8 Ways to Celebrate the Empty Nest

When your identity has been wrapped up in parenting, it can be hard to regain your footing.

The house is SO quiet and your heart feels a bit heavy. You have definitely shed some tears. You have also stayed awake wondering if you prepared them well to be successful out on their own. Now you consider what you will do with so much extra time on your hands.

While grieving what is no more is certainly appropriate, there is also cause for celebrating the empty nest.

Although you may not feel like it, your first move should be to celebrate your accomplishment. You have spent years of your life focused on preparing your children to launch. Now you actually have time to breathe and celebrate!

Parents who have successfully made the leap to the empty nest don’t deny that the first few weeks and sometimes months are a bit tricky. But over time, they eventually found their groove and embraced a new normal. About six months into the empty nest, one parent stated, “If people knew how amazing the empty nest is, they would never divorce.”

In spite of the emptiness you may feel at the moment, here are some reasons to celebrate the empty nest:

  • You can purchase groceries and open the refrigerator door two days later to find you still have food. Or, you can decide you aren’t cooking another meal because you don’t have to.

  • Instead of having to search for your shoes, scissors or tools, they will be where you put them the last time you used them.

  • Walking around the house naked is perfectly acceptable. An empty-nester said one of their favorite things about this season was being able to get their morning coffee in the buff with no worries about who would see them.

  • If you decide you want to go to bed at 8:30, there is nothing stopping you. Seriously, many parents talk about feeling exhausted after so many years of being on the go. Allow yourself some extra shuteye. How much better you feel after a few good nights of solid rest might surprise you.

  • You clean your house and it actually stays clean for more than a few hours.

  • Vacations in the off-season are now a possibility.

  • After years of feeling like you are ships passing in the night, you can reconnect with your spouse. If you are single, you have time to pamper yourself without feeling guilty about it.

  • Instead of always focusing on everybody else’s needs, you can consider your own needs and how you would like to spend your time. Perhaps you want to head back to school, change jobs or volunteer with a group you have had no time to work with until now.

While there are many reasons to celebrate the empty nest, don’t let it shock you if embracing them early on is a challenge.

When your identity has been wrapped up in parenting for at least 18 years, it can be difficult to regain your footing. Don’t be embarrassed about talking with those who are further along or asking for their support.

And, if you are thinking, “But I actually enjoyed cooking for everybody and I kind of miss searching for things. It feels odd not to be needed,” that’s okay. Your kids still need you, but in a different way. Plus, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to cook and clean whenever they come home to visit, or down the road when grandchildren arrive. You can invite your family over whenever you want. On the other hand, you might decide to visit them instead – if your new schedule will allow it.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

A Dad’s Letter to His Daughter

You can make sure your daughter knows what true beauty is.

One October, Kelly Flanagan’s friend texted him while walking down the makeup aisle to pick something up for his wife. The text said, “Expectations on this aisle are oppressive.”

“That text was unsettling to me,” says Dr. Flanagan, husband, dad and clinical psychologist. “I think it was the combination of having a 4-year-old daughter, and a wife who is very conscious of the media’s influence on young women that made my radar go up. I knew I couldn’t remain silent.

“In my practice I see far too many women, young and old, who believe their worth is wrapped up in the way they look. It is painful to observe what these kinds of messages do to a woman’s self-esteem.”

So, Flanagan traveled to the makeup aisle and the messaging blew him away. The cosmetics industry uses really good words to sell products. Words like: Affordably Gorgeous, Infallible, Flawless Finish, Go Nude, Natural Beauty and Nearly Naked. Flanagan noticed that these words create an unattainable standard for women. Eventually, they inspired a letter to his daughter, which he wrote while sitting in the makeup aisle. The letter clearly resonated with people, as it went viral shortly after he posted it on his blog, Untangled.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Dear Little One,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the makeup aisle of Target … When you have a daughter, you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house – a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won’t see her that way. They’ll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they’ll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence…

“I wrote the letter because I wanted her to know that her worth is not connected to what she does or the way she looks,” Flanagan says. “That kind of thinking is a formula for shame – the experience of believing you are not worthy enough or that success depends on what you do. I wanted my daughter to clearly understand that there was nothing she could do that would make her mom or dad love her more or less.”

Research consistently shows that fathers do influence their daughters and how they view themselves.

Father involvement in the life of a daughter will help prepare her to catch the lies that culture teaches about how to be confident and beautiful,” Flanagan says. “The unconditional, intentional love of a father teaches his daughter that true beauty is on the inside, in her heart. Knowing this from an early age will help overpower the messages she will receive out in the world.”

… Words do have power and maybe, just maybe, the words of a father can begin to compete with the words of the world.  Maybe a father’s words can deliver his daughter through this gauntlet of institutionalized shame and into a deep, unshakable sense of her own worthiness and beauty … I pray that three words will remain more important to you … Where are you the most beautiful? On the inside.

Teen Sex and the Brain

A teen's choices can impact them more than they realize.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether teen sex is really harmful over time.

Drs. Joe McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush wrote Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children. They say that casual sex during the teen and young adult years affects bonding later in life.

Imagine sticking some clear shipping tape to your sweater to remove lint. The first time you pull it off, it grabs fuzz and some hair. It’s still a little sticky, so you continue to use it. But eventually, the tape loses its stickiness.

Similarly, research indicates that sexual activity and having multiple partners hinders the ability to develop healthy, mature, and long-lasting relationships.

What does teen sex have to do with brain development? Probably more than you realize.

  • The prefrontal cortex is still developing until the mid-20s. This part of the brain is responsible for setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies, and controlling impulses. It also initiates appropriate and moral behavior.
  • During the teen years, sexual activity triggers chemical reactions within the brain that help shape it.
  • This brain transformation has a huge physical and psychological impact on all things sexual. A person’s decision-making ability, which comes from the highest center of the brain, can lead to the most rewarding sexual behavior. That is, unless premature and unwise sexual behavior during adolescence damages the brain’s formation for healthy decision-making.

Additionally, the authors sound the alarm concerning an apparent relationship between teen sexual activity and depression. 

Studies indicate that:

  • Sexually-active teens are three times are more likely to experience depression than their abstinent peers.
  • Sexually-active girls were three times more likely to have attempted suicide*.
  • Sexually-active boys were seven times more likely to have attempted suicide than their virgin friends.

McIlhaney and Bush say that parents play a critical role in helping teens develop in a healthy way.

  • Surveys consistently show that teens primarily look to their parents’ advice about sex. Structure, guidance, and discipline from caring adults can positively mold the adolescent brain.
  • Teens need parental support as they take healthy risks, like learning to drive, trying out for sports, or going off to college. Activities like these help young people separate from their parents and grow as individuals.
  • If parents or other caring adults don’t guide their teens, their poor choices can negatively impact their future.

Although it may be complicated and uncomfortable, you can prepare your child for some genuine threats to their well-being. (For example, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, and the emotional baggage of seeking to bond with multiple sex partners.) Taking these issues seriously and keeping the lines of communication open are essential to healthy relationships in the future.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours

Sometimes a dose of reality discipline is all you need.

Your child reaches for a candy bar at the checkout counter and you say, “No.” He proceeds to throw a tantrum. Do you:

A.  Plead with him to stop?

B. Step over him and walk away?

C. Buy him the candy bar so he will stop embarrassing you in public?

Your child looks at you with disgust, rolls her eyes and says, “You can’t tell me what to do.” Then she turns on the television to tune you out. Do you:

A. Send her to her room?

B. Leave the room for a minute to get yourself together in preparation for dealing with the situation?

C. Ignore the behavior?

It is 7:00 a.m. You go in to wake your son for the third time. He growls at you and refuses to get up. Do you:

A. Go in and physically get him out of the bed?

B. Turn up the radio so loud he can’t possibly sleep through it?

C. Remove yourself from the situation and let him sleep?

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably encountered at least one of these situations and have been confused about the best way to discipline your child.

According to Dr. Kevin Leman, author and parenting expert, we have arrived at a place in history where American families have become child-centered. American parents have become permissive and democratic, and American children have become spoiled, sassy and out of control. In response to each of the situations above, Leman would say that all of these children need a healthy dose of “reality discipline.”

Many of today’s popular sitcoms and commercials portray children in adult roles with little respect for their parents. The parents (on the other hand) are shown as ignorant, out of touch with the culture, dumb and not smart enough to raise a child. Innocent and comical as it may appear, this role reversal seems to encourage children to be disrespectful to their parents and other adults, discounting their authority and understanding about life issues.

If a child wants to do something and their parents say no, they just sneak around their backs and do it anyway. Instead of earning money to buy new shoes, many teens believe their parents should foot the bill. The idea of doing chores around the house without being paid is often referred to by many young people as unfair and beyond the call of duty.

Leman believes that allowing young people to operate in this manner is not preparing them for the real world.

“There are certain realities by which children are going to have to live their adult lives,” said Leman. “The sooner we, as parents, start teaching what I refer to as the rules of the game, the better.”

Six Rules to Raise Your Children By

1.  You’re never going to be the center of everyone’s attention—not for long at least. This means that children should not be the center of attention in their families. Parents should be the center of attention.

2.  Everyone must obey a higher authority. Therefore, parents should expect children to obey, not hope that they will obey.

3.  Everyone is expected to be a contributing member of society. Too many children constantly take from their families without ever giving back. Leman suggests parents ask themselves if their children are ever expected to perform routine chores around the home for which they are not paid. The only acceptable answer is yes, according to Leman.

4.  Everyone is responsible for his or her own behavior. A child who does something bad ought to feel bad about it. Too often parents feel bad when a child does something wrong. Why should a child accept responsibility for his own behavior if someone else does it for him?

5.  You can’t always get what you want. And what you do get, you get by working and waiting. Children should receive the things they need and a conservative amount of the things they want. More children need to hear the word no.

6.  You experience happiness, which is the elixir of success, in direct proportion to how sensitive to and considerate you are of others. Self-centeredness and unhappiness go hand in hand.

Applying the Six Rules Using Reality Discipline

Although most parents can see value in raising their children by these rules, the real challenge comes in trying to put them into action. In his book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, Leman gives parents specific ways to use their authority correctly as they bring up obedient children with loving discipline. It is called reality discipline.

The key to reality discipline lies in the answers to these three questions.

How do I:

  • Love my children?

  • Respect my children?

  • Hold my children accountable?

“In order for reality discipline to work the first thing that must happen is the child must feel loved,” Leman said. “Reality discipline uses guidance and action-oriented techniques. Action-oriented discipline is based on the reality that there are times when you have to pull the rug out and let the little buzzards tumble. I mean disciplining your children in such a way that he/she accepts responsibility and learns accountability for his actions. Children expect adults to discipline them. If the discipline is loving, it will be geared toward instruction, teaching and guiding.”

Finding Middle Ground in Making Children Mind

It takes time to raise a child to be a responsible citizen. Leman believes there are far too many households in America where children do not feel loved. Many parents have either chosen to parent from an authoritarian or permissive stance.

The authoritarian parent: makes all decisions for the child, uses reward and punishment to control their child’s behavior, sees himself as better than the child and runs the home with an iron hand, granting little freedom to the child.

The permissive parent on the other hand, is a slave to the child; places priority on the child, not on his/her spouse; robs the child of self-respect and self-confidence by doing things for him that the child can do for himself; provides the child with the “Disneyland” experience; and/or makes things as easy as possible with inconsistent parenting.

Both of these parenting styles set the stage for anger and rebellion in the child.

“I believe there is middle ground between authoritarian and permissive,” Leman said. “It is being authoritative. Authoritative parents do not dominate their children and make all decisions for them. They use the principles of reality discipline, which are tailor-made to give children the loving correction and training they need.”

Parents who use the authoritative approach:

  • give the child choices and formulate guidelines with him/her;

  • provide the child with decision-making opportunities;

  • develop consistent loving discipline;

  • hold the child accountable;

  • let reality be the teacher and convey respect, self-worth and love to the child and therefore enhance the child’s self-esteem.

Authoritative Discipline Involves at Least Three Things:

  • Discipline by way of action – the discipline should be swift, direct, effective and as closely tied to the violations as possible. For example, you have told your child it is time to get in bed. Your child is blocking with all kinds of stalling tactics. Reality discipline says that you don’t argue or negotiate. You simply state – “If you don’t go to bed on time your bedtime will be even earlier for the next three nights,” or “Don’t go to bed on time and give up your favorite TV show for a week.” Be pleasant, but do not waver or hesitate and make sure you follow through on exactly what you said you would do.

  • Parents must listen to their children – There is great power in listening, but few of us tap that source of power. Really listening to your children helps you understand where they are coming from and what they are thinking. It allows you to make better decisions when it comes to discipline.

  • Parents should give themselves to their children – Giving of yourself (not things) to your children is an essential ingredient for effective discipline. The simple truth is children want their parents. They want our time.

Understanding Your Child’s Reality 

According to Leman, reality discipline has an “eye of the beholder” element. One of your major goals in using this type of discipline is to help your child think and learn. In order to be successful, you have to understand what reality is for your child. It is what your child thinks that counts. Your child’s reality includes extracurricular activities, favorite television shows, privileges like staying up late, etc. Your child’s perception of what is happening is the reality you must deal with.

For example, if you find your child throwing a temper tantrum in the checkout line, understand that their goal is to get your attention and ultimately for you to break down and buy the candy bar. Leman would suggest that you calmly step OVER the child and walk away – not out of viewing range, but far enough away that you are no longer an audience for the show. When there is no audience, the show stops.

What Sets Reality Discipline Apart?

Reality discipline has distinctive characteristics that need to be practiced in every home where children live, claims Leman.

“Parents should never seek to punish, but to discipline, train and teach,” Leman said. “If ‘punishment,’ pain or some kind of consequence is involved, the parent is not doing it or causing it – reality is. This directly connects to the six rules and learning how the real world works. If your child is refusing to get up and go to school, stop being the human alarm clock and let them face the consequences of being late to school. Reality discipline helps parents avoid inconsistent wandering between authoritarianism and permissiveness. It is the best system for teaching accountability and responsibility in a way that it will stick and it is your best bet for avoiding what I call the ‘Super Parent Syndrome.’”

Avoid the Super Parent Syndrome  

Even when parents are using the reality discipline concept, it is possible to fall into the trap of being a “super-parent.”

Dr. Leman believes there are four kinds of faulty reasoning that parents need to avoid if they want to make children mind:

  • I own my children – Reality discipline reminds parents that the goal is not to own or keep children, it is to help them learn to be responsible and accountable persons in their own right.

  • I am judge and jury – Although we have authority over our children, we should always use it with tender, loving fairness.

  • My children can’t fail – Children should fail on occasion because failure is good for them. Home should be a place where children can learn more about themselves. It should be a place where children can make mistakes as they try out things they have decided on their own. Parents should not interpret their child’s failures as a direct reflection on them.

  • I am the boss – what I say goes. There are many situations where a parent knows what a child should do because the parent has been down that road before. Reality discipline, however, helps you guide your child without dominating him and making decisions for him.

What Reality Disciplinarians Do

Your mission, should you choose to accept it as reality disciplinarian, includes:

  • Being consistent, decisive and respectful of your children as persons.

  • Using guidance rather than force, but being action-oriented and not satisfied to just use words.

  • Holding your children accountable for their actions, whatever those actions are, and to help your children learn from experience.

  • Realizing that parents are the most important teachers your children can ever have.

There are no 100 percent guarantees when it comes to any single style of parenting. Every child has his/her unique personality and needs. The foundations for reality discipline are based on really knowing and understanding your child.

Will the strategies work all the time? No.

Will there be times when you are ready to throw up your hands in total frustration and resign from your job as parent? Probably.

But, if your goal is to raise healthy, responsible children, the best strategy is to keep working your discipline plan.

Nine Ways to be Your Child’s Best Friend

1.  The discipline should always fit the infraction.

2. Never beat or bully your child into submission.

3.  Use action-oriented methods whenever possible.

4.  Always try to be consistent.

5.  Emphasize the need for order.

6.  Always require your child to be accountable and responsible for his or her own actions.

7.  Always communicate love to your child even though their behavior may have been irresponsible.

8.  Always give your child choices that reinforce cooperation but not competition.

9.  If you choose to spank your child (many parents don’t), it should be done when you are in control of your emotions.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

You might be the parent of adult children if you:

  • Still pay their car insurance because your name is on the car title.
  • Have paid for a new tire because they don’t have any money to pay for it. Besides, it’s their only way to get back and forth to work.
  • Have argued with them about how much they eat out and they do not understand your concern.
  • Still pay their cell phone bill because they are part of the “family plan.”
  • Saw them really struggling with something and, although you wanted to step in and help, you didn’t.

The parents who tell their adult children once they have a job, “Congratulations, you are officially off the payroll! Good luck!” are probably in the minority. Many of today’s parents seem to struggle with letting their kids experience the ups and downs of self-sufficiency.

Are parents too quick to come to the rescue? Are we too accessible today?

Allison Bottke’s challenges with her own adult son led her to write Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children. After years of being her son’s failsafe, she realized she wasn’t helping him.

“I looked at what was happening around me and came to the conclusion this really isn’t about my son, it’s about me,” says Bottke. “Instead of focusing on what I thought he needed to do, I really needed to focus on changes I needed to make. The steps I came up with led to the acronym – SANITY, which I had a lot more of when I implemented the steps.”

Here’s what SANITY means:

  • Stop: We need to change how we respond to our kids. Don’t try to change them. Stop the money flow. End our own negative behavior. “For so long we were in the midst of drama, chaos and crisis,” Bottke says. “I had to stop letting my son push my buttons and I needed to stop accepting the consequences for his behavior.”
  • Assemble supportive people: Find other people who are experiencing this or who have adult children and have already been down this road. Enlist their support. It is powerful to know you are not the only one.
  • Nip excuses in the bud: It is easy to let excuses coax you into doing things you would not typically do.
  • Implement rules and boundaries: Make a plan, implement it and stick to it. Meet with your young adult and share the plan. Explain to them that, as of this date, you are no longer going to support them financially. Clearly, if you have been participating in this behavior for a while, giving them a timeline with specific dates to work off of is helpful and is an excellent teaching tool.
  • Trust your instincts: If your gut or your intuition is telling you something isn’t right or you shouldn’t be doing this – trust your gut. “For me this meant getting in touch with my own life and fixing the messy person in my life – me,” Bottke says.
  • Yield everything: There is a plan for your child’s life and you do not control it. Swooping in and trying to fix it hinders their ability to learn and grow. Love them and support them, but don’t enable them.

According to Bottke, this is easier said than done.

Although it took some time, Bottke says that letting go was very freeing and the right thing to do. Her son has had to face some difficult circumstances, and she is the first to admit it is sometimes hard to sit on the sidelines. But since she has gotten out of the way her son is doing better. Their relationship has improved and she feels better about who she is as a person – and as a parent.

Image from Unsplash.com

The Importance of Positive Male Role Models

Everyone can help to make sure kids have the role models they need.

Many boys today don’t know what it means to be a man, and it’s often because they don’t have a man in their lives. So many children will go to bed tonight without saying goodnight to their father because he just isn’t there. Dad may work a lot, be deployed, or be distracted and uninvolved. He could be living somewhere else, have another family or not be in the picture at all. Whatever the situation, research shows that having a positive male role model is vital for child development.

Check this out:

  • Nearly one-fourth of America’s children live in mother-only families.
  • Of the children living with their mothers, 35 percent never see their father. 
  • 24 percent of kids who live with their moms see their fathers less than once a month.
  • Even in homes where the father is present, research shows that the average father spends less than 10 minutes a day one-on-one with his child. 

More than likely, women teach them at school and at home. 

So, where do they see and interact with positive male role models? 

Or, how do the boys learn what it means to be a man? Television? Movies? On the street? 

In our society, emotional and spiritual fatherlessness is becoming the norm. Many of today’s fathers didn’t have positive role models to show them how to be a father, either. As a result, they may be repeating the cycle of the absent father.

Irrefutable research shows that mothers are typically nurturing, soft, gentle, comforting, protective and emotional. Fathers, however, tend to encourage risk-taking and be challenging, prodding, loud, playful and physical. Children need a balance of protection and reasonable risk-taking.

Positive male role models have an excellent opportunity to step in and fill any void that exists.

In fact, doing so can help these children without positive male role models in so many ways. For instance, when Dad isn’t around, children are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, sexual activity, do poorer in school and participate in harmful activities.

Studies have shown that a father’s involvement or a positive male role model profoundly affects children. Father-child interaction promotes a child’s physical well-being, perceptual ability and competency for relating with others. Furthermore, these children demonstrate a greater ability to take initiative and evidence self-control.

The good news is that everyone can promote positive male role model involvement!

How can you make a positive difference for these children? 

  • Mom, you can encourage positive male role model involvement in your child’s life.
  • Non-custodial dad, you can make an effort to visit with your children more often and be intentional about teaching them important life lessons.
  • Educators can encourage fathers to be more active in the classroom.
  • Men can influence kids in your community by being the positive male role model they need.
  • Faith-based institutions and programs can bring fathers together with their children and encourage men to engage children in their sphere of influence.
  • Business leaders can encourage employee involvement in community efforts with children. For example, you can promote mentoring with organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, youth groups, Boys Club or Girls, Inc.

Every child needs someone who is absolutely crazy about them. What can you do to make sure they what they need?

In 2014, NBA superstar LeBron James posted a picture of himself, and an open letter to his father, on Instagram:

“Like wow dad, you know what, I don’t know you, I have no idea who you are but because of you is part of the reason who I am today. The fuel that I use — you not being there — it’s part of the reason I grew up to become who I am. It’s part of the reason why I want to be hands on with my endeavors … So me in a position allowing people around me to grow that maybe wouldn’t have happened if I had two parents, two sisters, a dog and a picket fence, you know?”

His Instagram comment: “Because of you Pops! Thanks all along. Could have said why me with u not being there but look what I made of myself.”

In spite of the “thanks,” reading between the lines one could hear sarcasm, pain and anger about his father’s absence.

“I can so identify with where LeBron is coming from,” says Kenneth Braswell, executive director of Fathers Incorporated. “I am a black man whose pent-up rage for my absent father drove me to do what I believed to be the right thing, for the right reason and with the right justification. Then I found out it was all wrong.”

Braswell believes, and research concurs, that there are hundreds of thousands of boys and men in America harboring pain and anger as a result of father absence.

“The biggest lesson I have learned in life about my anger towards my father is: The more anger towards the past that I carry in my heart, the less capable I am of loving in the present,” says Braswell. “It is essential that fatherless sons are supported in multiple ways to address our pain and anger appropriately so we can be positive male role models for all children.”

Braswell wants to help people deal with the pain and anger they feel. He offers these words of advice to those growing up without their father:

  • Acknowledge the anger. Many males put forth a tough exterior, but on the inside the anger is raging. Acknowledge it.
  • Embrace forgiveness. It takes a strong person to forgive someone they don’t feel deserves their forgiveness. When you don’t forgive, you allow pain to reside in your heart. Forgiveness gives the benefit of understanding and closure.
  • Embrace your heart. When you embrace your heart, you want to release anything that causes pain. The only way to do that is through love. You cannot do it through hate.
  • Communicate through transparency. You have to find a way to communicate your feelings, not just express them. A lot of what fatherless guys deal with is a result of not wanting to talk about what is happening on the inside. This really isn’t about the other person, it is about you releasing yourself in order to grow.

“My goal is to be a positive role model for my son and other children,” Braswell says. “Every now and then, I felt like I had to tell the world I was OK.  And, that my father was insignificant in my life in order to suppress the fact that his absence was extremely significant in my life.

“I will never be able to offer the world my best based on the hatred of another.  Especially not the hatred of my father.”

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 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 McKay’s. 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?