I left later than usual for my run this morning, the route included several blocks that comprise our neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools, each of which was in various stages of beginning the school day. Traffic (including early/late drop-offs) made my run even more challenging than usual. Of course, this was my fault for choosing the time and route.
As I proceeded through each of the school zones, I began to pay closer attention to the scenes playing out around me. With Toby Mac's Eye On It playing in my ears, what I saw were many parents with hurried, stressed expressions on their faces. There were cars driving too fast for the number of kids around and a few obviously impatient drivers who felt they had the right of way. I also saw a few parents pulling their kids along the sidewalks with tears flowing or defiant scowls. I encountered a stream of teenagers in shiny new vehicles (borrowed from parents?) the most popular, from what I could tell, were high-step pick up trucks and a mix of VW bugs and Jeeps. In addition, I passed the cross-country team, running in clusters, some of whom looked exhausted though it was before 8 a.m.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary mentions in her book, The Conscious Parent, that our generation has "drunk the parental Kool-Aid." What she is alluding to is we have created and chosen (often unconsciously) to live a lifestyle where external rewards (be they material, academic, sports-related or physical) have taken center stage to the more critical components of internal well-being like a presence of mind, inner peace, and emotional connection.
I would have to agree with her, not so much based on the observations during my morning run (though this didn't change my opinion), but because I know how important it is to a lot of families to make sure their kids are given every opportunity and advantage to succeed.
But at what cost?
When I talk with parents I hear no shortage of stories about their kids feeling anxious or challenged with depression. I hear parents complain about busy schedules, high expectations by the school and some of the extracurricular programs...and I wonder if we're concentrating on the aspects of life that will benefit our kids in the long run.
It's not that there is something inherently wrong with big houses, pricey cars, kids in AP classes, private lessons for your sport of choice...but if that's the essence of what our family life is all about then what will relationships and connection look like and mean to our sons and daughters when they become parents?
Like, where will the rat race lead us?
As I continued along my route, I thought about a YouTube series we found and watched with our kids over the weekend. It's the video log about a family from our Texas town who sold their McMansion, donated many of their belongings, packed up their four kids (two teens and two younger), bought a 55 foot boat (even though Dad had never sailed before) and took off from Florida for a MULTIPLE YEAR ocean adventure!
Here is the trailer that explains it all:
Can you even imagine?
But I gotta say I LOVE some of the things Dad (Keith) talks about in this video about life being short, there never a "perfect" time and that some of the relationships you believe are strong are not.
Take a listen...
Now, I can't imagine living on a boat for years, mainly because I am scared of open water (and deep water and shark-infested water not to mention BIG waves). But I have to say the idea of selling the house, most of our belongings, packing up the kids (which at this point (because we have three grown and independent), only includes a son in high school and our middle school daughter) and traveling around the country (land-ho) in an RV, now that I could do.
Imagine what our kids and us could experience if we slowed down and took the time to really connect with them. Not in the form of an occasional tropical vacation or ski weekend between life's chaotic schedule, but truly made a decision to scale back our lives, reexamine our priorities, and work together towards the future.
Most of the families I know aren't consciously saying, "we are choosing to work our butts off to provide a home/school/extra curricular experience above the norm because that's what's expected of us"...no, they've drunk the Kool-Aid that tastes like success because ON THE OUTSIDE it looks like it.
But it's not feeling so good on the inside.
The shiny exterior is a hollow casing for an empty interior.
Imagine for a moment if your family went "Sailing Zatara"...what would your kids experience? What would YOU experience? Life is about choices, decisions, and when you have children it's about modeling self-care so they have the best shot at growing into adults who know how to care for themselves, beyond the exterior, during life's inevitable rough spots.
We've got to spend more time taking care of ourselves and our relationships, learning the importance of modeling mindful coping skills for our kids as the world continues to experience a great deal of stress and disharmony. Balance and harmony begins within the self and extends to those closest to us before it can be taken into the school, community, and world at large.