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The Over-Scheduled Family 

The Over-Scheduled Family
By Sage Justice

When you have a child who is driven by ambitions or passions, or you as a parent has a desire to give your child every perceived opportunity you can afford, we can become part of the over-scheduled family culture.

We have friends with two boys who play sports that require travel to different cities. Each parent takes time off work to travel with their boys, who are on two different teams and travel to different places. They travel so much they are considering buying an RV to cut down on the cost of hotel rooms. Their vacations revolve around the team sports schedules, and their weekends are always full. The boys also go to a religious school with more rigorous educational requirements, homework, and time commitment than perhaps their public school peers might have.

The boys are both bright, curious and by all accounts, great kids. One however, has anger issues and the other seems to struggle with what might be deemed depression. Their parents are loving, supportive, kind, and intelligent people but don’t have time to exercise, eat healthily, or really take care of themselves.

“At what point does the benefit of reward outweigh the detriment of sacrifice”

At what point does the benefit of reward outweigh the detriment of sacrifice?

Nearly everyone we know is super busy driving their kids to multiple activities each week. If we had the financial and health resources to do the same, we might very well be tempted. Being busy can be addictive. One pressure is relieved by another taking its place; you need not design your own life when your life is being designed for you. There’s an excitement and adrenaline surge when in constant motion.

We spent last year devoted to five weekly extracurricular activities and it nearly killed us, literally. Our daughter was hospitalized at the end of the year with a collapsed lung, for which she has a pre-disposition due to a genetic disorder, but to which she may not have succumbed if not for months upon months of activities leading us all to exhaustion and compromised immune systems.

This year, due in part to circumstance and in part to choice, we stopped all extracurricular activity. We even went from a more structured homeschool routine to a very unstructured life learning lifestyle. Our daughter slept more; we traveled more; we had more quality visits with friends, family, and other loved ones; we explored museums; we spent more time in Nature taking walks and looking at the stars.

There were times when we were traveling and living in an RV and were completely off the grid. Imagine a week without your devices, remember board games? Painting? Family time? And reading old fashioned paper books?

While we worked, we allowed our child to indulge in mass quantities of down time. We gave her four priceless gifts:

  • freedom
  • time
  • space
  • unconditional love

She daydreamed, played, created art, wrote books and plays, taught herself cursive writing, built her first doll house from cardboard and craft supplies, rested, read, and collected sea shells, pine cones, maple leaves and other interesting bits of Nature that inspired her. She watched movies, listened to music, meditated, and engaged with us in all those same activities. We spent a lot of time on family team work each time we had to make the RV road worthy or land locked.

We had wonderful philosophical conversations, times of utter silliness, lots of tickles and cuddles, autonomous alone time while simultaneously sharing a small space, and road trips where we sang together. It was wonderful.

“Did I worry that the momentum of three years of music lessons on two different instruments, seven years of ballet, two years of chess club, and the theatre community we had become a part of would all be lost? Yes, I did. Was it? I don’t think so.”
Did I worry that the momentum of three years of music lessons on two different instruments, seven years of ballet, two years of chess club, and the theatre community we had become a part of would all be lost? Yes, I did. Was it? I don’t think so.

In fact, her chess improved once she left chess club. In chess club she was distracted by the energy of the other children in addition to the focus it takes to play the game. We took the other kids out of the equation and she was able to focus more on the game. She still played chess weekly but she had no desire to play it in a club; she just wanted to play against me, the computer or in tournaments. Perhaps with more time to just focus on the game, she will be able to go back to a club setting and be less distracted by the energy of the other players.

I don’t know yet about ballet and music. I suspect she will be rusty but will, in time, catch up to where she was. We will find out for certain when we get back to some of these lessons, presumably in the next year.

We haven’t done another theatre production but have remained a part of the community as we support other productions and our friends in those productions. My daughter still has play dates with some of the children and we have stayed friendly with some of the theatre families.

What we learned from our daughter about her lessons was that she missed music the most and chess club the least. We learned that she missed ballet, but not some of the tiger mom parents who worked back stage and stressed her out.

We learned that she enjoyed children’s theatre but only wanted to do one production a year, preferably in the spring when she was less likely to get sick. We learned that she wanted to take summers off from everything and get into swimming, maybe take an art class, and continue to travel more as a family.

We learned that she was really okay with, in her words, “taking a break” from it all. We never heard her utter the word, “bored.” Since she maintained contact with her friends and spent considerably more time with family this year than all the previous years combined, she did not lack social exposure.

How did this time spent 2016 as a family unit, really exploring the nature of letting go and simply being benefit us as a family and our daughter as an individual? I think that any time you are able to relax, get grounded, and centered, you will enjoy whatever it is you are doing more. We became a closer unit. Our over-all health and immune systems seemed to improve. We all benefited form seeing loved ones who live out of town. We learned that taking a break isn’t the same as giving up and what might be lost could once again be found. We learned that it’s important to have a life where at least some of your time is available to call your own. Having a break from living life primarily by a clock and the linear construct of time was incredibly freeing.

Many people are caught up in a loop where they repeat the same hurried and frenzied lifestyle, day in and day out, continuously pushing themselves to the brink of illness and only really resting when they are sick. Why people are so caught up in the cycle of “doing” versus “being” I really do not understand.

“It’s true that life is for the living and that we live in exciting times with a multitude of options for fun activities. But it’s the act of engaging in these activities to such an extreme that leaves people, and families specifically, in a state of perpetual exhaustion.”

It’s true that life is for the living and that we live in exciting times with a multitude of options for fun activities. But it’s the act of engaging in these activities to such an extreme that leaves people, and families specifically, in a state of perpetual exhaustion. I think that deserves further examination; not just for the health of the individual or family, but for the health and sanity of the community at large.

In it’s extreme form, “doing” to the exclusion of having resources of time and energy left for “being,” is primarily used as a form of distraction from the self, the truth, and the process of truly understanding and transforming the fear or suffering that lies at the foundation for the need for that much distraction in the first place.

When we engage in an activity to enrich our lives, we also take the time to assimilate that activity into our being. There is a natural balance that occurs between doing and being. However, when we never take time to engage in being after the doing, I think we have a subconscious desire to escape the ever present moment of now.

What or whom are people trying to keep up with or afraid they will miss out on? Does every child really need to be fully involved in every activity they show the slightest interest in? Is this a mentality of competition? Are people afraid that other children will know more or be more experienced than their child if they don’t push them into everything? That their child will have less and therefore be less if they don’t do more? Maybe keeping children busy is a way for parents to escape the obligation of engaging with them. Or maybe it helps parents escape the discomfort of appearing lazy by doing nothing!

I hear the excuse that both parents have to work so keeping kids busy is keeping them safe. Yet, upon exploring deeper, it’s often revealed that both parents work as a means to justify the ends of affording to continue to keep their children perpetually busy and engaged in activity.

By keeping our kids perpetually busy, we are also keeping them in the mode of being followers rather than leaders. If children aren’t allowed to be free thinkers, they tend not to go against the grain.

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The $120 Swim Lesson: Taking Lessons or Quitting by Judy Arnall
All of this activity is leaving both children and parents continuously fatigued. It breaks my heart to see exhausted, overwhelmed children. Children need time and lots of it, to simply “be,” and to have the freedom to choose who they want to be and how they want to engage with the world. They never get a chance to learn that if they are always on the go. Show me an over-scheduled child and I will show you a child with one or more of the following: anxiety, sleep disorders, behavioral issues, sadness, and/or anger.

Each family must decide for itself what level activity they can manage in a balanced way. It seems that most people can safety juggle one or two weekly extracurricular activities without the feeling of being over-scheduled.

A child who is used to constant activity who transfers to a slower pace of life, may go through months of antsy “boredom” once that activity is taken away. This is not evidence that your child is some rare and special breed of being who *needs* to be constantly busy. It takes time for momentum to stop propelling us into a state of motion. Free time can reunite child or adult with their natural rhythm and pace; it just may take some free time to get one there. There is an adjustment period. No one is likely to be able to go from extreme activity to nothingness, or the other way around, for that matter, without a period of adjustment.

So instead of buying into the rat race mentality that starts younger and younger each year and rarely ends until one’s death bed, why not take the path less traveled? I think we all benefit when we schedule in a healthy dose of nothingness into our lives.

Childhood is the only time in a person’s life when they have the option to do nothing. Why not give our children that simple pleasure, especially when to do so can garner so many lasting benefits? I want to model for my child serenity more than activity; the former will serve her when the latter inevitably finds her.

Sage Justice is a minimalist with two storage spaces: a complicated woman of nuanced contradictions. She is in her third decade of marriage with her BFF. When SJ is not being a beach bum living and traveling in a broken down, old RV, she’s probably fighting the good fight for patients' rights. She and her child live with a rare life-threatening genetic disorder: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and its gang of disabling comorbidity hoodlums. She spends most of her time managing their health and homeschooling through life learning principles. She writes open letters to her daughter on her public blog www.sage-living.org, and is a firm believer in gentle self-deprecation, poised authenticity, and puns (well placed or otherwise). Her bucket list includes being a contestant on Jeopardy, but her fear of not knowing a single answer in the form of a question stops her from auditioning.

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