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Love, Dad: Stop Being Busy

May 9, 2016
Love, Dad: Stop Being Busy

My freshest “Love, Dad” column in Montana Parent tackles the busy myth. In a world where children are over-scheduled and constantly on the go, this piece challenges us all to slow down, parenting intentionally and mindfully, giving our children the pace and space they need to be KIDS. I hope you guys enjoy!…

Montana Parent, April Issue

Love, Dad

For those of us fortunate to call Big Sky Country home, it’s hard to think of a more sublime setting to raise our kids. The mountains, rivers, open spaces, wildlife and recreational opportunities overflow. The northern reaches of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem provide a lot to see and do. Add to this the opportunities that arise living in the shadows of Montana State University and it’s easy to believe we’ve got it all. But perhaps there’s a downside to all this good fortune: having so much to do on our doorstep often leads to activity overload, for kids and parents alike. While raising kids in Montana is “as good as it gets,” it’s important to remember another old axiom. It’s possible to have “too much of a good thing”—especially when it comes to our children.

One bluebird day last spring, I read that Men’s Journal had ranked Bozeman one of the top ten places to live, citing our laid-back vibe and outdoor lifestyle. While Bozeman may appear to outsiders to be a chill and lazy mountain town, it’s anything but idle.

Like anywhere else, there’s a keeping-up-with-the-Jones vibe here that can lead to over-scheduling our kids. Research and studies tell us our kids are busier than ever. I have to ask: why the big push for busy kids? We’ve all heard a proud dad proclaiming that his son or daughter tackled the Alpine lift before his or her fifth birthday. Is it for bragging rights? A desire to help our children thrive in today’s productivity-driven culture? Scheduled “play-care?” Regardless of the answer, overly busy children represent an epidemic of sorts.

Alvin Rosenfeld, a leading authority on overly busy children, author of “The Overscheduled Child,” warns of the consequences of not fostering adequate downtime for kids. They include anxiety, depression, a lack of creativity and problem-solving skills.

Like many parents, I have a high energy eight-year-old. I’ve often heard observations along the lines of, “She doesn’t get tired;” or “Nothing slows her down.” But more and more, what I’m finding is that my daughter thrives most when we strike a balance; when we allow her downtime to relax, indulge her curiosities, and just be a kid.

During the school year, we’ve all seen children whose weekends are so jam-packed with activities and play-dates that they show up on Monday already worn out. When that starts to happen, it’s time to dial things back.

In a world of excess, the fear of not being or doing enough can become compulsive for parents. Sure, scheduling play-dates, sleepovers, and endless activities seems like “fun” for the kids, but is this the best we can do as parents? What’s going to benefit our children more in the long run, another play date or chilling down with mom or dad?

And when did “busy” become the word of the day?  Think about it. When was the last time you asked someone how he or she is doing where “busy” wasn’t part of their response? For parents especially, it seems “busy” has become a standard by which we are measured. In a society that values self-sacrifice and hard work over self-examination and personal growth, “busy” is the new Holy Grail.

Is this the messaging we want to send our children? I cringe every time a parent expresses how “crazy busy” he or she is.  Why so busy? Are we all that ineffective at prioritizing what matters most? All of our lives have plentiful moving parts, so why state the obvious?  Rosenfeld research suggests we may become too “busy” to parent intentionally. Is that why we use activities and play dates as daycare? Is “busy” an excuse for not having time to read, think and learn? Justification for avoiding diving deep into our personal psyche and fostering curiosity in our children?  I suspect that busy may be nothing more than a crutch—one that we all use.

Let’s stop using “busy” as some sort of status symbol. Better yet, stop using it at all. I say we abolish “busy” from the English language in hopes that we don’t pass our “busy” obsession on to our children.

Instead, let’s facilitate unscheduled downtime for our kids so they can rest, recharge and recover.

Summer is Montana’s most glorious season, one where we try to pack six months of activities into a relatively short window. Perhaps it would serve our children well if we pause before we start mapping out their entire summer. What better gift can we give them than the opportunity to enjoy a summer, as a kid, under a Big Sky in southwestern Montana?

Will Bozemanites ever slow down? Probably not. Will I sign my daughter up for a number of activities this summer? Without a doubt. But perhaps we can strike a balance.

This summer, let’s vow not to pass our “busy” obsession on to our children. Let’s let them be kids.

~Michael W. Leach

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