Q: We're only two months into the school year and already we're drowning in extracurricular activities. How much is too much? Can you suggest any practical guidelines?
Jim: I understand and share your concern. That's because kids need lots of time, space and leisure to develop their creativity and imagination. Stress from excessive organized activity can be a deadly enemy of a happy and healthy childhood. While every family is different, I'd suggest that in general, elementary- and secondary school-age kids shouldn't take on more than one extracurricular activity per school term.
The definition of an "extracurricular activity" isn't set in stone. In evaluating each commitment, it might be helpful to ask some basic questions about the time involved. How many evenings per week is your child spending away from home? If the number is too high, you might consider making some cuts.
If this seems like an impossible proposition, I'd challenge you to ask yourself some hard questions about the motives behind the busyness. Is it really about your child and his best interests? Or is the push to achieve driven by issues of your own? We're all susceptible to negative motives such as parental pride, insecurity or desires to compensate for our own unrealized achievements. But if allowed to run rampant, they can end up seriously damaging your child's self-image and the dynamics of your family interactions.
On the positive side, I'd encourage you to strive for the correct balance for your family. A certain amount of "stretching" can be a good thing, but you must always consider each individual member's unique needs and capabilities. There are some telltale signs that will let you know if your kids are being pushed beyond their limits -- depression, for example, or irritability, emotional withdrawal and physical symptoms such as stomach pain. If you see any of these red flags, don't delay in making the needed adjustments.
Q: How can I get my husband to help more with the kids? He enjoys the "fun" part of raising kids -- like "wrestling" with our toddler. But when it comes to the practical side of parenting, I don't think he's pulling his weight.
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Speaking from personal experience, communication is usually the key here. Many couples never talk to each other about their parenting expectations, or the fears and struggles they're facing as parents. In most cases, both of them are doing the best they can, but are feeling insecure. The first step is to air these feelings in an honest, safe and non-threatening way.
Gender roles and distinctions can also be a factor. Mothers tend to have an immediate connection with a new baby, while fathers sometimes feel uncomfortable and "out of their element." When Dad tries to lend a hand, Mom may be inclined to correct everything he's doing. This leads to greater irritation on both sides, and the husband may shrink from trying to help.
Again, the solution is to discuss your feelings and expectations. If you're home full-time with the kids while your husband is out in the workplace, talk about what practical aspects of this arrangement should look like. If you both work outside the home, it's even more important that you clearly understand what the other is thinking.
Whatever your situation, it's important that you learn how to function as a team. This is another area in which husbands and wives need to be patient with one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
If you're struggling in your roles, our staff counselors would be happy to listen and help. You can contact them at 855-771-HELP (4357).
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.