Are You a Slave to Your Schedule?

How to keep your family's calendar under control

School's started, and suddenly your home's a drive-thru in which you grab a meal, zap it in the microwave, and race to the next carpool. Your kids are signed up for another extra-curricular activity, and you've just agreed to chair another event—along with everything else you juggle! Does this sound all-too-familiar?

If this sounds like your life, surprise: You may be a chronic overcommitter—someone who bases her identity on how much she and her kids are doing, or on how stressed she is. Stress is the new status symbol; if you're really stressed, you must be important!

My friend Molly was chairing a parent's group for her child's Christian school and had to make frequent telephone calls. One morning while she was on the phone, Molly's four-year-old son got a pair of scissors and cut the phone cord. As Molly tells it, this was her wake-up call! She realized her schedule was running her life, and she needed to just say "no" to many of the things in which she'd gotten involved.

If you, like Molly, want to reseize control of your family calendar, try these tips to help you achieve more balance in your life.

Prioritize

What should your priorities be? There are a lot of admirable activities out there competing for our time and attention. The good news is, God doesn't just plunk us down in this complicated world and expect us to guess how to navigate through all these options. He's given us clear priorities in his Word. For example, Jesus tells us we're to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. … Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).

How do you love God? First, you have to get to know him—and that involves time. My first priority is my quiet time with God—a time in which I study the Bible and pray. As autumn begins, I buy a new journal and pens, and designate a time and place to have at least 30 minutes alone with God each day.

When I get frazzled, it's usually because I've neglected my time alone with God and been too busy with other things. I get cross, frustrated, and discouraged. Then I remember Jesus' words, "Seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33). So I curl up with my Bible, tell God I'm sorry I let my commitments crowd him out, ask him to forgive me, and allow him to give me his perspective on things. And he does!

Nurture Your Marriage

Did you notice the second part of Jesus' command, "love your neighbor as yourself"? If you're married, your closest neighbor is your husband.

The husband-wife relationship takes precedence over the parent-child relationship. It's too easy to adopt the

mentality, I'll work on my marriage when life calms down. Life never calms down—so nourish your marriage friendship now.

It doesn't take expensive evenings out to build your relationship; do a simple breakfast or lunch together once a week, or take an afternoon walk. But mark it down on your calendar, or it won't happen.

Determine Family Times

If your family's schedule is already so full you seem to be ships passing in the night, you need a major readjustment! You may need to say "no" to your child joining another athletic team in order to have dinner together as a family. Ask yourself this question: Ten years from now, will this activity really matter? Will it help or detract from building family friendships?

Guard Against Peer Pressure

Most often we think peer pressure has to do with teens. But we have peer pressure, too. Usually it centers on some other mother whose kids are involved in more activities than ours—making her seem to be a better mother! So we sign up our kids for yet one more thing just to keep up with her. We buy into the myth, Whoever's child is the busiest is the best parent. Wrong! The next time a great opportunity presents itself, don't immediately say "yes." Determine the needs of your child: Is he already overcommitted? Or does he need an activity outside the family to develop social skills and confidence? What impact will this activity have on family time?

Learn to Postpone

You can't have it all or do it all in any one season in life. You may need to postpone chairing that fundraiser in order to be available to aid in homework in the evenings. You may need to take a pass on that special musical opportunity for your child. Your child may not be happy about it—but who's the parent here? When we're afraid to say "no," our children become overcommitted. It helps to remember that delay isn't denial.

Cutting out things from our schedule can be painful. But remember, more isn't necessarily better. One of the best things you can do to keep from being enslaved by your schedule is spending time alone with God—and letting him guide you in your use of time.

Susan Alexander Yates is the author of numerous books, including And Then I Had Teenagers (Baker Book House). Susan and her husband, John, have five children.

Moms Speak Out

What you had to say about taming your schedule:

With the start of every school year, I purchase a large magnetic calendar to post on our refrigerator, and use an erasable magic marker to jot in our family activities. That way, I can see at a glance every time I go to the refrigerator (with three kids, that's quite often!) how quickly our calendar's filling up. When I see too many entries, I know it's time to take stock of the things I've agreed to.

Leslie, Michigan

What works best for us is setting a limit on the number of activities our kids can join. We allow our four kids to choose one day-time and one nighttime extracurricular activity (whether it be sports, music, art, etc.). We also go away from home once a month as a family—for a weekend camping trip or an overnight at a hotel. This gives us an opportunity to relax and rethink our priorities, as well as have some family time.

Nanci, Oregon

I try to devote one day each summer specifically to a special time of prayer in which I ask God for clear direction on what he wants me to become involved in during the fall and winter months. I've found that by seeking his wisdom first, the pieces of the puzzle fall together more easily. And I'm less stressed when I have to say "no" to an opportunity that comes my way if I know that's not where God wants me to put my energies.

Cindy, Wisconsin

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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