Stressed out by too many great opportunities?

Ryan 1989 OceanKids are bombarded with amazing opportunities from dance lessons, and soccer, to robotics, and drama club. One 8-year-old girl in my office counted ten after school activities she thought she just had to participate in to be happy. Mom was overwhelmed with the girl’s repeated demands to take her to all those events and buy her all the things that went with all the clubs, practices, and performances.

It got me thinking. All this pressure to keep kids entertained and accomplished can leave moms feeling overwhelmed and enslaved. How often did I lose sight of my own wishes, wants, and needs trying to give my son all the opportunities and experiences? Was I doing what was best for him?

Thinking it through, I’ve noticed when kids are stressed with too many entertaining activities, meltdowns tend to follow.

Let me tell you a story. When my son, Ryan, was about seven, we went on a family vacation to Southern California. I was so excited. It was the first time I’d been back to Southern California since I’d moved away when I was twelve. There were so many things I wanted to do on this trip. We only had five days but I packed our schedule full. I didn’t want to miss a thing. It might be my only opportunity to show my son the old familiar things from my childhood.

We went to the ocean, to Disneyland, to Knots Berry Farm, the Natural History Museum and the Le Brea Tar Pits. We visited family I hadn’t seen in years and drove out to see the house I grew up in.

By the time we got to Universal Studios, we were all exhausted. Still, I pressed on. There were so many great spots to take pictures and shows to see that we forgot to stop for lunch. Suddenly, Ryan freaked out. He started yelling, crying and cursing. The poor child was completely overwhelmed with exhaustion and hunger. He just couldn’t go another minute. We didn’t have the patience to react well to his meltdown either. It was a colossal disaster that taught us all the importance of pacing ourselves.

Hindsight’s a great teacher. If you’re like me and you need a few suggestions, here’s what I suggest: a gradual step down procedure. Ease into a new more balanced lifestyle.

 Start by looking for activities that are simple to do with your child, like snuggling together in a hammock, or dancing in the rain, or making chalk drawings on the sidewalk. Look for activities that are high on relationship and sharing, and low on preparation and stress. Choose activities that teach your kids to enjoy simple pleasures. When you do, you’re modeling the kinds of activities kids can do themselves.

The time you take to connect with your child now will pay dividends later in life as you enjoy your adult children and their children’s children.  The memories you make will be shared over and over as family stories.

Having fun together doesn’t have to be stressful. My son, Ryan, tells the story of a day when he was about three years old. I can hardly believe he’d remember being three years old but he says he remembers it vividly. He likes to recall a day when we were out in the yard playing in fall leaves. I tossed the leaves in the air and we both laughed and laughed. The memory of the joy he saw on my face is a memory he loves to remember. These memories set the stage for every interaction between him and I. They were the backdrop to every conflict that arose. They softened resentments and inspired forgiveness.  Say no to things you don’t want to do. Make time for the simple, relational, and pleasurable things.

What do you think?