Protecting Family This Fall

Catherine Pearlman had a excellent post on the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog this week.  If you're like my family, fall and the beginning of school has hit you like a force field.  The start of new commitments, renegotiating old ones and getting used to a new rhythm can leave your head spinning.  Her post entitled "Is Your Kid Overscheduled?" is therefore timely. 

Pearlman notes that although rigorous schedules keep everyone occupied, they can be detrimental to the family unit.  We can lose some of the impromptu and enriching moments of family life.  She discovered that by embarking on a lengthy family vacation with zero scheduling.  She reflects:

A few years ago, when our children were 3 and 7, my husband and I decided the four of us should take a month-long vacation to Spain. We swapped houses with another family with the hopes of living the life of real Barcelonans. On the first night, I had a miniature panic attack. What was I going to do with my kids for 31 days without the benefit of gym class, school, sports practice, piano, dance or theater? How could I survive so long without organized activities?
Within a couple of days I realized that, lo and behold, the vacation was a breeze compared to my real life. There was no rushing. No need to pack lunch to eat in the car so we could make it to class in time. I didn’t have to occupy my little one in the waiting room of dance class for an hour while my older one pranced around in a tutu.
On the airplane home I nearly cried. Those 31 days were the most relaxed and enjoyable family time we had ever had.  We didn’t merely get along—we learned to love being just us. We stopped all the mindless rushing, and instead casually played games and invented songs and raced Hot Wheels and played rocket from our enormous armchair. Without the commitments of school and play dates and classes, and without all of the distraction of our overscheduled lives, we found our family.

What an inspiring experience.  I found myself empathizing with her initial panic and surprising discovery.  The joy of that discovery rested upon simply being, not doing.  It is in the absence of the regular frenzy that her family really found love.

It's a challenge to pull back and be selective.  Type A personalities like mine fight it.  It is also difficult because we are often presented with good options - activities that are fun, enriching and maybe even spiritually enlightening.  On paper, why wouldn't we want to do them?  We remember why when our stress and fits of rushing produce short tempers with exactly the people we were hoping to positively impact, right?

In the last few weeks of summer, I distinctly remember leaving my weekday calendar free of regular activities for my children.  I remember the home cooked meals that we enjoyed.  I remember the delight of staying in our pajamas until the late morning.  And I remember actually recharging in way that we hadn't in a while.  That is not realistic now - after all, there are places we have to be.  But I am intent on keeping some of that magic.

That quest will look different from family to family.  Maybe it means truly letting the Sabbath be a Sabbath.  Maybe it's dusting off an old board game to play together each week.  Or maybe it's keeping one weekday free of planned activities - that's Pearlman's idea, and I like it.  Whatever it looks like for you, I am convinced that it will require a conscious decision and commitment.  But it will also have rewards.  Looking back, we will always remember the moments that we did it.

Dear God, Give us wisdom as we chose our family's activities; show us what to support and what to cut out.  Help us to protect the development of our enduring relationships.  May our work be pleasing to you, and may it enable us to dwell in your peace.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

If you liked this post, you might also like Watching the Green Grass Grow.

{Photo by Rupert Ganzer at Flickr}


  1. Quick read: An interesting further reflection on our topic...


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