The better thing
How do I manage our time, money and resources in a way that doesn't fragment our family and allows us to have our hearts at home? It's really quite simple. We choose the better thing. It sounds a lot easier than it is to do. One thing that robs all families - large and small - of time, togetherness, and money is extracurricular activities. How many families do you know that spend the majority of their free time at little league parks eating overpriced corn dogs while Mom is at one field with one child, Dad is at another field with another and baby is having to have his nap in a stroller along the third base line? How many families do you know that spend hundreds of dollars on recital dresses for their five year old's ballet and tap dancing Spring Fling? Even more extreme are parents who actually move out of state away from the other parent and the rest of the family to give their child the best coaches and lessons in some attempt to make an Olympic champion out of him or her. It can go to extremes!
What we have found is that extracurricular activities rob our family of being together. We get tired with all the running around, we spend a lot of money we shouldn't, and we don't see each other or have any time to really converse and interact with each other. Because of this, we came up with a method of evaluation for each and every activity we choose to do. This goes for long term lessons all the way down to one time play dates. First of all, what is the purpose of this activity? Is it a good and important purpose? Of what eternal value is it? What impact will it have on the family? Does it cost us time to do the things around the house we need to do? Does it cost us time we should be spending pursuing our school work? Does it cost the children energy that they won't be able to put toward other necessary responsibilities? Does it impact other family members in a negative way? (i.e. Will the baby miss his nap? Will we not have time to make dinner?) Does it meet our goals in the things we are trying to teach our children?
Here is one example of how this has worked for us. Karate Kid has a naturally compliant and passive personality. A few years ago we looked for something that he could do to help him learn perseverance and diligence as well as something that would help him gain confidence and be more assertive. We evaluated several possibilities and we decided on Karate. It didn't require a massive time commitment, it taught all the skills we wanted him to learn, it was not too expensive and the Karate school was not very far away. Karate was wonderful for him and he accomplished all his goals. He didn't absolutely love it but he did very well and earned his black belt after two years. Once he reached that goal, we stopped taking Karate. It had done for us what we had hoped and helped us work on the specific traits we were trying to develop in our son. There were several other things we could have chosen that were good... even great!... but, we chose the better thing for our family based on our goals, the cost, and the time investment required.
Another big one for us is piano lessons. Piano lessons are vitally important to our family. It is a HUGE time and money commitment. All five of our children take lessons and that translates to a five hour piano lesson marathon each Monday morning. Flibby and Miss Poppins practice for a minimum of two hours a day and the other children practice an hour. If you do the math on that you will see that our piano at home is going a minimum of seven hours a day! So, why would I spend that kind of time and money on piano lessons when I wouldn't spend that kind of time and money on gymnastics, baseball, or dance? The reason is the value of piano to our family. First of all, it is a skill they will carry for a lifetime... a skill that will never be lost. Also, it is a passion for the older children... one that they intend to continue on into their adult life and will have the opportunity to bless their families with their skills as well as countless others. Another reason is that I am a firm believer that each and every child needs to know music to some extent. It is a discipline that increases their cognitive ability, their memory skills, their hand/eye coordination, their reading ability, of course their knowledge of classical music and composers, and it does wonders for their ability to focus and concentrate! The list of benefits is large, the value lasts a lifetime, it's an avenue they use to glorify the Lord, and so it is worth the effort to make sure each of my children learns this valuable skill.
Is there anything wrong with baseball, Key Club, dance, etc.? No... these can all be good things. The question is what is the better thing? Dance class or dinner together as a family? Baseball practice or family devotions? Chess Club or running and playing with your brothers and sisters in the backyard? You have to decide for your family. Our priority is time at home to learn and play and be together. We want time to go to the park, to have story time at night, and to play Scrabble! Of course, our family devotions are a priority and nothing is allowed to interfere with that. Not that things don't come up from time to time to interrupt, but those things are infrequent and unusual. We would never let an outside activity rob us of that time. We eat dinner around our table as a family every night and we have time to really discuss and share our thoughts with each other all throughout the day! There are things we choose to do outside our home at various seasons in our family life but our criteria is strict and it takes a lot to make it through that criteria to become something in which our valuable time as a family is invested. Our hearts are at home and that's just the way it ought to be!! It works for us!
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