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Family on the Move

What do you do when the family schedule goes haywire?

As busy lifestyles become so commonplace, the volume of commitments for families can feel overwhelming. This may be based on pressure to keep up with peers, an aspiration that the activity may lead to a professional career for our children, or even because it’s a way of dealing with our own lost childhood opportunities. Whatever the reason, most parents and professionals agree that children should be offered a wide variety of free time and activities in order for them to develop a range of skills and opportunities that will help them grow into well-rounded individuals. We wish to offer every opportunity to our children, but how can parents and children find a healthy and happy balance? The following tips should help.

Do a Family Time Study:

As a family, take a realistic look at how much free time you actually have. Do a rough estimate of the time each of you need in these 3 categories.

  1. “Must Do Time” This is the time devoted to work/school, including overtime/homework and transportation time, as well as the time that is necessary to carry out life activities and chores (e.g., sleeping, eating, maintenance, housekeeping duties and necessary shopping).
  2. “Down Time” Calculate the time needed for activities where the sole purpose is to help you relax and rejuvenate. The amount of time necessary is unique for each person and will change as other stresses in your life change. Everyone needs this time – without some type of down time, we can’t be as successful with our other time commitments and we may also lose the enjoyment that our free time activities should bring. Try not to be judgmental about other people’s choices around how they spend their down time, but also don’t confuse down time with wasting time. Think of the activities that make you feel rested and whole again, examples are: reading for pleasure, watching TV, going for a walk, taking a long bath and listening to music. Remember that you are doing these things because you want to not because you have to.
  3. “Free Time” Take a look at each family member’s current activity schedule. Calculate the time taken up by hobbies, sports and interests. Remember to include the time needed to organize these activities, including travel time and preparation time (e.g., laundering and packing sports equipment, organizing the car pool, fundraising and volunteer commitments). Remember that a one-hour-a-week music lesson can easily turn into a five-hour-a-week commitment when you add in travel, practice time and time spent selling fundraising chocolate bars.

Develop Solutions:

  1. Take a look at your Family Time Study totals. If any one family member’s totals average more than 24 hours a day – your family is leading too hectic a lifestyle and changes need to be made. Start by prioritizing your families free time activities. Can you really afford the time for 3 neighborhood committees? Does your child really enjoy playing indoor soccer during hockey season? Is being on the competitive swim team really worth the cost of the daily practices? Sensible changes may include dropping a committee, playing summer soccer when hockey season is over, or joining a weekly recreational swim group rather than swimming competitively.
  2. Look at alternative ways you can accomplish the same personal goals to help you end up with a well-rounded list of manageable free time activities. Encourage your children to choose activities that will develop a variety of skills, such as physical fitness, team work, social development, mental or problem solving challenges and personal fulfillment, without an overwhelming time commitment for either of you.
  3. Compromise. If you still feel overloaded even after prioritizing, then it’s time for family concessions. Items from one person’s “Must Do” list may need to be shared by another family member in order for the overall family plan to work. For example, your 8-year-old may need to take over Dad’s chore of emptying the dishwasher so that Dad has time to drive him to gymnastics class. Encourage older children to occasionally be the family spectator at a younger child’s event so that you can use the time for another purpose.
  4. Be organized, use a planning calendar and delegate when appropriate. Make use of car pools or enroll in activities within walking distance.

Most importantly, strive for that important balance between work and play for every family member.