It’s that time of year again . . . school is back in session, extra-curricular activities are starting up, dance classes are in full swing, and yes, even Nutcracker rehearsals have started! What does this mean for us parents? It means trying to learn a new year of schedules (which we probably won’t have down until April), meal planning, figuring out who in the family is eating dinner at 4pm and who is eating at 8pm (and actually having dinner ready at those weird times), arranging transportation for kids to/from school and activities, making sure our kids have enough time to do homework, and oh yeah, somehow squeezing in some quality downtime and fun. Exhausted yet?
Before I delve into giving advice on finding a balance as a family, let me be brutally and humbly honest with you: our family is not perfect and I am not an expert in this area. <Insert shocked responses here.> In fact, my husband and friends could probably share some pretty funny and entertaining stories about my being on the brink of insanity as a result of stress (usually stress I brought on myself as a result of not taking my own advice). However, I am going to share with you eleven ways we try to find balance in our family.
1. Look at Schooling Options
We are very fortunate to have multiple schooling choices available to us. It’s important that you choose the right option that’s not only best for your child, but best for your family. You might think it’s silly that I’m bringing this up, as your kids are obviously already in some sort of school. However, if something isn’t working well for you or your child, it might be time to revisit this topic. Some of your choices include: public school, private school, charter school, home school, home school co-ops, and online programs. I’m not knowledgeable enough in all of these options to go into detail about them, so it’s up to you to research them, taking into consideration budget, your child’s social and educational needs, your availability, the quality of your options, and your comfort level. My husband and I chose public school for our kids because of budget, time (we both work), and we wanted our kids to experience a classroom environment where they would not only make friends, but they’d learn how to deal with conflict. However, we know that as our kids grow and they become more involved in activities (particularly our daughter, the dancer), we may need to look into some of those other options. The good news is you can always change your mind if you feel an option isn’t working well for your family! When our oldest was in kindergarten, we pulled her out eight weeks into the school year, switched schools, and commuted to another district. Although it was a hard decision, we knew for sure it was the right one, and we made it through a lot of prayer, research, and discussion.
2. Choose and Limit Activities
School has only been in session for a week, but I know what’s coming: about five million flyers for before- and after-school activities. Ok, five million might be an exaggeration, but many of you parents can commiserate that it feels like that many. When my daughter was in elementary school, she wanted to be a part of every club/group whenever a flyer came home. Art club, chess club, dance club, choir, band, cross-country, etc. Although most of those clubs happened before school, we had to set a limit so that she wouldn’t get overwhelmed and would get enough sleep. We allowed her to choose one before-school activity, so long as it didn’t consistently conflict with dance. She chose band, which we were actually pretty happy about since my husband and I were musicians and actually met in high school band. (I know . . . ”awwwwe!”) Our daughter also used to do gymnastics, but once she became involved in dance five days a week, we decided it was time for her to choose which path she wanted to go down. Like your school choice, you can always adjust your child’s extra-curricular activities if you feel something has become too stressful. Even if it’s dance. There is nothing wrong with cutting back on dance classes/commitments or even taking some time off if your child is feeling stressed or isn’t enjoying it anymore. That’s really what it comes down to – is your child happy?
3. Schedule Family Time
With school, dance and extra-curricular activities, multiple kids pursuing different interests, work, friends, and anything else that takes up time, it feels like we never see our kids. However, it’s SO important to schedule family time on a regular basis. Look at your kids now. No matter how old they are, doesn’t it feel like just yesterday that they were vulnerable little babies in your arms? Although it’s cliché, their childhood goes by so fast. I don’t think anyone has ever said, “Gee . . . I wish I hadn’t spent so much time with my kids when they were growing up.” I would encourage you to schedule one day/night a week that is purely for family time. If you’re like us, your dancer’s schedule at the studio will most likely determine which day that is. We keep Wednesday nights completely free of regularly-scheduled activities (and of course Sundays besides church), realizing that each year our family night will probably change. Sometimes we plan bigger outings (like going up to Denver or the mountains), but a lot of the time it’s just snuggling up under blankets to watch a movie together or plopping down on the floor to play a board game. Kids don’t need grand, expensive gestures; they just need you.
4. Get Involved
Struggling to schedule family time or feel like you’re still not seeing your kids enough? Volunteer! At the studio, at school, at church . . . wherever your talents fit best. Even if you’re not actually spending time with your kids, you’ll still feel actively involved in their lives, and the best part? Your kids will feel pretty loved. What better way to show you care about them than by giving part of yourself to their passions?