Last fall I fell victim to the busyness trap. My daughter had dance three times a week. She also had soccer and religious education. My son had soccer and was begging to play flag football. We compromised and found a football class that met once a week. Compared to some of my friends who have a superhuman ability to get each kid to two sports a season and a weekly cub scouts meeting, my schedule didn’t seem that outrageous. But it felt completely overwhelming.
By the time the extracurricular activities finally slowed down, the holiday season was in full swing. By January, I was done. The kids got sick a few times. I got very sick during the holidays. We were tired, cranky, and ready for a break. And that’s when it hit me: Busy might be the predominant culture in the world of parenting, but busy isn’t for me. Three months of “busy” and I was ready to move to a remote island without wifi. So were my kids.
I don’t know when busy became the new norm, but when I ask my friends, “How are you guys?” “Busy!” is the most frequent response I hear.
Busy seems to have multiple meanings these days, but I sense that it is often used to put a positive spin on “stressed.” While stress is a part of life, sugar coating it as “busy” is a dangerous trend. Running on stress can lead to increased illness, anxiety, high blood pressure, and a number of other issues. It’s time to kick busy to the curb and learn to slow down — for our health and for the well-being of our children.
The one thing you’ve heard over and over again is that kids repeat the actions of their parents. You can tell them to slow down and get their priorities straight as much as you want, but if they see you running on empty every single day, they will follow suit.
Figuring out how to slow down can be hard in a world that seems to be moving on overdrive, but putting an end to the culture of busy has to start somewhere. Try these tips…
1. Admit how you’re really feeling (and accept help, if you need it). I find that when I’m tempted to respond to “How are you?” with “really busy,” what I’m actually feeling is stretched thin. We all have times when it feels like everything is happening at once. That’s an overwhelming feeling. How do we manage it all? After my busy fall left me feeling depleted, I decided to start saying what I meant instead of sugarcoating it with busy. Most of my friends responded with offers of help when I confided my specific stressors. We don’t need to pull off this parenting thing alone, you know. We can bring back the village and, in doing so, put busy in its place. Say what you mean. It will set you free.
2. Focus on one thing at a time. People love to discuss multitasking. Even more than busyness, the ability to multitask is worn as some sort of badge of honor in parenting. The problem is that multitasking isn’t really a thing. Task switching — ie. moving between tasks very quickly — does exist, but when you task switch you actually decrease your productivity. So the whole thing slows you down. Instead, learn how to focus. If you take a conference call in the grocery store, you will either end up with a cart full of random items that you don’t actually want or you’ll miss half of the call. Learning to focus on one thing at a time (even if that one thing is reading a book to check out for a while) will help you stop falling victim to the culture of busy.
3. Make time to unwind. Just like kids need time for free play, adults need time to unwind and decompress. You can’t unwind if you don’t make time for you.
4. Divide and conquer. I make a to-do list every Sunday night — for the whole family. I look at the week ahead and write down what I need to do in a spiral notebook. It includes work stuff, kid stuff, and any other miscellaneous stuff that needs doing. But before I commit to it, I look through it and decide which tasks my husband can handle (like grocery shopping), which tasks my kids can handle (like folding laundry with me), and which tasks aren’t necessary.
5. Teach your kids how to set priorities. You can’t do it all and neither can they. Teaching them to make healthy choices and slow down now will set them up for future success.
6. Set clear boundaries between work and home. I love technology, I really do, but we are far too connected in this world; so, the lines between home and work are blurred for many people, and that makes it very difficult to slow down. As someone who works from a home office, I know how hard it is to resist the pull to finish one last thing or take one more call, but I have to set boundaries. Turn off push notifications. Silence your phone. Leave your laptop in the least used room of the house. To live in the present and care for our souls we need to be willing to let go of busy, and that begins with establishing healthy boundaries.
Go ahead, relax a little. You deserve it.