Frantic Family Syndrome

Does everyone in your household have so many activities and commitments that you don't have time to be a family? Here's the cure.


When thinking of today's parents, an apt metaphor seems to be that of spinning plates. The idea seems to be the more plates (activities and commitments) you have in the air, the better you are as a parent. Karate, music lessons, dance, Scouts, church group, sleepovers, language lessons: everything gets equal treatment, lest your child miss out on something beneficial.

When your peers see what a wonderful job you're doing spinning your children's plates, they begin asking you to spin the plates of various volunteer efforts. To refuse these opportunities for social advancement means being moved to the "C-list," which is the most embarrassing thing imaginable, so you simply don't say no.

That's how Frantic Family Syndrome is created. In the frantic family, no one ever stops moving. Parents spin plates all day, racing children to one activity after another, then racing themselves to one commitment after another. In the process of all this freneticism, what little time the family has together is spent recovering from all the running.

The symptoms of Frantic Family Syndrome are easy to spot:

  • The family loses its "center of gravity," its feeling of unity, which makes it susceptible to stress.
  • Episodes of exasperation, anger, and sullenness are frequent.
  • Communication problems mount, as do sibling rivalries.
  • The afflicted find it increasingly difficult to pretend they're a functioning, happy family.

There is a cure for Frantic Family Syndrome, and here's how your family can start:

  • Re-center yourselves as a family. That requires that parents recommit themselves to their top priority: nurturing the family. If you're married, you and your spouse must realize that it is your marriage that centers the family. Pay attention to it. If you're single, keep in mind that a parent who burns out in the service of children is no parent at all. In either case, pay less attention to the children and more to yourself.
  • Minimize outside commitments. Put each family member on a one-activity-per-week ration. That requires saying no both to children who want to get involved in everything and to peers who want you to serve on every committee. Yes, this does mean you may be dropped to a "C-list" or two, but is that so bad, if the trade-off is family members treating one another as "A-list?"
  • Set aside specific time for yourself and time for the family. For example, a single mom might claim Tuesday as "Mom's night out," married couples could designate Friday as "date night," and nearly every night from 8:00 p.m. onward could be time for the family to shut off the television and talk.
  • Practice saying "I love you" to one another. It's absolutely impossible to say those three words and be frantic at the same time.
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