Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Freedom to Live Your Life, But Are You?

The days pass slowly, the years fly quickly by. If I had a nickel for every time someone has said this to me, I might be out of debt by now.

I actually do not dread hearing those words, and I appreciate hearing them each time a well meaning older parent says them.

For those of you who may not have heard those words, what I am talking about is this: our children grow up fast. Shorter still, the time that passes from the moment they are born until they enter kindergarten seems to pass by faster still.

Last week I left for another teaching weekend, this time in Lexington, KY, as I wrote earlier in my blog this week. My older son is having an increasingly harder time when "mommy leaves" for work weeks or weekends. He is aware that I will be gone for several days at at time. While I was gone, my husband said at bedtime he prayed that "mommy's plane doesn't crash." The next morning when he awoke, my husband asked him what he dreamed about. In his 3.5 year old voice he replied, "I dweamed mommy came home and gave me wots of hugs and kisses."

Children are aware. Our families are aware. Our society visibly suffers when the family suffers. Our work schedules and agendas are increasingly filled, even with good things like music lessons, community projects, and charity fundraisers. However, despite all the "good stuff" we fill our schedules with, we emerge more tired and glassy eyed than ever...and with less time to actually spend nurturing our family.

Last night I had choral practice for our tri-county Choral Society. It was only a two hour practice but when I told my older son goodbye he got very reserved and his chin began to tremble.

He had just spent 9 hours in daycare and I had only a quick dinner before I left again (after not seeing him for 4 days while I worked all weekend...moms sound familiar?). He was worried I was leaving him for an extended time again. I promised him I was not, and then I gave him hugs and kisses and left for practice. When I returned at 9:30 (way past his bedtime), he was waiting for me at the door, dressed in his Thomas the Train pajamas, sitting in his great grandfather's handmade wicker chair, writing his name on a sheet of paper. When I opened the door he said, "Mommy, I missed you."

I am acutely aware that my children will be grown and gone before I can comprehend it. Each day my husband and I mourn and celebrate their growth, because we fully appreciate the brevity of life.

Here are a few things I have been practicing this year, to help set protective boundaries around our family time in order to truly value and love them:

  1. Minimizing daycare: my husband and I alternate our work schedules so our children only have to spend 1 day in daycare a week. This creates the majority of our fatigue, because we must work at odd hours and sometimes on weekends and nights. However, it is the only method, while our children are young, which we have found to maximize our time together as a family. This may not work for all families. Sometimes daycare is unavoidable but I would recommend shopping for a daycare that is flexible and truly accommodates to the needs of each child. I have friends and colleagues who have "second mothers" in their daycare providers and are grateful for the "extended family" bond that their daycare provides. Either way, realize we DO have the freedom to choose. Society may not reward us for putting our children and families first, but the future of our planet rests on it.
  2. Families that play together, stay together: This may sound obvious as well as easy, but it is not the case. We realize that unless we set time aside for family oriented activities, we will continue to be consumed with the demands of daily life. For example, yard work, home repairs and renovations, as well as daily errand running and household management alone could occupy all your time. Oftentimes, taking care of business leaves your kids to constantly self entertain while mommy answers work email or daddy mows the lawn or vice-versa. Try having a "family meeting" to poll your kids about what they want to do as a family. Then, make it happen within your budget. Get creative if you can't afford "Disneyworld". Go on a family camping trip, hike, local theme park, or take a roadtrip to visit family.
  3. Set boundaries: We are all aware that corporate life slowly eats into family life, so many of us have set boundaries in that arena. We come home on time, we work from home offices, we compress our work schedules, we actually use all of our vacation/leave, and we give up job promotions for family promotions i.e. to have a quality family life. However, for those of us who have reigned in our work boundaries, are we doing anything about the "good activities" in our life - children's playgroups, sports and art activities, local volunteerism, church or temple work, etc. Sometimes we even have to pare down the "good" activities if they are a detriment to our family life. My husband and I recently did that. It was difficult, and we lost income, career exposure, and didn't get to pursue some extracurricular outlets we like to - but the career & personal time hit was worth it. We all are less stressed, more organized, and very grateful for the time together.
  4. Count Your Blessings: When I think back to the time before I met my husband and before we had children, I am reminded how blessed we are today. My husband and I waited a LONG time to have children. Truly, we waited our whole lives for the family we have today. So I frequently count my blessings by recalling where I came from and how far I have come.
  5. Choose your charity and community work carefully: A mentor once suggested that although all activities in your life may be good, they may not all be necessarily good for you at one time! At all seasons in our life, we have a host of opportunities to choose from. Young families struggle to balance work and family, families with older children struggle to balance their children's extracurricular activities with their own, empty nesters and retirees or grandparents also have their own set of struggles. However, at all seasons, there are activities that are BEST for you, and ones that although are good - are not your BEST option. For example, I limit which charity organizations I become involved in so I can focus on being effective. For others, this is making your child choose no more than 2 extracurricular activities per semester. To me, there would be nothing worse than being a jack of all trades and master of none. I don't want to be a person that starts one project and then leave it in the wake of starting another. Our whole family practices this as a kind of mantra, if you will. We keep all our activities on a consolidated calendar so we can prevent it from "overflowing."
In this way, in the words of Jonathan Swift,
"may we live all the days of our life."
I believe we can.

*photo taken of our children during "box play" time. They had found a box and decided to get creative with it.

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