Listen, the whole life that you have been chasing in America, it’s all a lie.
The problem is, everyone believes it. Or at least on some level. Because this lie seems like the truth.
The truth is, you don’t need to enroll you kids in soccer and then race across town for music lesson, all while hoping that you remembered to plug in the crockpot at home or worse wonder if there is even time for dinner at all.
You don’t need to work this hard.
You have been told it’s worth it. That your kids need to be well-rounded, that it is good for them to have all of these experiences to build character and have friends on the team.
You’ve been told that activities and extracurricular things like after school clubs, orchestra or band and Spanish lessons will make their brain grow.
I used to believe it.
Being a musician myself, I told my kids I didn’t want them to be professional musicians, but they at least had to play something as it was good for their brain. Good for their concentration. Good for their work ethic.
Listen. This all might be true. These things might be great, but the truth is, the stress of it is not.
We are overburdening our kids with good things. And it is sucking the life force out of them.
Just a few months ago we were just like you.
On Tuesdays, while I worked, my husband dropped one son off at the advanced orchestra and then put the pedal to the metal to drop the other son off at soccer across town. As soon as the soccer boy was dropped off, he returned to the orchestra boy, picking him up only to go back to get the soccer boy who was just finishing. Oh, did I mention our 2 year old daughter was in the car and this whole process took something like 3 hours.
Our kids both chose these things, we didn’t push. In fact, we asked them many times about it as neither of us wanted to be those parents who over-schedule their kids. And it wasn’t just soccer and orchestra, band was in there too, not to mention some homework most nights
Sure they were learning new things, but at what price?
We knew the entire family’s stress level was greater than we wanted. We knew that one son needed to find his softer side while the other needed to believe in himself more. My husband and I knew that we didn’t want more years of this stress. It wasn’t good for us. It wasn’t good for anyone.
So we did what any normal family would do…
We cut the chords to everything.
We sold our house, packed our “prized” possessions into a 10×15 storage unit and embarked on a Gap Year.
Right between 5th and 6th grade. We simply pulled our twin boys out of school and excused ourselves from our regular lives for a year to reconnect, slow down and prioritize our lives. And travel.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Last night as my husband and I were going to bed our middle school boys climbed the ladder (we are currently in Australia in a garden apartment with 2 lofts) to talk. They asked for stories, they shared funny memories, asked us would-you-rather questions and laughed. And laughed. And laughed. In fact, they laughed so hard that we kicked them out of bed because we thought they might wake their little sister who was already sleeping in her crib at the foot of our bed.
But it was’t just last night that was great. It’s been every day.
At least 5 times a day, our one son says, “Mom, I am so happy. This is the best day ever. I am just so happy.”
To say he is elated is an understatement.
His bit of roughness has given way to all of the happiness and tenderness we always knew was there.
Our other son has lifted his head higher and tried new tasks where before he would have asked for help. You can see the worry and stress gone from his face.
And it isn’t just the boys.
Our daughter, who has always had a wonderful disposition, is gentler, more graceful.
I finally don’t go to bed thinking – shoot I should have done that differently today.
I go to bed with a full heart knowing that I was a happy, gentle parent that day. Every day.
I’m not kidding when I tell you that I wake up every morning saying to my husband, “Looks like another day in paradise.”
And my husband.
He is finally sleeping well. In fact, sometimes he falls asleep earlier than me, which in the past was unheard of. And if he wakes up in the middle of the night, he goes back to sleep instead of sitting there staring at the ceiling.
Now you could say that our lives are utopia now because we are living in Australia.
Yes, that’s partly it. It’s beautiful here. It’s much safer here. It’s different here. It’s an ocean away.
We knew that we wouldn’t be able to make a major life shift in our old patterns in our same house, our same city. It would be too easy to say yes to the next “good” thing. After all, we had a ton of good things going for us in our regular life.
But the truth of it is. You don’t need all of those good things.
All you need is one good thing.
Time to be a family.
Time to eat dinner together.
Time for your kids to have downtime to think.
Time to enjoy life, verses running exhausted in the rat race.
We thought that our kids might miss some things about their old life. And they do. They talk about their friends.
But when their friends were starting 6th grade this fall and our boys were starting a new life with less stress, they were relieved. They were overjoyed. They were calm. They were happy.
It’s not like they weren’t happy or calm ever before, but this right now is just on such a deeper level.
This is what life can be.
I’m not saying you have to drop everything to travel and move overseas for a bit like we did.
It’s just that before you say “yes” to the next thing, even if it sounds good, sit down as a family and talk about what matters to you most. Spend a weekend together without something on the schedule. See if it feels any different.
If you want to stay connected to your kids, especially in the teen years, don’t ignore the years when they are little. Don’t ignore the years when you think they are getting independent. Don’t ignore the fact that while all the other things seem important, what really matters is sitting down to dinner. Spending time together sharing stories and truly listening to one another. What really matters is taking time for one another, because as everyone says they grow up too fast.