My son has taken on too much. I tried to warn him a month ago when school first started. Now, he is going to bed too late and waking up cranky. He's exhausted and knows something has to give.
At the beginning of the school year, he wanted to take difficult high school classes. He wanted to start clubs at his school. He wanted to play travel lacrosse. When he told me all he wanted to take on, I told him to reconsider. I explained to him that giving himself time to chill out is important, too.
Balance is a hard concept to explain, a difficult one to teach and an even more challenging one to master.
At some points in our lives, we may have too much on our plates. At other points, not enough.
But as the next generation of young people try to find their way in the world, their lessons on balance are starting early. They want to participate on sports teams, excel in music, perform in competitions, take honors classes and hold part-time jobs. They have tons of homework, and little time to unwind.
What can we teach them about when to say no and how to prioritize what's most important? Are we willing to explain how too much structured activity can contribute to anxiety and stress?
When I was young, my grandfather explained to me his job was a lawyer and my job was a student. He taught me to put school first and to be a reliable student and assured me that education pays off. When I signed up for afterschool clubs and extracurricular activities, I knew that they were secondary to my school work. I think the clear vision he created for me of my top priority helped me all the way through college and into my first job.
Today our children experience the pressure of competition early and they need our help to know when to push themselves and when to ease up. We are going to have to teach them trade offs for the sake of time management, help them recognize activities that are habits rather than passions, and encourage them to make choices that are good for the family. Those choices might require taking only one piano lesson a week instead of two, or giving up one after school activity for another. These are the same types of tradeoffs we need to get comfortable with ourselves.
As my son considers what to take off his plate, we have been going over what he needs to do and what he wants to do. He is learning how to prioritize, a skill that will serve him well the rest of his life. I'm pretty sure that by helping my son rework his schedule to create balance, I am helping myself work towards it, too.
When we find ourselves stressed, rushed, multitasking, and feeling overwhelmed on a regular basis, we are receiving a clear signal that something needs to give and the entire family may need to readjust priorities. As I explained to my son, it's okay to take a deep breath and acknowledge when our lives are out of balance. What's not okay is to ignore it.