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Restoring our balance

If you had to think of your favorite childhood outdoor memory, what would it be?

Recently, I attended a workshop where I had to think of that question. Immediately, riding my bike came to mind. I took my bike everywhere -pool, park, friend's house, wherever!

As a younger child I didn't have the extensive programming opportunities that are currently available. We went home and played with our family and friends. We also got on our bikes and rode.

Today, things are different. There is a plethora of opportunities for our younger children before, during and after school. Children are involved in soccer, hockey, piano, Boy/Girl Scouts, baseball, football, karate, gymnastics, dance, violin, band, craft clubs, academic enrichment courses and religious youth activities, causing well intentioned parents to become "recreation directors."

For some, family life today revolves around children's activities rather than activities revolving around the family's schedule.

Traditionally, the family unit is the most important part of one's life. Children are closer to their parents and siblings as compared to any other person in the world, and as children grow, they find good friends, spouses and eventually their own kids to share their lives with.

Although time brings these changes, the importance of family remains the same. Psychologists believe that a child learns the most from his or her own family life. The way your family interacts with you has a lifelong effect on your personality and priorities.

With less time spent together, will future generations still hold the family unit with as much importance?

Parents complain about running all the time, having dinner in the car between practices, and missing out on visiting grandparents or summer vacations because of sports tournaments and specialized camps.

Though overwhelmed, we still don't think we are doing enough for our children. We know from common sense and a lot of research that extracurricular involvement is good for kids.

The issue is one of balance, and balance requires setting priorities.

How can we bring balance, free time and family back into our lives? Here are some things to think about as you schedule activities.

• What are the cherished and absolute priorities for your family? Should these priorities be on the family calendar before scheduled activities are booked?

• What do you wish your family had more time to do? What would you be willing to give up so you had more time together?

• How will family time be impacted when activities are chosen (meals, play, rest)?

• Are the activities that are scheduled things you or your kids really want to do?

Following are some strategies to finding a balance:

• Drop one activity, or reduce intensity of involvement.

• Take a break from an activity for a period of time.

• Eliminate TV and other media from activities where you want family conversation.

• Add more meals together, or have a special family night.

• Schedule a family vacation.

• Before you say yes to an activity, make sure everyone knows how much time is required.

• If you find an empty space on the calendar, leave it alone!