Chaotic Family Syndrome

There is a national epidemic afflicting American parents:  Chaotic Family Syndrome (CFS).  It starts around the time that their first child enters elementary school and intensifies steadily as their children get older.  In time, it takes complete control of their lives.  The symptoms?  Fatigue, tension, crankiness, and total loss of perspective.  My wife and I are suffering in spades.

The disease starts innocently enough.  When we were first married — long before we caught the bug — we imagined a family of three or four kids who would hang around the house reading, organize pick up games with the neighborhood kids, and engage in thoughtful discussions around the dinner table each night.  Our fist two children were born in 1997 and 1999 and for a long time it looked like we would be able to pull it off.  But when our oldest entered elementary school, we were exposed to a variety of opportunities.  Should we enroll her in Brownies?  Soccer?  Gymnastics?  Maybe an art class?  We have always respected “well-rounded” people and wanted her to be one of them.  And all the new friends — how stimulating!  There were birthday parties, field trips, play dates… What wasn’t to like?

Fast forward five years.  We now have four kids, three of whom are in elementary school, and we are suffering mightily from CFS.  My weekend was probably a lot like yours:  three soccer games, two birthday parties, Sunday school, lunch with their grandparents, a couple hours of swimming with friends (each of our kids invited one) at the local pool.  By the time Sunday night arrived, we were completely exhausted.  By Monday morning, I could hardly remember what we had done over the weekend.  It was a blur.

Family life in America has become chaotic, exhausting, and extraordinarily difficult for parents to manage.  Have you ever felt like selling your house, moving to a farm, and growing your own food?  Have you ever met a parent who didn’t feel completely under water most of the time?  Who has enough time to take care of themselves or pursue their own interests?  I probably have — but not more than once or twice.

CFS wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t eventually affect our kids, but it does.  I conceived SchoolPulse as a solution to this problem, the hope being to buy back a few hours of time each week by streamlining the process of managing all those children’s activities.  Consolidating all those schedules, permission slips, and discussions in one place will certainly help, but none of us will ever be cured of CFS unless we are willing to admit that our lives are out of control and rationalize the number of activities in which our kids are involved.  A little more downtime, a little less stress, a little more family time would be healthier for all of us… and for our kids.

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5 Responses to Chaotic Family Syndrome

  1. DVC says:

    Paul, thanks for pointing out the Frantic Family book – was just talking about one his books last week – but what totally weirds me out is that he (author Lencioni) uses my husband’s/kid’s not-so-common last name for the fabled frantic family. Does he, um, live around here?

  2. DVC says:

    LOL a garbled message from a frantic family member – how appropriate. Please start reading above at the 6th word – THANKS for pointing out…

  3. Nancy West says:

    I hear parents talk about this all the time, and I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about it. First of all, let’s agree in all fairness it’s a lament of the privileged. (By which I mean all of us, John — not you personally.) But moreover, when it comes to soccer, Boy Scouts, dance class, etc. etc., kids can’t access and fill out the registration forms themselves, and they certainly can’t write the checks themselves. Kids do the activities their parents agree to let them do.

    And from my observations, parents sometimes don’t make the best choices. For example, here in Concord/Carlisle and I imagine elsewhere as well, kids 8 and older can choose between in-town soccer and travel soccer. Why does it seem like ten times as many kids do travel soccer? Do the parents not realize that it involves, by definition, more travel time? My son, who is 9, was given the choice of which to sign up for and said “Well, I like soccer but I don’t love it, and I’m okay at it but not great, so I’m going to do in-town because all the really competitive kids do travel soccer.” I said, “Good, because that means all your games are either here or one town over.” But he is literally one of the two fourth graders on his entire 10-member team — all the rest opted for the more competitive league, the one with all the driving around, and their parents are the ones complaining about their schedules.

    The birthday parties and playdates are a different issue, since those aren’t activities we sign up for. I don’t mean to suggest that parents should turn down birthday party invitations on behalf of a child just because the parents are tired of having a busy schedule. But I’ve also learned that from the ages of about 4-7, it’s typical for each kid to invite every kid in the class, and then as they get older they have smaller and more specialized parties. If your kid happens to always be on everyone’s guest list, it could still add up to a lot of parties — but then again, it’s always nice to be in demand!

    But one other point I’d like to make is that a lot of what wears down us parents is simply the driving. My family happens to live in a location where we can walk to a lot of the kids’ activities. I realize most families aren’t going to move just because their kids have a lot of soccer games, but I do think it’s worth acknowledging as a factor. When I walk my kids to an activity, it doesn’t seem like nearly so much of a chore to get them there — it just seems like a nice chance to be outside for a little while. (Of course, exercise is well documented as a stress reducer, so I guess that makes sense.) If this chaotic situation continues to prevail societally, I really do believe that couples will start putting more of a priority on living in “walking towns” or downtown neighborhoods just for this reason — to avoid the syndrome of chauffering kids all day long.

    And finally, one last point…in choosing the activities our kids may sign up for, my husband and I prioritize those organized by their school (Scrabble group, drama club, school sports, school band, etc.) because generally those take place immediately after school on campus, so the kids can go straight there from class and the parents don’t need to be involved until pickup time rather than both ways.

    So I guess my very long-winded conclusion is this: yes, schedules get busy, but parents need to be aware of the choices they are making as well.

  4. janice says:

    I really think that the school world is causing more harm that education. What happened to PE and recess for the kids. I was in sports also but it was done during school hours. Is was a requirement to graduate. I was strong and fit and now kids are headlight stare kids. They are overwhelmed on getting the right things done that they forget to be just a kid. Run and play is a must for our growing children. they need this for mind and body it isn’t a selective it should be a requirement that kids get out and do activity several times a day. They would be less bullies and scared kids if they would just get out and play, runn off the excess energy then their minds would be able to learn more and it stick.

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