We’ve always said we put a high priority on people and relationships. We said that but we got a bit lost in the actually living it out part over the last few years by saying yes to a lot of really great things.
When you added up all the really great “yeses” plus school commitments, practice time, performance time, sickness, health, and the better and worse that life inevitably brings, well, it might not be surprising that we all found ourselves wishing for till-death-do-us-part, suffocating under a mountain of obligations that sucked our will to live.
Our days were filled with high stress, acting out, poor sleeping habits, even worse eating habits, crankiness, crying jags, short tempers, and that was just myself 🙂
Instead of loving the Christmas season or enjoying the sunny days of late spring, we dreaded looking at the calendar each day and couldn’t wait for it all to be over with. We were only half joking when we said “December/ May/ June is trying to kill us”.
This had to stop. We became determined to like our life again. We needed time to get together with friends. To build connection with our kids by doing fun, non-task-oriented things together. Time to just be. We realized that saying yes to these things would require us to first take a big step and start saying no.
“No” is the most difficult two letter complete sentence you might ever learn to say. It about kills you the first time you dare to disappoint someone and say it. But it’s the only pathway to a better yes.
We’ve actually done it. We kicked the parental guilt monster in the shins and have stayed the path. We have declared this a year off. We limited the number of in-school activities and have pulled out of every after school lesson that we have said yes to for years. No drum lessons, piano lessons, guitar lessons, dance lessons, mariachi band lessons, you name it, we said no. Life feels much better because we have limited ourselves like never before.
So – that’s our big deal. We said No to a bunch of stuff that we liked, so we could say Yes to a bunch of stuff we liked more.
The reaction we’ve gotten from people has been pretty consistent. “Oh how I WISH we could do that.” or “ My kids would be SO UPSET if I did that, what kind of parenting wizard are you?”
I’m not a wizard, Harry. We just started believing this magical truth: we are powerful people that get to fully manage our choices. We got tired of being victims of our own lives. If you’re exhausted, I want you to know you have permission to do the same.
It’s true that having a larger family lends itself to a certain baseline of busyness that some might consider just a leetle bit crazy. Grocery shopping, school and doing laundry without adding a single thing more would ensure there was always something for everyone to do, but that is not where the drain is, I promise. Taking care of 100% of your family is a full load, whether you have one, five or fifteen schedules to manage. We’re in this together, friends, and it does no favors when we judge and compare our schedules and wear our haggard busyness like a badge of honor. It’s good, nay, essential! to do whatever it takes to enjoy these family years, because they are fleeting. I want my kids’ memories of their parents to include a deeper relationship than knowing an exhausted walking checkbook and bleary-eyed taxi driver. But it’s not going to happen by itself. You’re gonna have to take that bull by the horns and, I don’t know- have a BBQ.
Here’s some ideas and beliefs that might help you make the leap from crazy-busy to happy-busy.
Take the time to write out what you actually value. What great big audacious beliefs or goals do you have as a family? It’s helpful to have it be more about beliefs- why you believe you exist, and who you want to become, rather than things to do, but do whatever works. Thinking about it is the important part. It’s clarifying to see what you really value in front of you. Use it as a filter for what you give your yes to. Ask yourself if what you are doing is moving your family towards who you all want to become or away from it. Decide accordingly. You only get one life to live. In these few long-short family raising years we are all growing a culture that will bear fruit well past the cap and gown of graduation. We are laying the foundation for our future relationships with our kids and teaching them how to manage their adult lives whether we do it on purpose or not.
You are allowed to be in charge of your own life. If something is working for your family and your life reflects those things that are nearest and dearest to your heart – keep doing it. Do it well and do it with all your might. But if it’s not – remember that the ones signing the checks and hating their lives are the ones to blame AND consequently the ones who can make a change for the better.
Kids don’t always rejoice when you make a decision that’s best for them. Sometimes parenting means you make an unpopular but better decision, and sometimes no one thanks you for it. That’s why God made chocolate. However, when you are no longer living in chronic life-sucking busyness you will in fact rise up and call yourself blessed. Don’t let their protests or sulking throw you for a loop. Full disclosure: My kids have never actually thanked me for “forcing them” to eat their vegetables, complete their homework, and go to bed at a decent hour. They complained a lot when I suggested they use a toilet rather than a diaper, but I’m pretty sure they’re glad for it now.
Transitioning away from “over-busy” is a process. It starts by removing the job titles of “constant manufacturers of bliss and never-ending delight makers” from our parental resumes, for the love. Then, we give our kids the gift of occasional boredom and all y’all the grace of time.(People smarter than me refer to this as”margin”.) It’s difficult to get used to not being cross-eyed busy. “Go away…read some books…Go” is weird to say at first. Things might even look worse before they get better. Slowing down has a way of revealing relationship areas that need work and strengthening. Be patient with yourself and with your family, but stay the course, man. You are all so worth it.
Break up with Parental Guilt. It’s easy to convince yourself that if every day isn’t a Disneyland existence or you aren’t raising your children to be Olympians and Nobel prize winners you are somehow failing them. Just try and find a soccer league that doesn’t want three practices a week and cross country tournaments every weekend. If you do find a “fun league” watch as you find yourself apologizing to other parents for your lame parenting. I’ve done this. My apologies were rooted in fear (of disappointing, not measuring up) and shame (I don’t try hard enough, I’m failing at all the things). Those kissing cousins are always dirty rotten liars. I give you permission to believe differently. Let go of the lies and stop apologizing. (And I’m Canadian. We wrote the book on unnecessary apologies. Sorry. It’s just true. ) Your family matters. That means your kids matter and you matter. Give yourself a break and talk to yourself like you were your own friend. You probably think your friends are quite stunning and capable. So are you! Choose carefully the things you say yes to and I’m practically willing to guarantee that your kids will still find their place to shine, and so will you.
Remember every family is different. Different is good. But different looks different. It feels different. Because… different. Embrace different and set your family free.
Choose busyness that builds your family and relationships. It’s good to be busy. We were made to create and be productive and build great things. We still have lots going on. Our calendar is full – but it’s full of things that contribute to the abundant life we were made to live, plus dentist appointments. And it started with us saying no the things that were killing and destroying the heart of what we valued most.
Choose a different kind of yes. Don’t wait, do not pass GO, do it now. You won’t regret it. Now if I could just do something about all those fundraising expectations…