Focus on the gains, not the losses, that giving up some activities will provide. For example, with fewer scheduled obligations clogging their lives, the Peterschmidts added a new family tradition -- a monthly Sunday dinner with relatives. They were also able to get a new pet. "Now we can handle having a dog," says Bugs. Sometimes kids have an easier time letting go of an activity if they know it will create an opportunity for something new they've always wanted (such as a dog). So when you set about correcting your overscheduled lives, spend a little time up front thinking about the good things you and your kids will get out of it.
Start by adding a few more weekly family dinners. Make Sunday a "no scheduled-activity day." You can even take a sabbatical from stress for a whole summer.
"We all loved it," says Bugs, of her family's recent summer without schedules. "There was no fighting, rushing around, car accidents. My checkbook was in a better state. We had some spontaneity."
Even families that consciously slow their pace have crazy periods. "Anyone who says they have it all figured out, you have to be immediately suspicious," says Katrina. The Galluccio family still struggles to find "the right balance," says Teri. "It's not easy."
"Only a small minority of parents are really able to buck the tide themselves," says Doherty. "There has to be a community conversation and community-level change." Several grassroots efforts have begun. Rosenfeld launched the National Family Night Organization that advocates annual citywide, activity-free family nights.
In the Peterschmidts' Minnesota community of Wayzata, parents formed Putting Family First with Doherty's help. The group has awarded a seal of approval to family-friendly youth activities, sponsored parent discussions, and initiated an evening celebrating "dinner at home."
To help reinforce its anti-overload message, the group also sent a guidebook, "Family Consumer Guide to Kids' Activities," detailing time and financial commitments, to 4,600 local families. And it helped create less time-intensive sports options. "If there aren't any kids in them, the activities will change," says Doherty, who also helped organize a national awareness-raising event, "Take Back Your Time Day" last fall.
Bugs Peterschmidt was encouraged to find other parents eager to safeguard family time. But, she adds, "I'm careful about how much I talk about it. We're not playing the blame game." Cutting back was the right decision -- for her family.
"Our quality of life has so vastly improved that there's no way we're going to go back," she says.
Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, April 2004.