My Fear Behind Parental Imbalance

When handheld devices blurred the lines between work and home, there was a backlash that ignited a conversation about the importance of “work-life” balance.

I see the infancy (pun-intended) of a similar movement for parenting balance as I shuttle my children from activity to activity.

The basic concepts are the same.  Just as it rings true that shutting out work for a period of time each day makes a person a more energized employee, reserving time to chill at home together will make my family’s bond tighter.

Unlike “work-life” balance, though, establishing parenting balance is not as simple as leaving the technology at the office.

Every parent’s definition of balance is different.  For my kids and I, balance means being together more than we are apart each day.  Under that definition, our current lives are drastically skewed.

We barely manage to squeeze in a family dinner most evenings.  We are on-the-go from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

I love my kids being involved but, the truth is, the pace is exhausting.

Don’t cry for me – I do it to myself and I’m not alone.  My unofficial survey of parents I’m around would reveal that most are just like us – running to exhaustion daily.

Whether in sports, music, theater or dance, the perceived necessity of getting our kids in several activities is insatiable.

This creates an unending circle of parental imbalance – the mentality that believes my kid has to go to football camp because the rest of the starters are.

I’m calling a time-out on myself.

I’m complicit in creating my family’s imbalance so it’s incumbent upon me to come up with ways to change.

For me, solutions to restore adequate balance involve:

  1. Putting on the blinders.  The mentality of doing anything to keep up has to go.  There will always be parents that have different thresholds of balance.  If I accept that reality, I will forever mute the voice in my head telling me, “you better sign up or she won’t be quite as good.”
  2. First prioritizing together, then with the kids.  My wife and I can set the general rules about the activity’s fit with our idea of balance – number of nights our kids participate each week, whether eating dinner as a family should trump practices, setting bounds for lengths of the season and the amount of money we can afford to invest.  We can take those priorities and build our kid-activity agenda accordingly.  Today I seem to do the opposite – signing up for more without grasping the impact on our family’s time together.
  3. Checking in often.  Unless an elongated commitment is required, I should be checking in with my kids to make sure their prioritized activities continue to be worth the trade-offs.  Even if I’m confident that I’m raising the next Peyton Manning, if football season is a drag, he can freely ask to do something else next year.  My kids’ activities are not about my wishes or what they do well today.

My Good-Bad Dad mentality wants to fight the list above.  Part of me hates to think about my kids’ missing out on any opportunity as a result of limits we might put in place.

I really am scared my children might miss out if I don’t continue on the same break-necking pace.  This fear-based participation may well be the root of my imbalance problem.

My real fear should not be my kid starting on the team or being the lead in the school musical.

I should worry about restoring balance so that I don’t find myself with a real issue in a few years – the point where my over-burdened, future Peyton Manning will become a willingly disengaged teenager that wants no part of football, or worse, of me for having pushed him so relentlessly.

That fear should drive change for me.

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