As our lives are becoming more and more busy, I truly believe it is imperative that we regularly stop and examine what exactly it is that is making our lives busy. As we transition into back-to-school routine, now it the perfect time to do this reflective work. What’s making us busy? Are we filling our time with activities that bring meaning and joy to our lives, are we filling our time with things we are told we, or our kids “should” be doing, or have we even begun to glorify and wear busy as a badge of honor? Are we living a life that is aligned with the priorities of our family? Family priorities to me, reflect everyone’s voice in the home and influence where and how time and energy is spent. Some family priorities may value work/life balance, caring for the environment, family time, free play, dinner time together, social connection, extra curricular activities, healthy lifestyle and diet, and so on. These become the values by which we structure and prioritize our time.
I see and hear so many families stress about their upcoming chaotic and hectic schedules once school begins. On top of the regular tasks of housekeeping, groceries, homework, lunch packing, meal planning, they now have to juggle multiple activities, running place to place, trying to figure out what and how to feed everyone on the go and around different schedules, trying to find time for play dates, family time, and if they’re lucky, time for themselves.
Unstructured Play, Structured Activities, and Finding Balance
When I was a kid, we had one activity a year or season (summer/winter), whether it be Brownies, hockey, soccer, figure skating, etc., and this activity took up one evening or morning a week. Most of our time outside of school and this one activity was spent playing. Nothing structured, nothing planned. How often do I hear myself and my friends reminiscence about how, as kids, we were outside until the street lights came on and how we ate lunch at whoever’s house we were closest too. We were free to be kids. We navigated friendships on our own, we resolved conflicts without adult intervention, we learned what our physical bodies were capable of as we rode our bike with no hands, built forts, played red rover, climbed trees and monkey bars, and we did so all without adult supervision.
I get that for many of us, this reality is one of years gone by, but there is still something about this that I know many of us long for for our kids, for ourselves. How do we bring that essence back into today’s reality.
Many of us live in suburban and urban communities that have little free green space that encourages kids to get outside and play. I live in a community with a lot of kids from 5-12 years of age, and it saddens me that I can go days and weeks with rarely seeing a kid playing outside in the neighborhood. In the day of multiple scheduled activities and scheduled play dates, kids are just not around to play. As much as organized sports and activities have their place, so does free play, if not more so. Kids need free play to tap into their imagination and creativity, it builds their fine and gross motor skills, it helps develop negotiating and problem-solving skills, it fosters independence, and it helps them learn what things they like and don’t like.
How do we find balance; especially when some activities do not promote balance. Families are eating on the run as kids are shuttled around from activity to activity. Kids aren’t getting home until late multiple nights a week. They’re at practice for hours at a time every weekend, and some activities have events that pull them out of school a few times a year. When can they be just kids? How do we juggle the desire to participate in these organized activities and the need for rest and play? All of the decisions, big and small, we make about our family’s well-being can be daunting; but it comes back to asking yourself, does this align or compete with the priorities of our family, and will it add joy or stress.
Our family is currently working through this as our daughter wants to be in three activities a week. Herein lies the struggle; each activity that she has expressed interest in, builds different skills and experiences, so how do we choose? For us, it goes back to our family’s priorities. We have to ensure that it fits within our family schedule, along with all the other things that we have prioritized. If something is added to our plates, then something is shifted, or must come off. Two of the values we have in our home, is sleep and free play. If we were to have our daughter out two evenings a week and an early weekend morning, we have to ensure that it doesn’t impact her sleep routine or her ability to have free, unstructured play. At the end of the day, we are the parent, and while she may want to do all three things, and we would like for her to participate in what she is expressing interest in, it’s our job to find the balance. We must make sure that what we do is with intention and creates the space for us to find balance and fills our life with what brings us joy; not added stress.
Some things to ask yourself when trying to find balance:
- Is this adding joy?
- Is this adding stress; if so, for who and what’s that impact on the family?
- What’s the trade-off; does it prevent our family from doing other things we love?
- Can we afford it financially?
- Can we afford it time wise? What’s the prep time, travel time, etc. that’s involved, is it taking away from something else?
- It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing. Are there places to negotiate, for example the number or hours of practices attended a week, staggering start dates (winter vs fall), etc.?
- Is everyone happy and healthy at the end of the day?
How do you find the balance in your home?
You may also like: Power of Play