Modern Family and Busyness by Trey Gibson
If, in my field, I was given a prescription pad for families I can definitively look at you and tell you what generalized treatment would help many issues in 95% of families. You could call it the broad-spectrum antibiotic for families. But before we get into this lets discuss the symptomology.
In our post-modern ideologies of family’s there is the push to keep you and your children busy in as many activities as possible. First off, research supports that children do well socially when they are in extracurricular activities (i.e. football, one act play, softball). This same research supports getting your children into some type of activity. One thing I recommend is giving your kids the opportunity to choose what they want and let me tell you, there are fewer things more beautiful than a child who is motivated on their own accord to do an activity. I understand that in some cases we are limited to what is available for instance, here in my home state of Texas it might be hard to get them on a team snow boarding team, but I recommend trying. I also understand we can be limited by seasonality since certain sports come and go as the year progresses.
Some parents have stated that “they don’t want to do anything except play [Xbox, PS3, DS, PSP etc]. In cases like this I recommend that you give them some options and pick out of those options. You might look in to a local competitive video-gaming team. Those teams are out there and it tells your kid that what is important to them is important to you.
But, with all this said, I am seeing a rising amount of families that are over engaging themselves in multiple activities. What makes this so difficult is that most of the activities are morally sound and good things. Being involved in leadership at your church, volunteering to teach your kids soccer team, attending your child’s swim meets, going to men/women prayer breakfasts, attending other kiddo’s birthday parties, and work are all legitimate and worthy causes. But what happens to the family when every day of the week you have one of these happening? Something is always pulling you away from either the family or high quality time with each other. This is one case that I can definitively say on a professional level that too much of a good thing can, in fact, be harmful to a family.
Many families, in their attempt to do all the things that families are suppose to do, are forgetting to stop and just be a family. They are neglecting to stop and talk together, visit, laugh with each other, and interact. Families have begun focusing on the activity rather than focusing on each other. Now, in some cases I do believe that these two things can be combined. I think that it is possible to play Play Station 3 together and be focused on each other by building each other up, complimenting each other, laughing with each other, and interacting, but so many families are focused on the activity rather than the interaction it brings the family.
This service to the Doing-Master can only be satiated with more doing. It is perpetual and typically has no end. No amount of doing is ever enough and a fundamental byproduct of this service is lack of relationship with our kids. Relationship is the fuel that makes families be successful. When we are constantlty doing, we are not taking the time to just be a family.
So lets talk broad-spectrum antibiotics on a familial sense. I recommend that you spend a minimum of 1 hour a week as a family being together. I leave the “something” ambiguous on purpose. Families are so different and versitile that I refuse to box them in. Tons of research from the last 50 years have documented families and especially kids doing better when they eat at the dinner table. It encourages intimacy through talking and listening and is a very, very beautiful thing. I have had some families that play the latest game station together, while I’ve had some that dumpster-dived together (I know…I hear ya….but they grew more than most other families I’ve seen). On the side, I also recommend that you spend an hour a week minimum per kid on an individual basis. It’s good to get that general attention, but older kids especially seem to need more individualized attention. This can be bringing them to the store or having them help you fix the lawn mower. But interact with them. Talk to them. And most importantly listen to them.
If you identify with the over-busy family here are a few things to consider:
1.) Write out the top three things that are most important in you in your life. Take a look at all of your activities throughout the week. Decide which are really and I mean really important, by aligning the activities with your top 3 importants and ask which are you willing to cut back on? Remember, it is important to take care of ourselves and do not put yourself on the back burner. That creates burnout in parents but also, remember, who is watching us to learn everything they are going to do. Right! Our kids. If they see us sacrifice constantly and never take time for ourselves, guess who else will.? These can turn into those kiddos who give and give to their friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc and never make a good decision for themselves.
2.) Be ready to give up on some things. Most other people understand the statement “I have gotten too many irons in the fire and I have neglected my family.” Typically, that is because there are a lot of other Americans in the same boat. Remember, it is ok to have those areas of “I just cannot bring myself to give that up.” But make sure that there are not too many of those. If there are, I would refer you back to your top three most important things. I imagine that for most of you your family is up there somewhere. Which of your activities are not in those categories. Also, do not forget, families often get left on the wayside for religious/spiritual activities and as a spiritual man myself, even that can be a bad thing.
3.) Find things that facilitate interaction rather than just action. I love watching movies with my family, but there is much less interaction with them. Eating dinner at the table, playing board games, rough and tumble playing, jumping on a trampoline, can be good places to start. Bottom line is, you must be talking, reacting, laughing, crying, or any other form of communication. Learn your kid and let them learn you. These are great times to pass on wisdom/knowledge/morals to your kids.
4.) Learn to say “no”. It can be a beautiful word that many see as ugly. But remember, to every commitment you say no to, you are saying “yes” to your most important commitments and within that choice lies what I believe to be the truest definition of love.
5.) Schedule your family. It gets very difficult, if you are like me, to stop what I am doing if I am in the middle of washing a sink full of dishes or breaking down the engine of our lawn mower. Put your family in the schedule book and treat them like a meeting with someone who is going to give your a free million dollars. That is a meeting that, short of a life threatening disaster, you would not miss.