Husband & Wife Articles


 

Overactive Family Syndrome

Is your hectic schedule ruining your marriage and children?

By Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D.

Peter Kleponis

Family therapist Peter Kleponis advises parents to resist the pressure to over-enroll their kids.

Ed and Laura came to my office frustrated and worn out. They have been married for 15 years with four children ages 8, 10, 12 and 14. Lately, the children have been very defiant and show little respect for their parents. Ed and Laura’s marriage also appears to be suffering because they have little time for each other. When I asked them how many nights a week they sit down as a family to have a meal, they both looked stunned and a bit guilty. Sheepishly, they answered, “one, maybe?”

When I asked them why they weren’t having meals together as a family, Laura went through a long litany of activities their kids were involved in:

  • Swimming lessons
  • Dance lessons and recitals
  • Music lessons
  • Karate class
  • Basketball practices and games
  • Traveling soccer team practices and games
  • Boy Scout meetings
  • Parents meetings for all of the above activities

Laura spent much of her daytime driving the kids to and from activities and Ed did the same in the evening. Dinner for everyone was usually on the run. It had been weeks since Laura was able to provide a home-cooked meal and she felt very guilty. Moreover, it had been months since Ed was able to take Laura out on a date, for which he also felt guilty. 

I asked Ed and Laura why they had their kids in so many activities. Again, they looked at each other and me with a puzzled look on their faces. Neither could quite articulate why, but somehow they felt this is what they needed to do to be good parents. Having worked with many parents in this situation, I presented three possible reasons.

Keeping Up With the Joneses: We often hear about teen peer pressure, but parents also deal with it. When a parent sees other parents enrolling their kids in multiple extracurricular activities, they may feel a pull to do the same. This is their way of showing that they can give their children everything that other parents give their children.

Parental Guilt: This is related to parent peer pressure. However, instead of wanting to “keep up with the Joneses,” they feel guilty, as if they are bad parents, if they do not have their children in just as many activities as other children.

Hope for a Scholarship: Every child has special talents, whether they are academic, artistic or athletic. However, when some parents recognize this, they may go overboard in nurturing that talent, in the hope that if their child really succeeds they will win a college scholarship. The extremely high cost of higher education has left many parents worrying about how they will help their children through college. However, pushing a child to excel in the hope of winning a scholarship is a very risky gamble.  With thousands of students vying for scholarships, only a small fraction will ever win one.

After discussing these possibilities with Ed and Laura, they agreed that it was a combination of all three that led them to enroll their kids in so many activities. They could see that it was tearing their family apart and they needed to make some changes. They decided that their marriage and family life were more important for raising healthy kids. 

Two weeks later I met with Ed and Laura. They had made some tremendous changes in their family life. They limited each child to one activity per season. Activities sponsored by their schools took precedence, since it would cut back on family expenses and transportation. The family would sit down to a family meal at least three days a week and one of those days would be Sunday. Ed and Laura would plan a monthly date night, which the kids knew was sacred. If any kid had an activity planned on their parents’ date night, they would have to find their own transportation or stay home. They even planned a weekly family night where they would get together for a fun activity as a family. I applauded Ed and Laura for making such changes. Obviously, the kids weren’t too happy, but they would just have to accept the changes. The real challenge would be maintaining the changes.

After another two weeks, I met with Ed and Laura again. They were able to successfully maintain their changes, and they noticed a lot of improvement in their children. The kids were not so stressed from their activities. There was more peace in the home, less rebellion, and more respect toward their parents. Most of all, Ed and Laura learned that by limiting their kids activities, they were actually becoming better parents and spouses. They no longer felt any guilt or the need to “keep up with the Joneses.” They also began to realize that having a happy home life was a fair trade-off for missing out on a possible college scholarship. Now, Ed and Laura, and their kids are much happier, and they are no longer struggling with “Overactive Family Syndrome.”

Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, Pa. His website is maritalhealing.com.