By Guest Blogger Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form HERE!

With the new school year starting, I’m already feeling overwhelmed at all my kids’ activities. I feel like we hardly have any time together to just relax and enjoy each other’s company as a family. At the same time, I don’t want my kids to miss out on any opportunities to make new friends and learn new skills. How do I know if we’ve got too much on our schedules, and what can I do to feel more in control of my family’s schedule? ~ Always on the Run

Dear Always on the Run,

In today’s world, where being busy is celebrated and normal, it can be hard for parents to determine the right level of activities for their children and families. In truth, there’s no rule that works for all families to find the right number of commitments on their schedules, so the key is to figure out what works for your unique family and take steps to find the right balance that will work for you.

That said, there are some common signs that may indicate that families are over-committed. Here are some questions to consider to help you figure out if your current level of schedule commitments is too much for your family:

  • Are one or more family members tired and stressed out more often than not? It’s natural for everyone to have moments of tiredness and stress, but if those feelings have started to feel like your natural state of being, there may be too much on your plate. This can be true for both adults and children!
  • Are most of your family’s interactions characterized by tension and irritability? Again, conflict is normal in all relationships, but when it feels like there’s an underlying tension among family members that isn’t directly related to a specific conflict issue, it could mean that over-scheduling is putting a burden on family relationships.
  • Are family members having a hard time getting the basic needs of daily life done? There are certain essentials in life that all families need to manage, such as doctor appointments, homework, and taking care of the household. Also, all families have values for things that are important to them, such as spending time with relatives and friends or attending a religious service. If those basics of family life are getting squeezed out, it may mean you’ve taken on too many non-essential activities.
  • Are you having a hard time managing the logistics and organization of your schedule? Perhaps you’ve been forgetting important details, or managing all of your family’s schedule demands has come to feel like a second full-time job. If you feel overwhelmed on a regular basis, it could be a sign it’s time scale back.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, consider taking steps to create positive changes in your family’s schedule. The following suggestions can help you get started:

First, get clear about your family’s priorities and values as they relate to how you’ll spend your time. Consider what values are most important to your family, and then ask yourself how much your current schedule is in line with those values. Often, a feeling of being over-scheduled comes when people’s schedules aren’t aligned with their priorities. Try to get the activities that are most important to you on your family’s schedule first, and then schedule other activities around them. From your question, it sounds like spending down time as a family is important to you, so don’t be afraid to actually block off time on your schedule for relaxing as a family.

Second, be strategic about the activities that you do commit to. As a parent, you can set limits on how many activities your children do. Some families find it helpful to have a rule about this, such as that each child will only sign up for one activity during each season, and this helps children learn to make decisions and set priorities from an early age. Another useful strategy is to engage in activities that address multiple values in one, such as joining a sports team with friends (combining time with friends, physical activity, and learning new skills).

Third, leave room for margin in your schedule. The concept of margin means that you don’t want to have your basic schedule already reaching the edge of your limits. Leaving some extra white space on your schedule helps create room for the inevitable last-minute surprises of parenting (such as sicknesses and forgotten homework assignments), as well as any new and exciting opportunities that may come your family’s way.

Finally, don’t compare your family’s schedule to any other family’s schedule. Understand your own family’s unique strengths and limitations when it comes to scheduling. For example, if you’re a single parent who works full-time and has three kids, you’re probably going to need to set some more limits on your schedule than a married couple that has one child and a stay-at-home parent. Try not to let guilt or comparison lead you to take on more than you can manage, and remind yourself often that your children will benefit more from having a calm, happy parent than from having one more extra activity added to the schedule!

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