Eliminate Busyness from Family Life

Busy mother holding infant smiling down at her young daughter who is ready to leave for school

September 30 looked so innocent.

Its clean white square on the kitchen calendar had no appointments, deadlines or meetings. A free day. Basking in that morning's quietness, I closed my eyes to enjoy the distant chirping of birds. Wait a minute! Since when do birds chirp "Für Elise"? My cell phone!

My husband, Neal, called to remind me to drive our daughter, Elizabeth, to school. Then Elizabeth announced she forgot to tell me her rescheduled dental appointment was in less than an hour. Next, Andrew, our preschooler, informed me that today was playgroup. Then our car needed a jump-start.

We missed the dental appointment. Elizabeth was late to school. Andrew cut his forehead at playgroup, and he accidentally dropped his craft project in the toilet.

It wasn't even noon.

Retracing my missteps

How did that day catch me so unprepared? Because "calendaritis" — inflammation of the agenda characterized by overscheduling, underplanning and miscommunicating — had struck my household.

That "empty" Sept. 30 should've shown those appointments, but it didn't. The calendar in my purse did, and that was my overscheduling mistake: multiple calendars and all of them different.

Underplanning made me think every clear space on a calendar is free time. It's not! Embedded in every deceitfully blank day are a multitude of tasks required to maintain our daily routine — commuting to school and jobs, preparing meals, washing laundry, running errands, paying bills.

With our tag-team parenting style, Neal and I rarely saw each other, let alone truly assessed our activities. Miscommunication became a byproduct of our bottlenecked schedules, and the busier we became, the crankier we got.

Tired of being ambushed and drained by too many demands, my family slowly determined to keep calendaritis at bay.

Cures for calendaritis

Assess. Each family member answered this question: "If this was our last week together, how would we prioritize?" For us, birthdays and the start of new years, summer break, school years and seasons invited time for reflection and readjustment.

Simplify. We maintain one family calendar in a high-traffic spot. Everyone can see it, but only parents are allowed to modify it. If the children need to reschedule appointments, they need to first get clearance with a parent.

Prepare. We mark the calendar with all birthdays and anniversaries. Two weeks before each event, I also jot a "heads up" to take care of cards and presents. Ditto with school events (including picture days) to make sure our kids have haircuts, shoes, costumes, gifts, cameras, etc., taken care of beforehand.

Consolidate. I schedule all regular annual appointments for the year at the same time and write the office phone numbers on the calendar to ease possible rescheduling. This is also a good time to reassess care options. When I spotted an optometrist's office in the same building where our family doctor practices, I switched our family to that optometrist. This way I can book annual eye exams and physicals on the same day at the same location.

Buffer. For major events (garage sales, vacations, holidays), I cross out the days before and after as respective "get ready" and "recover" periods. This prevents unnecessary bottlenecks of activity when my family can least afford them.

Communicate. We make a regular effort to recap, as a family, what's new on the calendar. I have been known to frisk my children for school notices.

Protect. Boundaries are big with us. When I traveled on business, I only made trips in nonconsecutive weeks. Limiting our teen's extracurricular activities to one per week for the year (or two activities per week for one semester but none the next) may not look stellar on a college application, but our daughter is healthy and happy because of it.

Retreat. We schedule small and large blocks of time to pull away from routines and be together as family. These blocks are non-negotiable –– period.

We do have an occasional flare-up of calendaritis, but gone are the days of the chronic condition. No longer a pedal-to-the-metal family, we're now a put-up-our-feet family. With a little preparation, yours can be, too.

This article first appeared in the June 2005 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Catch Us If You Can!"  It also appeared on thrivingfamily.com in January 2010. 

Copyright © 2005 by Debi Stack. Used by permission.

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