Does the thought of the school year exhaust you before it’s even begun? I’m a recovering overcommitment addict and the mere mention of the academic year almost takes my breath away in a stress response. I spent much of my school years running from one activity to the next, and my family took a back seat to all of my commitments.
I thrived on busyness during my years as a student. Volunteer for student council? Check! Cheerleading tryouts? Sign me up! National Honor Society? Count me in! Thespian club? Here I am! School Enhancement Team? Sure! Although I loved all the relationships I built in those extracurricular activities and the experiences enhanced my time at school, there was an apparent downside.
My submersion in school and extra activities left very little time to spend with my family. For example, I was at practice into the evening almost every day, and Saturdays consisted of fundraisers, meetings, and more sports practice. I’m not sure I was aware of what I was missing at the time, but now that I’m a mom, I understand how imperative it is for families to spend dedicated time together. Looking back, I can see how my lack of time at home negatively impacted my family relationships.
In our success-driven culture, parents are often more concerned about cultivating academics and pushing extra-curricular activities than focusing on building family relationships. Society tells us that if we want our kids to earn college scholarships, we must prioritize their sports, academic, and fine arts skills. If that becomes our focus, we end up rushing from one place to the other and sacrificing quality, unhurried time together as a family.
Why do we do this? First, I think it comes from a good and honest place. We want our kids to be happy, and it’s easy to think they’ll discover happiness if the world views them as “successful.” And in our culture, success looks like keeping up with the frantic pace everyone else endures as they run from school to music lessons, sports practice, and church activities.
What we don’t often hear is one of the most significant predictors of kids’ success requires them to slow down and engage with their families, specifically around the dinner table. Unfortunately, a study by The Family Dinner Project revealed that half of American families rarely have dinner together. This news is disheartening because decades of research support many benefits for our children when families regularly sit down to eat together.
According to the New York Times, some benefits of eating together as a family include higher self-esteem and a more positive outlook, lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, school behavioral problems and depression, better grades, higher reading scores, and better vocabulary.
But let’s not limit our time together to just the dinner table. I offer you a challenge as we prepare to enter the school year. Will you sit down with your family and devise a plan to spend time together this school year? Set up an ice cream sundae bar (or something equally enticing) to draw everyone together. Then, let everyone suggest their ideas of days, times, and activities.
I encourage you to add family time to your calendar, just like we do with sports games, lessons, and events. Your family deserves dedicated space on your calendar! Try to have meals together at least three times a week, preferably six to seven! Also, add at least one fun activity you can do all together each month. Some ideas include hiking, tennis, golf, painting, volunteering in your community, or learning something new together. You can also pick one day a week for non-negotiable committed family time. For our family, Sunday afternoons work best.
As we get ready to enter the school year, maybe it’s time to do something counterintuitive. Instead of believing you and your kids have to do more, take a year and try doing less. Then, at the end of the year, evaluate your family. Do you feel more energized than in the past? Did the slower pace bring more peace to your family? Did fewer commitments outside the home equal more fruitful relationships within your family? I think it’s worth the experiment!