Family life: The Struggle for Balance

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In the summer of 1998, I was relieved when my team lost our second game of the Montana State Legion Baseball Tournament, ending our season. It wasn’t that I didn’t like baseball. I loved it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to win. What teenager doesn’t want to win? It was that by summertime I was tired of playing baseball. From age twelve to age eighteen I had spent almost every hour of every day from spring to late summer playing baseball. I had “baseball fatigue”, and losing the tournament in ‘98 meant a rare three weeks off at the end of the summer. I was surprised that I was relieved by losing rather than sorrowful (we worked so hard to get to that tournament!), but that feeling told me I needed a break, and I was happy to have it.

Striking a balance between school, extra-curricular activities, jobs, homework, & parents’ schedules, has always been difficult for youth and families in our American culture, but that difficulty has drastically increased over the past two generations. Social scientist Dr. Chap Clark, author of Hurt 2.0 Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, remarks, “Over the past generations, innovative programs hoping to grow youth into adulthood have sprung up across the country: youth sports, music, dance, drama, and even religious youth programs. These were originally designed and structured with a common goal: to nurture emerging adolescents…. These structures eventually, however, distanced adults from the specific needs of adolescents. Fast forward to today’s environment, by the time adolescents enter high school, nearly every one has been subjected to a decade or more of adult-driven and adult-controlled programs, systems, and institutions that are primarily concerned with adults’ agendas, needs, and dreams…. What is interesting is that many adults will highlight these and other activities as proof of their commitment to the young. ‘I drive my kids to all of these activities. I sacrificed my own life, work, avocation, and enjoyment in order to take the kids to soccer games, concerts, and competitions.’” Dr. Clark then spends the rest of his book connecting the over-structured lives of America’s youth and families with increases in adolescent mental health struggles and a general loss of relational cohesiveness in American families today.

It begs the question, what are we spending our time on, and what do we hope comes from our commitments? As a parent I feel the pressure to have my children and family involved in “all the things, all the time.” My kids love sports, music, and dance, and so they’re involved in all those activities in some way. I want them to do well in school and so I encourage time on homework as necessary. As a family of faith we make time for worship and Sunday school and other church programs throughout the year. My hope is that all these commitments provide a scaffolding that supports our growth as a family. But Dr. Clark’s challenge to our over-structured culture rings true for me. Are we too busy? Are we too structured? Whose needs are all of these commitments meeting? To be honest, even before reading Dr. Clark’s book I’ve wondered, “Do I spend too much time running my kids to something rather than relating to them?” “Do we spend too much time trying to achieve something rather than simply being together?” “Am I a spectator watching my kids ‘do their thing’ or an active participant in their lives?”

In his book Dr. Clark encourages families to re-examine how we structure life together and ask some hard questions: Is this activity meeting my needs or the needs of my child? How much agenda-free downtime do we have with our children each week? How often is my child doing something that is not merit based or achievement based? How often are we in places where who we are is more important than what we produce?

These are hard questions for families to ask, but they are important questions as social scientists continue to find links between mental health struggles and over-structured, over-committed lives. I’m thankful for Dr. Clark’s insights, and I’m reminded, I’m not the victim of my family’s schedule, I’m the creator of it, and what matters is what makes us healthy, not what makes us busy. For anybody interested in learning more about creating balanced family lives, try reading Hurt 2.0 by Chap Clark in full. You won’t be disappointed.

Looking for mental health resources?

National Resources

Call or text 988 & you'll be connect with mental health professionals through the Suicide and Crisis

Lifeline

Suicide Prevention Hotline (English) 1-800-273-8255

Suicide Prevention Hotline (En Espanol) 1-888-628-9454

Regional Resources

Crisis Response of Southeast Minnesota

Phone: 1-844-CRISIS2, 1-844-274-7472

Text: “MN” to 741741

Minnesota Farm & Rural Helpline: 1-800-600-2670

Southeast Regional Crisis Center: 507-322-3019

Goodhue County Resources

Your local school Counselor or School Psychologist

The Mental Health Coalition of Goodhue County resource website: www.gccfc.org

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