Globe Syndicate

for release December 7, 2001

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Surviving Pre-holiday Busyness as a Family

I wanted to write about busyness in the hectic pre-holiday weeks, but I couldn't find the time.

Seriously, I am on the run even more than usual (well, I've been saying this for 25 years I suppose) but somehow things usually manage to come together, even if I have to cut corners sometimes. Somehow it helps to keep perspective when we realize how few years our children are at home in this busy stage of life.

We can catch TV shows in reruns, but no one I know has ever been able to do a rerun of their child's life. Or even an instant replay. You can capture your kids' football games, recitals, and basketball games on video -- a good option when you absolutely positively can't be there -- but no one has ever been able to come up with a good substitute for a beaming parent's face shining at a child from the audience. My oldest daughter used to say her favorite part of programs or recitals was coming out afterwards and being greeted by proud parents.

However, all of those ball games, programs and recitals can sometimes add up to too much of a good thing. A married couple, Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen and David Allen Sorensen, have written a helpful book, Escaping The Family Time Trap: A Practical Guide For Over-Busy Families (Augsburg, 2001).

The Sorensens had run their family computer for about three years and started getting a handful of recurring troubles, such as little glitches and even full-blown crashes. They were urged to get software that would diagnose their computer's problems.

The "Disk Doctor" took a long time going through the computer and reading the degree of damage that had occurred on their hard drive. Finally it announced its verdict: "severe fragmentation."

They thought this was fitting not only for their computer but a good analogy for many of our families today. All in the name of good, educational involvements, somewhere along the line we end up overscheduled, burned out, and without joy. The "cure" for severe fragmentation is slowing down and pausing to reconnect.

The author of another book, Mommy-CEO (Martin-Ola Press) reminds parents, "Don't forget the little things that help us keep priorities in line." Author Jodie Lynn urges parents to stop, look and listen, as in, when your children talk to you, stop what you are doing, look at them, and really listen. Listen between the lines, for what they don't say, too. You can miss subtle clues if you keep right on stirring the soup, or don't look up from the paper or TV. In these days of multitasking, it's a real temptation to keep typing on the computer while carrying on a conversation with your child or spouse. While some people may not mind, it usually makes people-especially children -- feel good when you pay them your full attention.

I was so pleased when waiting in line at a floral shop recently. The phone rang, but the clerk (momentarily alone in the shop) didn't bother to answer it, saying it was their policy to wait on customers who were "live and in person" first. The answering machine could record messages that came in while she waited on those of us in the store.

This is the kind of policy we need to adopt in our homes, too: be really present to the persons around you. You can adopt a policy of not answering the phone during meals, letting the answering machine handle that chore too.

On a recent trip home from college, my daughter's schedule for that weekend didn't mesh at all with my husband's. Both of them had things they had to do, places to go. For starters, my husband had to work that Saturday.

But I was glad for one custom that had started long ago, that was a strong enough family tradition that it even made a college student want to get up early on a Sunday morning. Back before we ever had children, Sunday breakfast was our big breakfast of the week, complete with bacon or sausage, eggs, toast, justice, and fresh homemade sweet rolls (quickly made out of canned biscuits). So for that weekend, getting up to have breakfast together was a strong enough family pull that she did it, without whimpering. It was our time to connect.

Having a few family rituals and traditions create family connections that you want to continue. The Sorensens emphasize little ways to make an effort to connect: for instance, deliberately slow down your interactions: slow down driving, slow down your speech, answer the phone deliberately and cheerily.

Now, as soon as I finish this column, I'm slowing down.

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.

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