Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Slow Down

Illustration by Jane Dyer

♫ Slow down, you move too fast;
Got to make the mornin' last!
Just kickin' down the cobblestones,
Lookin' for fun and feelin' groovy. ♫
---Simon and Garfunkel

What happened to feelin' groovy? The world is spinning like a washing machine out of control, and I'm feelin' dizzy instead of groovy. And I don't think it's just me. This is what William Doherty, a family therapist, said recently:

"In a ratcheted up whirlwind childhood, children and teens are failing to benefit from social skills developed in unstructured, unsupervised experiences with siblings or peers--what used to be called going out to play. That is where a child has to find someone to be with, convince them to play, negotiate what to play, teach others how to play, help develop and enforce the rules, and decide when to stop."

When I was on active duty in my motherhood career, I didn't have time to go through training. Now, as a retired mom, I love measuring my real-life experience against current expertise. Dr. Doherty spoke on "Parenting Wisely in a Too-Much-of-Everything-World."

While studies have shown that extra-curricular activities have some positive impact on the academic, social and psychological development of a child, Dr. Doherty cited other studies that say an overload of such activities has a much greater negative impact.

He followed a family with three children through five hours after school, and saw how they managed to squeeze in a total of eight after-school activities as well as snacks, separate dinners, homework, and getting shuttled from practice to lesson to home. The parents were pleased that the children were involved and busy, but agreed that they sacrificed unstructured playtime, a relaxing family dinner hour together, and time for the kids to interact casually with family members. They viewed it as a good trade off for the opportunities they were providing.

Dr. Doherty reported that studies prove that a family meal time is a strong predictor of academic and psychological adjustment in children and teens. It is better than time in school, sports or cultural arts in helping to decrease future involvement in alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, depression and eating disorders. "Parents can work to limit scheduling and eliminate overloads, while training and teaching children with the end result in mind."

I wholeheartedly support this advice! But, I remember the good old days when I packed up my toddler and baby, and hauled them around the extended neighborhood for a few hours a day, picking up and dropping off their older siblings. We had after-school snacks in sacks, and drove from dancing to piano to ball practice to ball game to violin to guitar to scouts: round and round a three mile radius, all afternoon. I tried to limit extra-curriculars to one per kid, but everything overlapped. Sometimes when it came down to dropping piano to take up soccer, I was the one who insisted on continuing with both.

One spring we had three little leaguers on different teams, playing on different fields. Each one had two, two-hour games a week and two practices a week, and that schedule lasted for two months. We had dinner at the ball diamond almost every night, and still had to go home and factor in homework, baths and bedtime. I don't recall any squeaky clean, peaceful kids gathered in their jammies listening to me read "Little House on the Prairie" after a fun family dinner hour during that season!

-L-O-W...D-o-w-n . . .!

I'm not scheduling a whole family anymore, but I still find that life is a balancing act. It's easy to tip from just right to way too much. And nobody wants to fall over into not enough. I think Simon and Garfunkel got it right. "Slow down. You move to fast."

My goal this spring is to catch my balance, kick some cobblestones
and find my inner groovy.

Do you have any tips on scheduling a family, keeping your own balance, deciding what's enough and what's too much? Any advice on saying "no" to kids, neighbors, friends and family who offer you more to do than you want to do? How do you slow down and actually enjoy the joy you know you're having?

Illustration by Jane Dyer

Dr. William J. Doherty, a family therapist, educator, researcher, and director of Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota, spoke at BYU February 12, 2009.


diane said...

I had dinner in my bed with my daughter tonight when she got home from sports practice. Simply wonderful.
After last weeks excitement, family meals in bed is perfect.
I hope I don't lose my balance, literally and figuratively.

i'm kelly said...

no tips from me, i'm still trying to figure it all out... but, i can't wait to check back & see what everyone else says!

Janet said...

What a great post! I think just recognizing that it's OKAY to say no is half the battle. The choices are usually between something good and something good. If one option was bad, it wouldn't be so hard! We've had some wonderful family time when we've chosen to slow down and just be with our little family. There's a book on my wish list called The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner, which has fun ideas for making sure your family gets that dinner together each night. What a good reminder...I can't wait to hear other ideas!