By Davi Stein-Kiley
Charles Hummel writes in his classic “Tyranny of the Urgent,” “Our lives leave a trail of unfinished tasks, unanswered letters, unvisited friends, unwritten articles, and unread books.” He asks the question have you ever wished for a 30-hour day? Surely that would help us get more done. Stressed-out parents can unwittingly create a stressed-out home life where we are less intentional and less apt to think of long term benefits or losses from day-to-day input.
Just how busy are we? According to a Pew Research Study of over 1,800 parents in 2015, most American children participate in activities that, for school-age children, include sports (73 percent); religious activities (60 percent); lessons in music, dance or art (54 percent) and volunteer work (53 percent). Preschool children are also involved in sports (40 percent); and music, dance or art (33 percent). These intended extracurricular activities can leave parents feeling more rushed and busier. In the same study, 31 percent of parents say they always feel rushed, and 53 percent say they sometimes feel rushed. Those parents who feel rushed are more likely to experience parenting as tiring and stressful rather than enjoyable.
The thesis in Hummel’s “Tyranny of the Urgent” is that it is critical to take action on what is important first so that the urgent items are reduced and easier to solve when they arise. What’s important to you? As a mom, it’s important to take charge of my time, talent and energy so I’m better prepared to manage the day-to-day responsibilities of life. In “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey echoes the sentiment in his time-management matrix — suggesting that we should spend more time on important activities that include deadline-driven projects, relationship building, planning, recreation and recognizing new opportunities.
How do we apply these concepts to parenting when expectations are high and worries for our children are higher? We want emotionally stable and well-adjusted children, and happy family life. Examining routines and rhythms of how time is spent in our families is the first step. As an exercise in one of our Youth First classes, we look at how much time goes to various activities using a wheel of balance. For instance, how much time do we spend watching Netflix, sleeping, eating, going to class, working, doing chores, etc.? Then we look at the ideal amount of time we would like to spend on each item. The variance of ideal versus real can be an eye-opener when there’s honesty. Try doing this with a friend or your spouse. This exercise can lend itself to goal setting about intentional approaches.
An approach our family instituted long ago is to determine what is “non-negotiable” and then refuse to budge on those items. That includes spending time with God in prayer and study, exercise, sleep and lots of time with my family members, and regular family meetings. These non-negotiables are the important undergirding reducing stress and tension so prevalent in today’s families. Less time on social media and more time face-to-face. Less time in front of screens altogether and more time in activities that stimulate better brainpower all around. Spend time reading, playing games, hobbies, etc. All of these create space for learning and growth as well as positive relationship building.
Take some time this summer to take stock of the ordinary routines and think about the non-negotiables that are valued in your family life. With a little planning and creativity, there will be stronger families and better responses to day-to-day stresses. Rest, balance, play and peaceful home life mitigate anxiety, depression and mental health concerns all around. Take charge and Be Well!
Davi Stein-Kiley is vice-president of social work and programs for Youth First, Inc.