Question: Now that my kids are finally back to "real" school, they want to participate in EVERYTHING. We're already drowning in extracurricular activities. How much is too much? Can you suggest any practical guidelines?
Jim: No doubt about it, stress from excessive organized activity can have a negative impact on family life -- and even be counterproductive toward a happy and healthy childhood. Kids need plenty of time, space and leisure to develop their creativity and imagination. While every household is different, I'd suggest that in general, elementary- and middle school-age kids shouldn't take on more than one extracurricular activity per school term.
In evaluating each commitment, start by asking some basic questions about the time involved. How many afternoons/evenings per week is your child participating? How many weekends each month are filled? How many overlapping schedules are you juggling? If the numbers are too high, you might consider making some cuts.
Meanwhile, I'd challenge you to ask yourself some hard questions about the motives behind the busyness. Is it really about your children's best interests? Or is the push to achieve driven by your own issues? We're all vulnerable to negative motives like parental pride, insecurity or desires to compensate for our own unrealized achievements. Unchecked, these underlying factors can seriously damage your child's self-image and the dynamics of your family interactions.
On the positive side, I'd encourage you to strive for balance. A certain amount of "stretching" can be good, but always consider each individual family member's unique needs and capabilities. Watch for telltale signs that your kids are being pushed beyond their limits -- depression, irritability, emotional withdrawal and physical symptoms like stomach pain. If you see any of these red flags, make the needed adjustments right away.
Finally, specifically regarding athletics, I'd highly recommend the book "Overplayed: A Parent's Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports" by David King and Margot Starbuck.
Question: I love my wife and want to honor her. But sometimes she's incredibly rude and unkind to me, our kids, and even family and friends. How can I honor her when she's behaving badly?
Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president, Marriage & Family Formation: Admittedly, it's a lot easier to honor one's spouse when we're happy and the relationship is peachy. But we've all been guilty of unkind and selfish behavior. The key is how we respond to our spouse when we're on the receiving end. Here's an approach I've found helpful.
Separate the person from the behavior. As someone created in God's image, your wife has value and is worthy of honor regardless of her behavior.
Recognize that your wife's behavior impacts your perception of her. It's all too easy to "switch lenses" when you're frequently hurt or frustrated by her. Consequently, you may be tempted to see everything through a lens that accentuates the negative and eliminates the positive. Psychologists call this "confirmation bias." The remedy is to flip the lens and begin actively looking for the positives.
Consider how you might be distorting the problem. Is it possible that you have a hot button, a pet peeve, an old wound or an issue in your past that makes a particular behavior loom large in your mind?
Finally, confront the negative behavior -- not the person -- using healthy conflict-resolution tools. It's critical to do this in a spirit of honesty and humility versus anger and pride. Ultimately, this is how you honor her.
For help on navigating conflict in a respectful, appropriate and effective way, I'd humbly suggest my book "Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage." You can also call our counselors at 855-771-HELP (4357).