Stop Being Busy

April 22, 2016

Posted By: Shaunescy


For those of us fortunate to call Big Sky country home, it’s hard to think of a more sublime setting to raise our kids. The mountains, rivers, open spaces, wildlife and recreational opportunities overflow. The northern reaches of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem provide a lot to see and do. Add to this the opportunities that arise living in the shadows of Montana State University and it’s easy to believe we’ve got it all. But perhaps there’s a downside to all this good fortune: Having so much to do often leads to activity overload, for kids and parents alike. While raising kids in Montana is “as good as it gets,” it’s important to remember another old axiom. It’s possible to have “too much of a good thing”—especially when it comes to our children.

One bluebird day last spring, I read that Men’s Journal had ranked Bozeman one of the top ten places to live, citing our laid-back vibe and outdoor lifestyle. While Bozeman may appear to outsiders to be a chill and lazy mountain town, it’s anything but idle.

Like anywhere else, there’s a keeping-up- with-the-Joneses vibe here that can lead to overscheduling our kids. Research and studies tell us our kids are busier than ever. I have to ask: Why the big push for busy kids? We’ve all heard a proud dad proclaiming that his son or daughter tackled the Alpine lift before his or her fifth birthday. Is it for bragging rights? A desire to help our children thrive in today’s productivity-driven culture? Scheduled “play- care?” Regardless of the answer, overly busy children represent an epidemic of sorts.

Alvin Rosenfeld, a leading authority on overly busy children, author of The Overscheduled Child, warns of the consequences of not fostering adequate downtime for kids. They include anxiety, depression, a lack of creativity and problem-solving skills.

I have a high-energy 8-year-old and often hear observations like, “She doesn’t get tired;” or “Nothing slows her down.” But more and more, I find that my daughter thrives most when we strike a balance; when we give her downtime to relax, indulge her curiosities and let her just be a kid.

During the school year, we all see children whose weekends are so jam-packed with activities and playdates that they show up on Monday already worn out. When that starts to happen, it’s time to dial things back.

In a world of excess, the fear of not being or doing enough can become compulsive for parents. Sure, scheduling playdates, sleepovers and endless activities seems like fun for the kids, but is this the best we can do as parents? What’s going to benefit our children more in the long run, another play date or chilling out with mom or dad?

And when did busy become the word of the day? Think about it. When was the last time you asked someone how he or she is doing and busy wasn’t part of his or her response? For parents especially, it seems busy has become a standard by which we are measured. In a society that values self-sacrifice and hard work over self- examination and personal growth, busy is the new Holy Grail.

Is this the messaging we want to send our children? I cringe every time a parent expresses how crazy busy he or she is. Why so busy? Are we all that ineffective at prioritizing what matters most? All of our lives have plentiful moving parts, so why state the obvious? Rosenfeld’s research suggests we may become too busy to parent intentionally. Is that why we use activities and playdates as child care? Is busy an excuse for not having time to read, think and learn? Justification for avoiding diving deep into our personal psyche and fostering curiosity in our children? I suspect that busy may be nothing more than a crutch—one that we all use.

Let’s stop using busy as some sort of status symbol. Better yet, stop using it at all. I say we abolish busy from the English language in hopes that we don’t pass our busy obsession on to our children.

Instead, let’s facilitate unscheduled downtime for our kids so they can rest, recharge and recover.

Summer is Montana’s most glorious season, one where we try to pack six months of activities into a relatively short window. Perhaps it would serve our children well if we pause before we start mapping out their entire summer. What better gift can we give them than the opportunity to enjoy a summer, as a kid, under a big sky in southwestern Montana?

Will Bozemanites ever slow down? Probably not. Will I sign my daughter up for a number of activities this summer? Without a doubt. But perhaps we can strike a balance.

This summer, let’s vow not to pass our busy obsession on to our children. Let’s let them be kids.

Michael W. Leach is a father, author, motivational speaker and rabble rousing green guy. Michael is the author of Grizzlies On My Mind: Essays of Love, Heartache and Adventure from Yellowstone Country and Be Audacious: Inspiring Your Legacy and Living a Life That Matters. His blog is basecamp for adventurous people striving to live extraordinary lives. He lives, loves and dreams with his wife and daughter in Bozeman, Montana. 

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