It’s Your Kid, Not a Gerbil!
by Dr. Kevin Leman
If you’ve ever seen gerbils running on a wheel, you know they’re intense little creatures. They look so industrious, too — constantly on the move, running with gusto around inside that silver circle. But have you thought about how tired — and bored — those critters must get sometimes, doing the same thing over and over, day after day, never able to get off the wheel?
Be honest. Isn’t that how you feel sometimes as you run from place to place, chauffeuring your children from one endless activity to another? Especially in this festive season of joy and good tidings and also exhaustion?
It’s time to get off the wheel and relax.
Everybody thinks activities outside the home are good for kids to develop social networks, allow for new experiences and jumpstart your child into success and the right college. Or so the reasoning goes. The activities themselves aren’t bad. But have you ever thought about what those activities really mean to your family schedule and your together time?
If you want to make a difference in your kid’s life, then you need to be in your kid’s life. No soccer coach or gymnastics teacher can take your place. And the time spent driving your SUV from point A to point B doesn’t count.
I’ll tell you a secret: If your kids could pick one person to spend time with, it would be you. You’re the most significant person in your child’s life. You provide the loving environment, the security and the sense of belonging that your child needs to mature into a healthy, well-balanced adult. But if you’re constantly running, you’re handing your child’s heart and time over to someone who doesn’t care about your child nearly as much as you do.
Years from now, when your daughter heads off to college or your son moves into his first apartment, who do you want them to be? You can lay a firm foundation for a lifetime relationship that emphasizes character and not achievement. Children who are nurtured at home by involved parents, who have downtime, who can say no to peer pressure because they know they belong to your family, are children who are rooted in your faith and standards.
There’s no better time than the season of yuletide cheer to embrace what matters most and to set safeguards to keep your family a top priority.
Don’t up the ante on yourself or your kids. The pace of life will only increase in today’s instant, high-tech world. If you’re constantly on the go with a to-do list whose weight will kill an elephant, it’s time to rethink your priorities and stress level.
Realize your presence is more important than you think. I know. You’re Velcro Woman — everything and everyone sticks to you. But what your children long for the most is connection with you. You don’t have to be Superwoman who cooks gourmet meals and has a dust-bunny-free house. You just need to be available.
Remember that life has more choices than Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors. And we parents tend to drool over the options like kids at an ice-cream counter. But don’t fall for the myth that a full plate of activities is good for a kid. Don’t let anyone “guilt you” into thinking you’re depriving your kids if you’re not running 24/7 to offer them all the “opportunities.” You’re the smart one.
As you make your choices based on your family values, you’ll build memories and relationships your kids will never forget.
So don’t fall for the “busy hands are happy hands” myth. Get yourself off the activity wheel. Put your time and energies where they really count: Establishing strong character and a love for home and family that will serve your kids well for a lifetime.
Get off the Activity Wheel and create a happier, less-stressed home by choosing activities — and downtime — wisely.
- Resist the trend to try to do everything.
- Decide what’s best for your family, based on your shared values.
- Choose your priorities wisely … and stick to them.
- Set a limit in advance. If your child is in school, consider only one activity per semester per child. Keep life simple.
- Block out time in your schedule just to be home … together.
Dr. Kevin Leman, internationally known, New York Times best-selling psychologist, humorist, speaker, and author of over 40 books, including Have a New Kid by Friday and Sheet Music, has made thousands of guest appearances on television programs, including “Fox & Friends, The View, Today, Oprah and CBS’s The Early Show.” He has served as a contributing family psychologist for “Good Morning America.”