Often we hear parents say, “If our family can just make it through this sports season, or this big project, or this school year, then we’ll be able to start spending more time together. We’ll be able to start living again.” Chances are, you’ve felt this way yourself. Like it or not, all too many families today are feeling increasingly overcommitted and underconnected.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against talent development, academic achievement, personal accomplishment, or working hard on the job. To me, these are each important elements of our lives. But when these self-absorbing pursuits become so all-encompassing that we can’t even find the time to pray together for days on end, then we’re definitely too busy!
I truly believe that if we, as families, would simply focus on being less overloaded, we'd all have more time and energy to focus on the things that really matter most in this life. Even though I’m far from a perfect parent myself, I do have some very straightforward, time-tested ideas that have actually helped to relieve anxiety, increase self-reliance in my children, and restore more order and simplicity to our daily family life. And if the lives of my crazy clan can improve by using these practical ideas, so can yours!
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1. Know When to Say No
Too many of today’s hardworking parents with hectic lifestyles haven’t yet learned the magic word. It’s really not a difficult word to learn—it has only two letters. But, not surprisingly, the people who haven’t learned the magic word seem to complain the loudest about their insane, intense, incredibly demanding list of things to do, even though they could be doing something to help alleviate their stressful, nerve-racking agendas.
In reality, saying no to non-essential things is one of the most sensible and liberating things parents can do for themselves and for their families.
Sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil. Use your calendar and your scriptures. Take some time to prayerfully analyze your goals. Then analyze your current schedule. Are they in harmony with each other? What can be put on hold or possibly even eliminated from your life to simplify and improve your daily routine?
2. Evaluate Your Motives
We caring parents naturally don’t want to do anything that would ultimately hurt or hamper our children, yet our overindulgence and overscheduling often does just that. In clamoring to do everything the world says we’re “supposed” to be doing with and for our children, we often do too much for them.
In order to discover what our true parental motives and intentions are, we each need to take a candid look at why we plan so many activities for our children. Are we filling a hole in our own lives? Are we living out our childhood dreams or trying to meet our unfulfilled expectations through our kids? Are we deeply competitive by nature and desire to produce superior offspring? Or are we just saying yes much too often because we’re too tired to say no?
Seriously approaching this type of honest introspection can make us feel quite defensive and uneasy. It’s hard to admit, even to ourselves, that we’re not completely altruistic in our desires and ambitions for our children.
3. Evaluate Your Environment
Walk in your front door as if you were a stranger. What do you notice? What clues do you find about your family identity? Is your home an environment where children would want to be and bring their friends—or is it just a pit stop for them to sleep and refuel so they can go find a place that’s more welcoming?
Teens might go through a phase where their home isn’t a cool place to hang out, and very young children often find their friends’ homes and toys to be more interesting than their own, but overall your home ought to be an inviting place where your children can feel safe and loved. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it should feel like home.
You may want to place inspirational thoughts and quotes around your house that remind children of your family values and higher ways to think. You can use your favorite scriptures or display such family mottos as “Webbs Can Do Hard Things,” “Flynn Family Forever,” or “The Johnsons Will Be True.” You might mount a plaque on the back of your door that children will see as they come and go, reminding them to “Return with Honor” or “Uphold Your Family Name.” Personalization is inexpensive these days with computer-generated lettering available from any printer. Whichever quotes you deem worthy of the price of ink can be beautifully displayed to remind and uplift your family each day.
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4. Focus on the Big Picture
As parents, we often erroneously assume that our kids have only one brief shot at talent and personal development and that they must develop most, if not all, of their innate gifts while they’re still young. While becoming involved in worthwhile activities and developing skills and talents are fun and important for our children, keeping our family priorities straight is even more important.
If we simply don’t have time for the basics like prayer, scriptures, and family home evening, we’re not seeking “first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33; emphasis added). Instead, we’re putting His kingdom farther down our list.
We would do well to remember and apply these words by R. Scott Strong, who served as mission president of the Australia Adelaide Mission from 2003-2006:
"When too much of our focus, our energy, our time, and our means are going to the many branches of life instead of our spiritual roots, our efforts could actually cause the antithesis of our eternal goals—an overabundance and preoccupation with things and activities can rob us of the very spiritual vitality, peace, and joy we are seeking to achieve in our lives and families."
Chances are, someday you’ll actually miss being a taxi driver, smelling sticky peanut butter in your hair, reading bedtime stories that require making funny voices, and baking birthday cupcakes in the wee hours of the morning. So please don’t waste—or wish away—this precious time.
In the remaining family moments you have left on earth together, don’t merely survive.
It’s a choice.
Image from Shutterstock
Read more about finding balance in your family's crazy life in DeAnne Flynn's book, The Time-Starved Family, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.
As a mother of seven children, DeAnne Flynn has experienced firsthand the challenge of staying balanced in a world where jam-packed calendars have taken a huge toll on family time. The sixteen practical ideas in this book will help families break out of the hectic, overscheduled, underconnected way of life that has become the norm for both parents and children. Her sensible and realistic approach will help relieve anxiety, encourage self-reliance in kids, and restore order and simplicity to daily family life.