Imagine bumping into a friend while out running errands before you knew what the words social distancing, quarantine, and shelter in place meant. No doubt one of the first questions they'd ask you is the obligatory, “How’s life?” And if you were anything like me, the following phrase (or something similar) was likely one of your go-to, plug-and-play answers related to the life of your busy family:
“Things are good, just really busy.”
Now I promise I didn’t look at your calendar prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but I can guess that on any given week you were busy spending those precious 168 hours running a kid to practice or lessons, working a demanding job, doing housework, or attending a game, meet, tournament, recital, or school event. Not to mention squeezing in a few social soirees, like a family birthday party, holiday gathering, or time with friends.
Maybe that on-the-go, over-the-top lifestyle feels like a lifetime away by now. And maybe you even miss it a little. But I can tell you that I was freaking exhausted.
So why do we create such a busy family life when we know better?
Let’s be honest. Ninety percent of the stress we felt on the daily was likely self-inflicted. That’s because, in a nutshell, there’s a lot of pressure to do all the things.
Maybe it’s because we collectively suffer from that pervasive social scourge called FOMO (you know, fear of missing out). We want our kids to experience every cool club, amazing camp, or character-building sport out there. And, admittedly, maybe there’s a small part of us that wants them to take advantage of all the opportunities offered today that we didn’t have at their age.
Or perhaps we’re people pleasers. We just can’t say no to our kids, our kids’ coaches, and other overzealous parents. We’re human after all, so we're often motivated to agree or sign up for things to be liked, to fit in, or just to be nice. But I can tell you from experience that you may as well say sayonara to your sanity if you’re trying to make it all work and constantly say yes.
Finally, if we’re being really honest, maybe it’s because we have a real fear that our kids will fall behind. If little Jimmy from the baseball team is taking an expensive four-day pitching clinic that’s an hour drive away, well, shouldn’t our child, too? My son also wants to pitch! If our kid misses a soccer game because of a preplanned camping trip or grandma’s 90th birthday party, might that affect their playing time during the next game? Youth sports, like so many other activities that fill our schedules, can be so cutthroat and exhausting.
How do you know when it's too much?
Busyness is ingrained into the American mindset. When we’re busy, we feel productive. We feel like go-getters, hustlers, bosses. All good things. But being really busy can actually blind us from what really makes ourselves and our families happy. Not only can it skew our priorities, it can affect us physically. It also limits our kids' chances of being independent and figuring things out on their own.
That’s why it’s important to watch for cues like exhaustion, absentmindedness, bouts of acting out, and agitation. These are all signs indicating that you or your kids may be taking on too much.
And although society might tell us otherwise, being bored can be a good thing. Having downtime, when your brain and body can disconnect from the hustle of everyday life, relieves stress and lowers cortisol levels. Plus it can open your family up to doing things they haven’t had the time for, like opening that craft kit that’s collecting cobwebs in the closet, reading that book that’s become a permanent fixture on the nightstand, having that backyard bonfire they’ve been begging you for, or simply entertaining themselves while relaxing at home rather than in a gymnasium or car.
Downtime encourages kids to be resourceful and determine for themselves how they'll spend their time. A little dose of downtime makes everyone feel more relaxed and rested. Less “go, go, go. We’re late!” leaves more time for friendly conversation and laughter. In fact, from my experience, some of my family’s very best memories resulted from things that weren’t originally on our Google calendar—a barefoot Wiffle ball game in the backyard, an impromptu cookout with neighbors, or that heated card game at the kitchen table.
So now we have nothing but downtime. How do we make the most of it?
COVID-19 has caused us to hit the pause button on life as we used to know it. And while it may not feel like it on some days, this unique situation we find ourselves in is a blessing (and possibly a wake-up call) for many of us.
Because let’s be honest. Left to our own devices, would any of us have had the guts to step away from it all—to take a breather, to ask our kids if they’re happy, to evaluate if everything we’re doing still falls in line with our family’s priorities? Probably not.
So before we rush back to what used to be our normal, let’s use this time to really think about what activities and routines we truly want to go back to and what are better left in our post-COVID-19 worlds. A few tips:
Take 20 minutes together and write down your family's priorities.
Let everyone have a say and offer up suggestions. Maybe it’s having dinner twice a week together or more time outside. Or maybe being holed up in your house all this time has made you realize how much you miss taking a spontaneous road trip or quiet weekend at home together.
Reclaim your time by re-prioritizing your to-do list.
Consider how to streamline everyday tasks. Yes, kids should be helping with chores. And be easy on yourself. Maybe there are things on your to-do list that are nice to do but not essential.
Set aside time for free time.
It seems weird to set aside time for free time when some of us have it in spades now, but that might just be what you have to do if you wish to transition into a more balanced lifestyle when life resumes to normal. Resist the urge to fill up open space on the calendar just because you can. Treat free time like the precious commodity it is. Most importantly, encourage your kids to find something that they can do on their own—some sort of solitary play or activity that doesn’t include a tablet or phone.
Invest in a FEW things rather than trying to do it ALL.
Let your child know they can only participate in one sport or club a season. Encourage them to think about what they miss the most these days and focus on the things that bring them the most joy.
Ignore cultural expectations.
Many people wear busyness like a badge of honor. But you must do what is right for your family. Try not to get caught up in what others are doing or suggesting you should do. Doing less does not mean you care less.
Then you just do.
Look, I know it’s not that easy. You had a lot of commitments before all this went down. And while your spring calendar has been cleared, you can bet there will be plenty of playing catchup when activities resume. It might take a few months to transition your family into a more balanced lifestyle, but there’s little doubt it will be worth it.
And don't forget the most important thing of all.
Whether it’s family time or self-care time, remember to be present. Set aside the phone and put away the iPad. Remind your kids of this, too. Uninterrupted time that’s free of distractions is what you’re going for. To accomplish this, make a mindful decision to be fully engaged in whatever activity (or non-activity) you’re participating in. If there’s anything to be learned by all this social distancing and home isolation, it’s to appreciate the freedoms and time with loved ones that we are given each day.
Because the truth is, we never really know how much time we have. And the hours we do have go by way too fast—something you definitely already know if you’re raising kids.
Take a look at our video featuring Rachael, getting advice from 8-year-old, Simone!