Sara and Jonathan Emanuel have five children between the ages of 3 and 13. At one point, their kids participated in cheer, dance, baseball, swim, tennis, Indian Princess and Girl Scouts.
“In our home with children involved in this many activities, not to mention school and church youth group, we never had a moment that wasn’t filled,” says Sara. “I got to a point a couple of years ago where I hit a wall and didn’t want to do anything because I was so overwhelmed. I felt like I was being hit, rolled and turned like waves on the beach.”
Sara and Jonathan began seriously discussing some much-needed changes. Close examination made them realize they were neglecting the things they believed were most important.
“We wanted to recalibrate our family, which meant some big changes,” Sara says. “We made the decision to homeschool for a period of time – we also decided to pull back from all of the activities. For our family, it was probably the best decision we have made.”
Because Jonathan has job flexibility to work while traveling, the Emanuels decided to head out for an extended summer trip.
“Three years ago, we took our camper and drove to the furthest southern point of the Keys and stayed for a month,” Sara says. “We camped, cracked coconuts, biked all over the place and stopped at every place on the way there and back we thought would be interesting for the kids. We were studying biology and marine life so it was perfect. Lots of museums and other places to visit that fed right into what they were learning. The kids didn’t have Wi-Fi most of the time, which provided a welcome break from electronics. They read books and played board games purchased from McKays. I am pretty positive I played Go Fish 1000 times in one week that summer.”
Last year the family camped all around the Ozarks for three weeks. This year they had planned to go to Canada, but had issues with the camper. After a quick fix, they will head to Washington D.C., instead. They plan to visit historical sites and camp in the Virginia mountains for several weeks along the way.
“It was a very tough decision to pull back, but if we had it to do over, we would definitely make the same decision,” Sara says. “I went from an attitude of ‘as long as my kids are breathing and aren’t hungry then I have done my job’ to long walks with them where they asked thought-provoking questions. The stress level in our family went down tenfold and the fighting between our kids diminished significantly.”
The Emanuels realize this wouldn’t work for everybody. They do believe, however, it has made them purposefully examine their family’s activities. Instead of doing what everybody else was doing, stepping back helped their family remember what really matters to them.
“Both my husband and I came to the realization that once this time with our kids is gone, it’s gone,” Sara shares. “You can’t be afraid to do what is in the best interest of your family – no matter what everybody else thinks. Instead of being exhausted all the time, we are more engaged with our kids. Jonathan takes two of our kids to weekly boxing lessons and that’s something the three of them do together. Sometimes we head out to the lake to throw the football and wander around. I love that we are not ‘go, go, go’ all the time. Both of us see a huge difference in how we communicate with each other and the amount of play that actually goes on. It feels like we are all more loving toward each other.”
In his book, Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times, Dr. William Doherty says that while families have pursued worthwhile activities for their children, they have lost family time. Without consciously focusing on maintaining internal bonds, choices lead to hyperactive, emotionally-depleted families. He encourages parents to make family time and family activities a high priority.
When the Emanuels were courageous enough to step back, they discovered what they were missing. Is your family missing out, too?