You can mitigate against over-scheduled children (and over-scheduled adults) by setting a sane family rhythm. Our time with our children is precious. That being the case, we need to be attentive to how our time is being ordered. I recently read “Busy All the Time: Over-Scheduled Children and the Freedom of the Gospel” by Cameron Cole over at Gospel Coalition. It’s a helpful post showing how in Christ we are free from performance-driven expectations parents encounter when it comes to children’s activities. It has me thinking about how we should use our freedom as parents.
Sane family rhythm: what it is and why you need to think about it.
Musically, rhythm can be described as the placement of sound in time. There would be no dance without it. It’s vital to the beauty of music and of poetry. Biological rhythms can also be observed in nature, including in human physiology. When competitive long-distance runners (see e.g. this post) train, they seek to develop a rhythm. Developing a rhythm enables them to keep up a pace that will not only enable them to finish, but hopefully give them a shot at winning the race.
In a similar fashion, I’m convinced that family life tends to develop a rhythm, for better or for worse. Whether or not you give thought to the structures that shape this rhythm, the rhythm will be there. If that’s true we need to ask, “What structures in my family are shaping how we spend time?” We can set up the structures that will shape family life instead of allowing them to enter by default. Children, especially younger children, thrive in the context of structure. We have a few children in our family for whom it is especially critical. A sane family rhythm is a rhythm to family life that accurately reflects godly parental priorities.
Certainly, there is danger of over-structuring life. It may become so rigid as to be stifling, and we should guard against that. Kids need time to pursue their interests and to interact with friends. They need time to play and to simply be kids. When I speak of a sane family rhythm, I’m assuming there’s plenty of room for these things. Given the array of choices about how we might use the time, what should be our priorities? What does a sane family rhythm look like? It should not only avoid the pitfall of over-scheduled kids (and adults), but also guard time for children to grow in the fear and knowledge of the Lord.
Below are some structures that Jennifer and I have found helpful for something like a sane family rhythm. By no means do we claim have it all together in this area. For that reason, I really want to invite you to contribute to this discussion (I’m tempted to say: to beg you to share your insights!). I know there are some wise and experienced parents reading this blog. We could all benefit from your comments. Please take time to add your thoughts and ideas to this discussion, even if it means disagreeing with me. As you read the post, please be thinking about what you would add, and as soon as you finish reading, make a point to comment. Thanks.
Sane family rhythm begins with weekly Lord’s Day worship.
In six days the Lord created all things, and on the seventh day He rested (Genesis 2:2-3). Why did God rest? God wasn’t exhausted. He rested to establish a holy rhythm for the people He made. Unlike God, because we are creatures, we need to rest from our work. Six days we’re to do all our work, and on the seventh day we’re to keep a holy rest to the Lord (Leviticus 23:3, 24). It’s a holy rest because it isn’t mere inactivity. With Jesus’ resurrection, we now gather together with God’s people to worship Him on the first day. It sets the tone for the rest of our lives. We worship the Lord as our God.
We also enter the worship service acknowledging our dependence on our Lord for all things. We trust the Holy Spirit to use the word, the hymns and songs, the sacraments, and prayers to carry out God’s work in our lives. We come acknowledging that Christ is our life. In turn, we’re reminded that the things of this world cannot give the life for which we long. Eternal life is knowing the Triune God (John 17:3).
Corporate worship isn’t just for you, parents. It’s also for your children after you. There will be plenty of times when they won’t feel like participating. Of course, the same could be said of you. But you take them with you because you believe that there are no age restrictions to the Holy Spirit’s transforming work. You bring your children with you because you’re convinced the Lord must give them spiritual life, sanctify them, and grow their faith in Jesus. You take them with you because God has promised to work through His word read and preached, through the sacraments, and through prayer. This weekly pattern of worship orders the rhythm for the rest of the week. It is the foundational Christian practice for ordering all of life. Without a pattern of weekly worship, I believe it will be exceedingly difficult to set a sane family rhythm.
Sane family rhythm includes family worship.
Our worship isn’t limited to an hour or two one day a week. Family worship is an opportunity to give concrete shape to that conviction. Just as corporate worship sets the tone for our week, so also family worship can help set the tone for our daily lives. A wonderful potential resonance exists between corporate and family worship for us and for our children. During family worship, children learn that worship is for them, and not just for adults. Family worship provides opportunity to learn about worship, and to embrace it for themselves. What do we mean when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Why is God’s word so important? What are we saying we believe when we confess the Apostles’ Creed? They also can learn to be still, to take part in the various elements, and to sing the hymns or songs of the church you attend.
Thankfully there are an increasing number of excellent resources to help with the “how” of family worship. “The What, When, and How of Family Worship” is a great place to start, and there are several good books out there as well. My schedule as a pastor means that we sometimes have family worship in the morning, and other times in the evening. Honestly, at times we get off track, and we need to “snap back.” Because we still have very young children, we try to keep it simple. We begin by praying the Lord’s Prayer together, sometimes talking afterward about what we’re praying. We then sing a hymn, like the Gloria Patri, followed by reading and discussing God’s word. We end with a time of prayer. I would compare corporate and family worship to the skeleton that holds together the body of the family rhythm and gives it shape.
Sane family rhythm includes meals together.
We have deliberately sought to eat meals together. We’re especially jealous of supper. We recognize this commitment becomes increasingly more difficult as kids get older, but we’ll do everything in our power to preserve it. More than ever before, I’m acutely aware of the limited time we parents actually have with our kids. Eighteen years pass far more quickly than we imagine when our children are born. Cultivating the practice of eating together is a helpful anchor for making the most of the time we have. At the very least, it affords a certain amount of time in which we can all sit down together. It offers a great venue for family interaction. It’s protected time to deliberately cultivate relationship with our children. Jennifer and I have found that meals lend themselves to conversation. Meal times serve as a point of contact, a way to touch base about the happenings of life.
Sane family rhythm includes set family activities.
In the Young family, we have regular family reading time during the week. We read books aloud. It allows us to spend time together focused on the same thing. It’s also time that prevents us from being sucked into the black hole of media consumption. Indeed, as we read out loud together, we’re seeking to cultivate a lifelong value for the written word. Once a week we also have a family movie night (at least during the winter months). We regularly try to have family game times. Since some of our children are too young for games, this isn’t always easy to put into practice. But we at least try to regularly play different games with our older kids. Saturday mornings are for pancakes or waffles. Our kids look forward to it! No doubt a plethora of other possibilities exist. The point is to build into your schedule time to interact with one another.
Sane family rhythm includes family vacations.
In our family budget we set aside money each year for at least one family vacation. Our vacations aren’t necessarily elaborate, nor do they need to be. There’s something invigorating to family life by getting away together even if for only a short time. There’s something refreshing to family relationships about exploring new environments together. There’s something formative about breaking from the normal schedules and activities, and trying new things together. As many others before me have observed, family vacations tend to impress children’s memories. That is often true, even when parents perceive the vacation to be one disaster after another. In this way, vacations can help to strengthen family bonds. Such bonds are important not only for the formative years of your children, but for their entire lives.
Elite long-distance runners train to develop a running rhythm conducive to winning the race. In a like manner, we should develop our family rhythms deliberately. As Christian parents, the Lord calls us to train our children in the fear and knowledge of the Him. There are certain activities that, like so many insatiable black holes, will suck up time. Screen time is a huge one. These days you’re concerned about TV, computers, tablets, phones, and video games. Likewise, sports, the arts, and clubs hold wonderful potential for enriching and developing our kids. But they can also consume so much time that there’s little left for other things vital to our children’s maturity. Before you know it, there isn’t any time for the things you consider priorities. You will have a family rhythm, whether you set it up deliberately, or not. What structures will you put into place to make it a family rhythm that accurately reflects your priorities?