The Right Amount of Busy

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Thanks to Pixaby

Like me, I’ll bet one of the first things you noticed about The COVID Shutdown of Spring 2020 was that suddenly we weren’t so BUSY all the time. I observed families sitting outside, taking walks in the evening. . . with the whole family together. At first, it sort of felt like a Snow Day, you know the kind where beyond your control, you CAN’T go to work or school. . . so you just HAVE to lay around and sip coffee or take a nap or noodle around. The COVID Shutdown of Spring 2020 felt a bit like that! Then, as time went by, sports practices were cancelled; the school play was rescheduled; scout campouts were postponed. Teens began to catch up on their sleep and so did we. Altogether, it felt like a gear we didn’t know our families even HAD! Actually, sort of nice! Best of all, many parents reported to me that they saw a decrease in anxiety, stress, pressure. It took the absence of those to realize how overwrought our lives had become.

But, all good things come to an end**

(** I am NOT saying COVID has been good;

I’m saying that stepping out from under stress

and pressure has been good)

This fall, the first day of school felt especially significant probably because we realize how much we, and our kids, need to reconnect, to reestablish a routine, to get back on the path of growth and learning. Still, as glad as we all are to “return to normal”, many parents and even kids lament the return of busy-ness. Thankfully, Ellen Byron in her Wall Street Journal article (8/25/21) offers some excellent tips on coming up with “the right amount of busy.” I pass them along with a bit of tweaking for you to consider and to share with your family.

1. Have a family meeting – Gather your family and talk a bit about loading up again with busyness. How have they experienced the past year or so? What good parts might they like to carry forward? Katherine Wintsch (author of Slay Like a Mother) likens the process to putting stones into a jar: begin with the big ones, the ones that really matter; then, if there’s space, fill in with the little stuff. What is each family member’s “big stone” which they want to be sure gets included in the family’s schedule? This will establish priorities and make it easier to say “no thanks” to the stuff that’s less important.

2. Remember that you know your child best – The key to this is to have regular check-in with your kids about how they’re doing with regard to a work/play/rest balance. One of the questions we’d really like them to be able to figure out for themselves before they leave home is, “What do I need right now?” Learning what they need is the first step to that whole emotional toolkit I’ve written about before (“A Toolkit for Life”, Dec 5, 2020 at http://www.kathleenblog.com). As they learn to read their own needs, your knowledge and observation of them can be useful, like “I notice that you’ve been a little draggy lately, maybe tired? What do you need right now?”

3. Consider safety – And help them learn to consider safety too. Examples of less health-risky choices might be: activities with fewer people; activities which are held outdoors; ones where everybody will be wearing a mask; smaller groups of kids and even better if it’s their regular posse. For example, you might know that your teen really loves basketball but could choose to play neighborhood games at the park or on a school team in the gym…you get the drift. By asking them which choices might be less health-risky they begin to consider that for themselves, even if they don’t want to tell you that_ or to make the safer selection!

4. Skip short notice events – Short notice events, while often fun, can easily tip the busy-too-busy-balance. One mom observed that her kids really seemed to love their “new” downtime at home. Another teen girl even asked her mom to say “no” when a friend did a last minute get together. Helping kids get back onto a schedule provides predictability and planning ahead which can result in managing time better and feeling a bit more stable in uncertain times.

5. Manage uncertainty – Which brings us to that uneasy feeling that things really are NOT back to normal and can lead to some anxiety about what lies ahead. The key here is to “Think predictability”. What time is dinner? Do we have certain weekly events (movie night, pizza on Fridays, church on Sunday, coffee/ pancake breakfast w Dad on Saturdays)? When the news is filled with often-troubling situations, knowing things they can count on can really help steady kids. . . and grownups too!

6. Don’t forget self-care! –  You recall the oxygen mask instructions on the airplane: put your own on first. Keeping yourself nurtured and well is a bit like that. Even when we know better, it’s often hard to prioritize our own needs.  Still, a couple of things poke us to practice good self-care: first, we really do need to stay well, healthy, mentally strong because our families are counting on us. Secondly, our kids are watching and like all of life, learning important lessons from us like “how we do stress,” “how we deal with hard times,” “how we MAKE time for family, for self-care, for what is genuinely important.”

As with every crisis, the opportunity to learn is HUGE. May you and your family figure out the “good” part of this recent/ongoing crisis and learn how to keep that part and shuck the rest!

May you savor the Right Amount of Busy!