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Overscheduled parents take a toll on the whole family

The other day, an important meeting got rescheduled to a time I had planned to be at home. I immediately got to work arranging a playdate for my son and working out logistics for my daughters. I was feeling pretty darn proud of my organizational skills until I realized...

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I forgot about the dog.

Our dog is still a puppy and can't go for hours alone. I am inherently a cat person, so keep forgetting about these things. But as I ran across the street and begged a neighbor for help, I thought:, there are just too many balls in the air right now.

Recently, life has been a little more out of control than usual. Part of my job changed, there's been a lot going on with the kids--and, more importantly, my father-in-law has been sick. My mother-in-law usually helps us out with the logistics we can't manage ourselves, but we of course aren't asking for that help now. Helping them is more important.

So I've been feeling more scattered and stressed than usual, and it has got me thinking about the problem of overscheduled parents. We talk a lot about overscheduled kids, and it's a real problem: many children are so busy with schoolwork, sports and lessons that they don't have time to relax and be kids--which can lead to all sorts of psychological fallout. 

But parents can get overscheduled too. Some of it is just life: work and chores (and the occasional home improvement project) can get overwhelming all by themselves. Some of it is a side effect of overscheduled kids--after all, someone has to schedule all those activities and drive them there, as well as keep track of school and other commitments. And some of it is things we take on ourselves,usually for really good reasons--like the extra project at work to help out (and help us toward promotion), or volunteer work in our community. 

As with children, it takes its toll. We get stressed, sleep-deprived and generally unhappy.

This year, as I did last year, for Lent I gave up working on Sundays. I know, this doesn't sound like giving something up--but my life is so busy that sneaking in some writing, email catchup or other work on weekends makes my life a bit easier during the week. Given how crazy life has felt, I wondered if it was really a good idea. How would I get everything done?

But then I started doing it. I hung out with Liam and played games. Natasha and I went to the fabric store, bought patterns and fabrics and got to work on sewing projects. We baked cookies, walked the dog, did things around the house, and otherwise spent time together. The kids clearly liked my undivided attention--which made me feel sheepish, and realize how rarely they get it.

I was right to worry about getting everything done. I haven't been. But being more fully with my family on Sundays has made me rethink that getting-everything-done mantra. Especially as we approach the anniversary of the Marathon bombings, especially as we mourn the heroic firefighters who died last week, especially as we hear about mudslides and earthquakes and plane crashes...life is unpredictable, we are all vulnerable, and there is so much that matters more than getting everything done.

So my next step is to look at everything I'm doing...and stop doing some of them. As a family, we need fewer balls in the air, so I'm going to get rid of some of them. I don't want to be a stressed out parent anymore.

The dog will appreciate it, too.