Guilt Grenade #1: Lack of Family Time
I want my boys to live a simple life, and in order for that to happen, I've tried to stop running when the phone rings, or rushing out the door every time we leave. It has actually been nice for me too.--Alisha
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret—it leads only to evil.--Psalm 37:7–8
As we were leaving the beautiful view of Yosemite National Park, our last stop was at the park ranger's traffic booth. The kind man with his hat worn squarely on his head stepped out and said with a smile, "Take your time. Breathe the air; look at the sights; soak it all in." His purpose was to remind us to travel slowly as we made our way down the mountain road. But it struck me differently. We had just been through an enjoyable day with our family in a place God had gone full-out to create, complete with graceful yet powerful waterfalls, trees, mountains of granite, and still more waterfalls. We had "taken" our time this day. I realized as we drove away from the park ranger and the beauty behind us that it's my choice every day (not just on the easy days) to take the time God has given me. We take it—make the most of the moments (at bedtime, driving in the car, playing together)—or we miss it, spending time on things that really don't matter.
Rocks vs. Pebbles
You might have seen the illustration about putting the big rocks in the jar before you pour the pebbles in. If you pour the pebbles in first, the big rocks won't fit, overflowing out of the top of the jar. That's exactly how it is with life. If we don't commit to putting the major things into our day (time with God, investing in our families, etc.), we will be constantly chasing the small things (practices, matching stray socks) and may miss what is most important to us.
For many moms, our time is taken from us by the demands of school, extracurricular activities (ball games and music lessons), church commitments, or a job commitment, not to mention all the responsibilities a home and family bring. For single moms, your time is stretched even further, beyond your limit at times. There are more books and articles on the subject of balancing our time than there are jelly beans in a "guessing jar." But why are we trying to keep all the plates spinning at the same time? Even the trained circus performers who spend hours trying to keep the plates balanced allow one to drop on occasion!
What plates are you balancing? What is taking your time? What are the roles you play? It really helps to write them down—wife, mom, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, granddaughter, aunt, friend, co-worker, troop leader, moms' group leader. Now write down what each role requires of you and the time it takes. Out of those responsibilities, what are your priorities? Are you spending more time on your "most importants," those things that you'll wish you had done when your children are grown and gone? If not, what is keeping you from it? If you truly want to spend more time with your family, ask yourself what you can let go of in order to do that.
There are two areas that "steal" our time—time that could be spent with our families. If you're feeling guilty about the amount of focused time you spend (or don't spend) with your family, maybe a look at these areas will offer some ideas for helping you "take your time."
Extracurricular Means Extra Time
First, have you noticed the number of activities available for your children to participate in? T-ball, gymnastics, piano lessons, dance, soccer, to name a few, and sometimes by the ripe old age of three! And the social circles don't stop there. It seems there are more and more "positive activities" in which to involve our children. Football, basketball, cheerleading, track, golf, music lessons, chess lessons, baseball, art classes, etc. are thrown at us like this is what "normal" families do. After all, don't kids need to be "well-rounded"? That's what we're led to believe. In our society the "busy" family is often seen as the successful, normal family.
I don't know about you, but I have felt more peer pressure as a mom than I ever felt in junior high—peer pressure to have my children in activities at the expense of our family time. Here's an example: If I choose to have my three children in one competitive activity each, say cheerleading for my daughter, baseball for my son, and dance for my other daughter, that automatically means our family is involved in three separate away-from-home events. So we go to baseball practice on Monday, with a game Thursday night. Cheerleading is on Tuesday, with a competition on Saturday. Dance is at the same time the baseball game is going on, so I drop my son at his game and tell him I'll be back to pick him up—if Daddy can't make it to his game; then I take my daughter to dance. As soon as she has clicked her last clog, I hustle out the door while she hands me a note describing the special performance at a local festival on Sunday afternoon. I realize this will leave us no time to eat lunch after church; I quickly decide that sausage-on-a-stick, a staple food at festivals, must have some nutritional value. Wednesday night is Awana, leaving us hardly any nights at home for the week, with a big chunk of our weekend spoken for as well.
That frantic schedule is a scenario with just one activity for each kid. It is not uncommon for families to have each child involved in several activities at the same time, leaving parents in a frenzy trying to get here and there. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Rush here, rush there. Is this the lifestyle we want or the way we want our kids to live their lives? Remember, with hurry comes anger (which we'll talk about more in chapter 7).
Author Mimi Doe says, "We're giving our children too much structured time. The value of unstructured time is good. Unstructured doesn't mean unproductive." As kids get older they will be able to take on more activities, but if they have participated in every sport, lesson, or class available to them by the time they turn ten, what will they have to look forward to? It's okay for kids to wait and look forward to an activity, even when their older brothers and sisters are involved in more than they are.
Most activities that children participate in require their being away from you. If they are gone to school each day and busy with after-school and weekend activities, you rarely see them. With that kind of schedule, it's no wonder fast-food restaurants are thriving. The drive-through becomes a necessity to maintain this kind of lifestyle. But kids need to have time to just play, to eat meals, and to simply hang out at home. The following question and answer comes from a magazine for single moms, but it offers sound advice that we can all learn from.
Question: I'm a single mom (children 8 and 11). After two very hard years, I feel like I'm on the verge of losing the things most precious to me—my kids. I come in tired from work and spend most of my evening correcting them. Because money is tight, I also feel like they miss out on extracurricular activities that their friends are enjoying. I've considered taking on another job, but that would give me even less time with my kids. What can I do to replace this chaos with order?
Answer: You allude to the belief that extracurricular activities measure a parent's success and children's happiness. But with this misguided emphasis, family becomes more about "doing" than "being." I've yet to counsel a person in crisis who regretted not participating in summer soccer or baseball. Yet many lament, "My parents were never there for me when I needed them." Once again, when too much "doing" gets in the way of "being a family," chaos can result. Make it a priority to spend time with your kids. Tell and show them that you are always there for them. This practice, not extracurricular activities, will make a difference in your child's life.
Maybe your kids beg and plead to take part in lots of extra activities. Don't forget that you are the parent. You have to make decisions that are right for your family. Realize that it is okay to say no to some of their wants. It actually means you're being a responsible parent. If we won't allow our children to eat too much candy, it makes no sense that we would let them handle such a huge decision as what will take their time—as well as the time of the entire family.
If you find yourself running and never relaxing with your family, maybe there are some activities you could live without. Before you commit to extracurricular activities, "take your time" and evaluate how it will affect your family life.
Here's how one mom put it: "There is a pressure of sorts—that maybe the other moms won't really ‘like me' if I don't ‘measure up' to expectations. So ... I remind myself that I am God's daughter, and that I am only here to please Him in raising His children. I remain true to that, and I find that I am a LOT happier mommy! I don't battle the guilts of ‘Oh no.... what if?' in every little thing" (Kelly).
The Bible says, "‘Are you tired? Worn out? ... Come to Me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly'" (Matthew 11:28–30 The Message).
God's plan for us is to live freely and lightly. Even though there are inevitable responsibilities that go along with mothering, and life in general, don't let the world put those heavy, ill-fitting things on your shoulders. We have enough to carry already!