Talk to many of today’s parents and they’ll seem pretty harried by adulthood. They’re at their wits end and they say they don’t have the time to cook dinner, volunteer or even have time for themselves.
How can that be? It’s not as if the workweek has grown this generation; as a matter of fact, it’s decreased. In 1995, the average American worked 39.2 hours. Today, it’s 34.4 hours.
This perceived loss of time is because they overscheduled themselves by overscheduling their children.
That plight was highlighted in an op-ed that ran in metropolitan newspapers across the country on Mother’s Day. The authors, two folks from George Mason’s Technology Policy Program, said the average parent spends more than 5 hours a week driving children to and from activities and more than 1 in 10 spend more than 10 hours a week on the road with them. Their report did not touch on the many more hours that parents sit in the stands or in the back of a classroom watching practice, a sporting event, or a performance.
Those writers used that data to segue into a discussion about what they viewed as the perfect Mother’s Day gift: Autonomous cars. In their view, driverless vehicles will allow mom and child more time together as passengers.
I have an even better invention than a driverless car to address these woes. It’s called an autonomous family – one that isn’t driven by schedule.
Parents need to stop signing-up their kids for every event, sport and club imaginable and live. Sitting in a car is not quality family time. Neither is sitting in the stands killing time all year long. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for your kids. You need time to do things together and on your own, free of burden. Life is too short; we need to let our kids live their childhoods free of full calendars and adults need time to enjoy parenting, adulthood, and the companionship of their mate.
I’ve been volunteering for youth causes for years. For a quarter century now I’ve been leading Boy Scouts in some capacity. I’ve run career shadowing programs. I’ve helped out at local schools. So, I’ve seen how kids and their parents are impacted by the drive to busy. As a youth leader -- and as a parent -- I offer these thoughts on how to make your family time less stressful and more enjoyable:
Stick to one sport, one season. Too many moms and dads think they are doing well by their kids signing them up for a sport for every season or jumping into a more developed version of their favorite that might see year-round skills development. Please, stop. It becomes work. Just ask your kid. Too many practices, too many games can cause sports to lose their luster to your child (and you). Get them to pick a sport and tackle it in its primary season. Think about that – for three-quarters of the year you will have your evenings and weekends back with your kids!
Join a more versatile organization. Sports isn’t for every kid but some still want to do things, have a sense of belonging, and feed their insatiable sense of wonder. You don’t want to saddle them with a handful of clubs to figure out which one tickles their fancy. Instead, pick one that covers a whole gamut of activities from leadership to arts to the outdoors to sports to technology. You get that from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as well as 4-H and FFA. That’s one meeting a week, maybe one event a month with considerable payoff – they become Renaissance Men and Women.
Develop free-range children. You’ve likely heard horror stories of Child Protective Services busting parents for (gasp!) unsupervised kids at playgrounds. But, that’s the way we all grew up. We played pick-up sports with our pals. We made things. We went fishing. We hung with our friends. All without parents in tow. Giving children freedom allows them to find the things they like, develop a little independence, and inspire creativity via free play. Let kids be kids. They’ll keep themselves busy. It’s easy. And, they’ll love it.
Encourage traditions. Children and pre-teens dig tradition. There’s comfort and excitement to be had in regularly revisiting destinations and restaurants they really like. If you find that they enjoy the local park, a campground, or diner, and you can see the joy on their faces and you feel the warmth within you, take advantage of that. That’s how memories are made. That’s how family bonds are made. Once-in-a-while activities carry more meaning than relentless ones.
Get outdoors. The great outdoors is the great equalizer. Parents and their children are there, together, in a timeless place where we are all one with nature. There’s no office politics, no schoolroom pressure, no computers, and no schedule. There’s no better time spent wading in a stream with a little one, kayaking a river with a teen, or camping with them in the forest at any age. Being away from the hustle and bustle and enjoying each other’s company when no one else is around.
So, I encourage moms and dads to take a step back and look at your calendars. Is all that chaos worth it? Clean off that calendar and simplify your life. Make time….family time.
From the 21 May 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News