When I was a little girl growing up in an apartment building in New York City, weekends were the best. I'd play in my room, making up science experiments with my microscope, I'd draw and spent a lot of time reading. I might get together with a friend who lived on my floor and play Monopoly for a couple of hours. But by two in the afternoon, kids of all ages who lived in the surrounding buildings would meet in the concrete playground out back to play punch ball, jump rope, red light/green light and Ringalevio. We would arrange ourselves in a natural hierarchy, switching from game to game, no parents in sight. When it started getting dark, our mothers would stick their heads out the window and call us in for supper, tired, dirty and in great spirits.
When I moved to Montreal with little kids of my own, I hoped they would find a chummy gang of kids on the block, but it was not to be. Everyone seemed hunkered down in their own homes, with parents driving their kids to elaborately arranged play dates and an endless schedule of team sports and lessons.
As a family therapist working with tense parents and dissatisfied kids, the symptoms of an over-scheduled life are not hard to identify. Kids often have several after-school and weekend activities, being ferried to soccer, swimming lessons and karate in the course of the same week. Working parents have close to no time for themselves as a couple and even less time for themselves as individuals.
It's crazy, but it's normal because everyone does it. But this over-scheduling leads to serious problems that make it hard for a family to relax and connect. It leads to bored children, who expect some activity or electronic diversion at every moment and don't begin to know how to entertain themselves.
Okay, enough of that rant - you know this. But what can help? Here's a very simple suggestion that makes a huge difference in reducing stress. Whatever you're doing, don't rush. That's it. Don't rush. That means that you schedule enough time to get wherever you're going ten minutes early. You wake up earlier, you think it through, you do whatever it takes so that you are not rushing to get anywhere. When you stop rushing, your life will be far less stressful.
If you find you can't stop rushing, that's life sending you a message - you're over scheduled. You can't fit everything into the time allotted, so you have to jam it in by rushing. And that stresses you out. And if you're stressed, you transmit that vibe to the people around you. Your kids feel it, your spouse feels it, your co-workers absorb it. And it's not much fun for you.
So, rather than being proud that you got so much done in such a short time, how about signing on to the "go-slow" movement - being proud that you were able to leave cushions of time around your activities to sit and think, to chat, to drink coffee with a friend and to have bit a time of your hands. Your kids don't really need as much stimulation and structured activities as you think they do - there's the potential for creativity in boredom. And if they're moaning, "I'm bored!" just give them a wink and say, "Good!"
Here's my guarantee – if you slow down, you'll get less done, but you'll enjoy whatever you're doing a whole lot more.