Teaching Kids To Be Busy

What’s the main thing we’re passing on to our children? A conversation I had with a friend, Doug, a few weeks ago nailed me to the wall and raised an important question.

Doug and I had been playing basketball with a handful of guys. After the game, he asked me if we could talk for a few minutes. We sat on the bottom step of the bleachers and talked about basketball injuries until the last guy left the gym. When we had the place to ourselves, Doug hung his head. He explained how his son, Todd, a freshman in his first semester of college, hadn’t returned his phone calls for a couple weeks.

Doug started to cry a bit, and I began to wonder if this guy who could throw an elbow with the best of them was, in fact, an extremely sensitive man—I’d never heard a father cry over his son not returning his calls. Then he said something that explained his pain:

I’m not struggling with the fact that Todd hasn’t called. What’s tearing me up is the realization that I had my son under my roof for eighteen years…and main thing I modeled for him was how to stay busy. Now that he’s in college, he’s doing exactly what I taught him.

Doug explained how Todd’s eighteen years in the home coincided with the critical years of Doug’s ascent up corporate ladder. Doug worked late at the office many nights, and when he was at home he was never out of reach of his cell phone and computer. He also explained how their family signed their children up for every sport their town offered. Weekends became about which parent would shuttle which child to what ball game or recital. Doug described how their family of five would go months at a time without having a slow, uninterrupted dinner together. Doug concluded by saying,

For eighteen years, I told myself it was just a season and that the next year would be different. But things never slowed down. That’s the heritage I passed on to Todd…a heritage of busyness.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the complexity of this issue. I love work. I love hobbies. I love coaching, watching, and playing sports with my children. In short, I love life…and a lot of it. It seems to me that the challenge for parents like us is, How do we participate in life and help our children gain broad and deep experiences without teaching them to live at a frenetic pace?

If the main thing we teach our kids to be busy, it seems like we’ve failed to help shape their hearts in the best way. A well-formed heart must also know how to read, rest, relax, think, reflect, and make intentional decisions.

Moms & Dads: Do you ever wrestle with these seemingly competing values as a parent? How do you reconcile them? Let’s share ideas—Give us some of your suggestions/thoughts for how to hand off more than a heritage of busyness to your children?

  • Aron Utecht

    We were given this advice: Cut stuff out, and be ruthless.

    If you are not ruthless, the cultural expectations to have your kids at every summer camp, in every activity, etc. will take over your family’s life. Be ruthless. Or it will eat you and your family by default.

    Be ruthless. Easier said than done.

    • http://www.zekepipher.com Zeke Pipher

      I like that phrase, “Cut stuff out, and be ruthless.” It is so hard to know what is good to cut out, and what would be good to add in. I don’t want to cause my children to miss out on something great just because I’m feeling weary. Like you said, it’s “easier said than done.”

      • Aron Utecht

        The same friends (who have a ministry in CO for families) also preach that whatever you say yes to, you say no to something else.

        We’re just on the front end of the busy ages for kids, but it’s helpful for me to think of the potential opportunities (spontaneous conversations at home, or memories made together,etc) that I’m saying ‘yes’ to by saying ‘no’ to the other activities. Maybe by ‘not wanting them to miss out’ I’ve actually missed out already on something more significant?

        Like said though… We don’t do it well ourselves it seems. Pushing back against that tide in our cultural seems nearly impossible.


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