I love my job, but it is one that demands a lot of my time and for most youth pastors, summer is the busiest. This summer I planned and led more trips than I ever have, hosted more activities than I ever have, and prepared fall semester programs for adults, students, and children. It was a great season, but also one that kept me busy. Now that summer is over, my calendar is quickly filling up for the fall. As busy as I think I am, my schedule looks empty compared to many families with teenagers.
With the number of sports, extra curricular activities, church events, and social activities that teenagers are participating in that add to busy work and school schedules many families don’t stop. Families are quickly becoming overbooked. It is now impossible to be at all the games, plays, and events that teenagers are participating in. Somewhere along the way someone convinced our culture that the more things we do, the fuller our lives would be. The problem is that the opposite is happening. The qualities of families are suffering because the quantity of things that demand time. When it comes to family realize that here will always be something that is willing to take away time, but the amount of time that you have with your family will only decrease the older your children get. There is no perfect formula that will guarantee more time with your family but here are 5 tips to help build and strengthen families in the midst of all the busy.
1. Decide it’s a Good Thing
When I was 15 I got my first job as a bagboy at a local supermarket. As a smart-aleck high school kid I thought the job was, “two dimensional and boring.” Time seemed to crawl as I bagged grocery after grocery. It hated it. It is important to avoid this mentality when spending time with your teenagers. I understand that sometimes due to attitudes, disinterest, or bad smells that it isn’t always fun to hang out with your teenage children, but if you are dreading family time, your kids will too, and it will seem like a punishment for everyone involved. It is important for parents to make the decision that spending time together is a good thing.
Growing up I knew that church was one of the highest priorities on our family’s calendar. If I ever wanted to participate in an activity that happened at the same time as church I already knew the answer was going to be, “no.” For our family it was (and still is) a very important priority. My suggestion is to list out the things that keep your family busy and prioritize them. Allow your teenagers to do the same. Compare all the lists and discuss what your families priorities should be. Allow for discussion and disagreement, be willing to compromise, but also be willing to hold your ground (or video games may become a high priority item). It is important to also make sure that you stick to your priorities. The exercise of prioritizing is really about comparison and choice. In this case you compare one activity to another and choose which one has the greater importance; which one you would do if you had to choose. However, you need to recognize that when priorities are compromised or the phrase, “well just this time…” is used, it weakens the importance of one priority over another and if you are not careful your list will re-prioritize itself.
3. Allow Yourself to Say “No”
Once you have a list of priorities the next step is to start at the bottom of the list and start saying, “No.” To often working with students I see parents who let their teenagers do everything they want to. I also see when those teenagers, who are not capable of balancing everything going on have emotional meltdowns. I could recount student after student who has sat in my office or across from me at Starbucks upset because they just feel like they can’t handle the pressure of everything they have to deal with. In almost every situation the amount of stress in their lives would significantly decrease if they just gave up one or two of their multiple extra curricular activities. As a parent it is okay to be busy or even have busy seasons, but if you find that you are consistently on the go and you spend little to no time together, it may be time to say, “No” to something.
4. Make it High Quality
Growing up in my family there were two words we hate hearing more than any other words, “family meeting.” While we genuinely did enjoy spending time together as a family, we always associated family meetings with bad news:
“Oh, we must be moving again.”
“I guess somebody died.”
I’m sure not all of our family meetings were bad, some of them were probably fun, but the stigma of family meetings was negative. Recently I talked to a radically thinking parent who has a very busy schedule. Once a week he, his wife, and their children sit down for what they call huddles. They set up parameters that they follow to ensure that it is not just a scheduled time, but a high quality time: try to meet in a fun casual setting outside the home, have an open conversation, check up on each member of the family (spiritually, physically, emotionally), talk about each person’s schedule for the next week, and use a different setting for discipline or serious one-on-one conversations. Settling for “just being together,” once a week is not the same as deciding that you will spend quality time together. Your teenagers may complain at first but stick with it and if you see that something isn’t working, change it. Sometimes you may even have to…
This is the hardest step for some parents. In the multi-sport and multi-extracurricular world we live in, I feel that we can no longer use the term, “Soccer Mom.” Kids don’t just play soccer anymore…they play soccer, and baseball, and dance, and they have early morning yoga, and…you get the idea. I think a much more appropriate term would be, “Calendar Mom (or Dad).” Any time I have a meeting, or tell a group of parents about an event our youth ministry is hosting I several people pull out calendars that are crammed to the brim to see if they can squeeze something else into their family’s packed schedule. For some of those parents the idea of improvising may be a little difficult, but it can also be a powerful tool. Be willing to break your routine to do something with your family. When I was in 6th grade and my sisters were in 8th there was a day that our parents got us out of school early to take us to a movie. Often when you improvise and let your teenagers experience something outside of the normal routine, the experiences can have a lasting impact. Think of creative ways to spend time with your family, and change it up. This is one of my favorites.
These 5 tips were developed after observing and talking to several radical parents who have prioritized family time in their schedules. The list of suggestions is not perfect and some of them may not work for you, you may need to add more to the list but it is designed to be a place for your family to start.