In this series we have examined the dynamics and spiritual roots of the frenetic culture of over-scheduled children. This article offers five practical steps for parents in moving towards freedom and hope in the area of their child’s schedule. As mentioned in the second article of this series, Over-scheduling, Inadequacy, and Freedom from Obligation the primary issue involves trusting Jesus to direct your family on how your child invests his or her time. None of these practical steps carry any power unless a family lives in response to the Gospel and under the leadership of God.
1.) Tear it all to the ground and think in terms of calling.
In reaction to their child’s over-programmed life, parents are often tempted to pull their child out of every activity. Drop the tutors, cancel the ACT prep class, quit the travel soccer team, etc. However, this approach has one major problem: human beings remain at the center of control. Real freedom comes when God rules and leads the situation. Therefore, parents should take everything on their child’s schedule and call into question whether or not it is something to which God is calling them. When your daughter pursues travel volleyball because as a family, you feel has God has called her to it, the weekend trips become far more meaningful and tolerable. Her investment becomes more a matter of following Jesus than checking another box. Remembering that Christ is the Good Shepherd, whose yoke is easy and burden light, reassures us that He will call us to the wisest, most life-giving use of our child’s time.
2.) Be the parent.
As admirable as it may be that your five year old wants to run 50 miles a week to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, you as a parent have greater wisdom and perspective than he or she. Having a highly motivated child can be a blessing; but just because your child wants to pursue ambitious goals does not mean that their course of action is wise or healthy. You as a parent need to intervene and limit your child’s activities when you sense that they are carrying an imbalanced load.
3.) Be suspicious of your own propensity to drive your kid for your own glory.
Does Johnny really love playing football, or are you vicariously using your child to work out your personal insecurities? Does Sally want to be a cheerleader, or are you trying to relive your glory days? At some level, all parents- myself majorly included- use their children either to compensate for their own inadequacies or to try to recapture past happiness amidst a life of discontentment. I remember a parent once proclaiming that her daughter had finally found “her thing” after making cheerleader. In reality, the kid hated cheerleading, but mom made the squad at a big state school and wanted that for her daughter, regardless of the cost. As a swim, baseball, and football coach in the community, I have witnessed multiple parents pushing their kids and expending excessive time and energy, in an enterprise that truly revolves around the parent. As parents, we must be suspicious of our tendency to want to use our children for our own glory. The Gospel frees us to accept our child for whom God made them, even if that is simply an “average” kid. It also enables us to find our worth and satisfaction in what Jesus did, so that we do not use our kid’s accomplishments for our own selfishness vanity.
4.) Use this quandary as an opportunity to seek and listen to the Lord with your child.
If you sense that your family is overbooked, you have the option to view this as an opportunity to teach your son or daughter how to seek God’s will in his or her life. As a family, you can pray about what classes they may take or if ACT prep is the best idea. You can pray about whether or not they are called to try out for basketball or to continue with piano. You can help your child understand their gifts. You can help them discern whether or not they have peace about entering into certain endeavors. This dynamic of seeking God in prayer and searching for his will in the mundane decisions of life reflects the essence living life as a disciple of Jesus. You have the opportunity to lead your child in this in a mature way while they are under your care.
5.) Look for the Second Coming.
Accept that things will never be perfect until That Day. Following Christ does offer increased freedom from the madness of over-scheduling, but you never will find a perfect balance. Wisdom entreats you to accept that life always will involve this tension. Your ultimate hope comes in the memory that Christ has won on the Cross and that Christ will return to restore the world to perfection. Do not beat yourself up with guilt because you do not feel as if you can “get it all right.”