relish life more.
- Create a tranquil home. Turn down the volume of your life by restoring a sense of calm to your home. Make it a group effort to keep your home fairly tidy most of the time. A clean, orderly home simply feels more serene and eliminates the stress of always rushing around looking for misplaced items. Light candles during dinner to infuse your meals with peacefulness. Do the same thing (with caution, as needed) during your kids’ bath times. Fill your home with beauty – kids’ artwork, fresh flowers, sunlight, family photos, etc. Use soft lighting to cast a relaxing glow. Play soothing music to take the edge off any troubles of the day. Let wonderful scents – from freshly baked cookies to fragrant flowers -- permeate the house.
- Take an activity break. Unless you’ve got childcare issues to worry about, you don’t need to fill every afterschool hour, school break and summer vacation with activities, lessons, camps, contests, practices, playdates, and classes. Instead of signing up your kids for back-to-back summer camp sessions, let them hang out at home. Instead of playing sports every fall, take a season off. Besides temporarily adding some space to your schedule, you might find that no one even missed the activity, saving both time and money in the future.
- Plan for daily quiet time. If you’ve got little ones in the house, you can still count on nap time to enjoy a little peaceful time to yourself. But just because your kids outgrow naps doesn’t mean quiet time needs to end. Establish a 15-minute quiet time (even if you’ve got teens) where everyone pursues their own low-key, low-tech activity. Set a good example by reading, working on a crossword puzzle, taking a bubble bath or writing in a journal. Family members can use this time to simply unwind, to recharge, to reflect . . . whatever they need at the moment.
Slowing down might be the best decision you’ve ever made for your family. But don’t wait – HURRY, slow down now!
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