My Google calendar has this cool little feature where I can create categories within a calendar and color code different events. It’s fun, pretty, and fills up the white spaces of my life. Things are happening, with my family, in my community, and it’s all right there in front of me in a beautiful display.
When my kids hit the elementary school age, I felt the increasing pressure to fill my kids white spaces with special activities to enrich their lives. Both my husband and I played sports and learned instruments as kids, and I truly believe it’s important to expose kids to these skills at a young age; team building, endurance, music appreciation, and all that.
We began with dance for my daughter and soccer for my son. Then they both wanted to play soccer, and she wanted to learn piano. My husband noticed some martial arts classes around town so we tried out a Jujitsu and Tae Kwon Do class for fun. I wanted them to learn how to swing a bat and throw a ball properly so we tried t-ball.
Our calendar began to fill up, because on top of wanting to enrich our children, my husband was already working at our family business almost every day for one reason or another, I met with ladies from church for discipleship or Bible study, and when I was working full time, everything after school was rushed, including the weekends. Once I came home, things calmed down and I only had to worry about managing our family schedule, but still… two to three different activities per week (and they could all be good things!) were leaving little to no time for actual family bonding.
Filling the White Spaces
Why do we commit to so many things? I submit that as I began to look at the use of our time, it seemed that a lot of my motivations were out of fear: fear of missing out (or my kids missing out), fear of what people would think if we were not involved or attended every party we were invited to. Fear of not being busy. It looks so strange to type that out, but I was really concerned that on some level our family was not being productive if we had nothing going on.
I wondered how often I just sought to fill our white spaces when all our kids really want is our space: our quality time. I wondered why they were so overtired and stressed at school. They need to come home and relax but it was just an hour of downtime, me rushing them through their homework before the next activity began, then it was dinner time and off to bed.
I like what Nikki Koziarz says in her book 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit:
“The less clutter and commitments you have in your life, the less you’ll feel pulled in so many directions. When you simplify your life, you’ll free up time.”
Less clutter and commitments. I like that because when I wrote Less is More, the same concept applies to actual physical stuff taking up our time and emotional space. In the same way, committing to too many things takes up the same space, and can leave us feeling frazzled and tired, and our families get the leftovers of the best parts of us.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand what it means to choose to commit to a sport or activity and be at every practice or rehearsal. But it’s when we see our family time disappearing that I have to question where we are allowing our time to be spent. The focus gets lost in all that we feel we have to do in order to grow strong and responsible kids, like we owe it to our kids to involve them in everything that comes along. But this should not be at the expense of living in a constant state of overwhelm and hurry.
How Not to Become Overcommitted
1. How much time with this take?
Look at the realistic time commitment: will the activity require practices during the week plus the games or tournaments on the weekends? How long is the season, and when will it end? Will this activity take the majority of our weekends?
2. How much time will be left for our family?
You must decide how much family time you want together, maybe it’s important that you eat dinner together every night, will this activity fall during that time? Will there be enough room to relax together?
3. Does this need to happen NOW?
There are so many great things to get involved in, but living a simple life requires focus. I have wrestled with choosing one great thing over another, but when I look back on the thing I didn’t choose, there is always a way to come back to it later, or the interest and important fizzles out somehow and priorities change to reveal more important things.
One Thing At a Time
“A lot of research has been done and all agree – multi-tasking hurts us. It weakens everything we do and it steals our joy. Try slowing down and doing just one thing at a time until it’s done. Believe it or not, that is exactly how successful businesses function. You don’t climb to the top when you’re all over the map. Success is doing one thing really well and then doing another thing really well and so on.”
“You live in a culture in which there are opportunities for you to do things unheard of in history. You are presented daily with scores of options for investing in your life’s energies and creativity. There is more than you could ever do. You must, therefore, prioritize.”
There was a time in my life when I lived to fill the white spaces. When I looked and saw two whole days without anywhere to go or someone to see, I would panic and think, “Uuuggghh…boring…who can I call to come over?” Maybe that’s a little bit of the extrovert in me, but it also made me think, “What if I just left those days alone, just let them be… see what happens.”
Inevitably, those turn out to be the most rewarding days. Just to be still with my family, really listen to them without agenda or suggestion, and appreciate the white space to rest and reconnect. Don’t let the flurry of activities steal your most important joy. What might you need to cut out of your life to put family first?