Monday, February 28, 2011

busyness

Here are some fairly unformed thoughts about busyness.  It's a pretty common belief that it is possible for us to control how we manage our time, but I quietly wonder if it is not all that straightforward. Here's my theory.

There are different types of busyness in my mind.  The first category is the busyness that is 'self-imposed'.  Busyness that I choose - knowing that it will make me busy but I have control over the choice.  I cope the best with this kind of busyness.  This includes commitments that are energising even if they fill up a lot of my time (eg. work/uni study).  I can also choose to add to or reduce this type of busyness fairly easily - the control is significant in the way I'm impacted by this busyness I suspect.

Another category is the 'shoulds' - things I should do because I feel they are the right thing to do with my time.  They aren't as energising, even though I do have some control over them.  It often involves pushing myself to do things that I'd more easily avoid, but need to happen.  Sometimes, the things on the 'should' list are the things that get lost when I get busy.

The other category I think of is the 'imposed' category.  I have little choice about these things.  They just need to happen. This involves a lot of things that the children do.  I always start the year with my grand plans (we're going to slow down, do less etc etc) but as the term goes on and the list of events at school  grows, the grand plans fast disappear.

I have some control over how much the children take on, but I don't have control over when the meet the teacher night is held or that three birthday parties are going to be held on the exactly the same day at the same time.  I don't have control over the mountain of notes that appears each afternoon for me to fill in and find money for.  I don't have control over the list of stationery required for Year 1 or the homework book that needs to be covered (tonight of course).

A good example of imposed busyness was when I turned up for the first day of term 3 last year.  I arrived at school feeling good about the term, our diary finally was looking reasonably clear and life was feeling manageable. By the time I'd left the school assembly and heard about the 3 band competitions the kids had been entered into, I saw my lovely clear calendar disappear before my eyes.  I may have audibly groaned, which other parents find very strange, because they're just seeing all the wonderful opportunities for the children.  I'm just seeing a logistical nightmare and an increase in my stress levels (can you sense it's all about me?!).

It all gets hard when I feel like the first category (self-imposed busyness) has to get ditched/reduced to make way for the other categories.  It's not that doing lots for the kids or the 'shoulds' on my list is a bad or horrible thing at all - but without something to energise me I find myself getting a bit sad.  When the kids were all younger my life was very dominated by the 'imposed' and 'should' category and I felt consistently very flat. I'm guessing this is how people feel when their whole life is dominated by caring for a sick child or an elderly parent.  It's not that in their heart they mind doing it - it's a 'should' that is the right thing to do - but managing the stress of something you have no control over is tough.

Anyway - that's enough rambling for now.  Would love to hear your thoughts on this one.

4 comments:

Pip said...

To risk being controversial, do you think some of your 'imposed' business is actually a product of choice? By that I mean that your kids seem to do an awful lot of extra-curricular activities. Mine aren't as old as your older two, but only do one thing each week after school (and Girls Brigade which is kind of unavoidable). It helps that the school sadly doesn't have a band or any form of instrument learning, and I have just said no to the things they do offer after school(languages, sport etc). I sometimes feel guilty that I don't send them to all the things they would love to do such as gymnastics, dancing,art classes but just hope and pray that they'll turn out all right in end and appreciate the less rushed lifestyle, and less stressed mother.

In terms of your school notes and stationary etc, NSW schools should really take note of the Tassie state system...one flat fee at the beginning of the year(about $270) covers all school excursions, all exercise books, pens, pencils, rulers,textas etc - they just hand them out to all the kids. We also sign one permission note at the beginning of the year and it covers all of the excursions. Easy!

simone r said...

Pip - I would love that Tassie system! No more forms!

Kids are necessarily involved in more stuff as they grow up. Can't keep to the one thing per child rule. Homework is non-optional. For us, that's an entire afternoon a week at least. Then there's school talks, projects etc that come up each month-ish for each child and require a few afternoons of work. There's student council meetings each week, one child gets elected as an 'eco-captian' and there's another afternoon here and there for meetings... And that's without school sport (one 7.30 morning a week per child), school instrumental music or choir (each a 7.30 start one day per week), church or friends - the things which make life good. Life is unavoidably mad busy once your kids hit mid-primary school.

What I find hard to take is when my expectations are dashed. I had planned to sit in a coffee shop by myself for a few precious hours and Andrew was called out somewhere urgently so I had to go to church to wait for an electrician to arrive. I came close to tears.

I am a school music teacher and it is part of my job to make you groan by providing brilliant opportunities for your kids to develop...

Jenny said...

@Pip -not controversial at all - my theory is not particularly well thought out! I agree that the the kid's music is self-imposed - I like doing it with the kids and hope they gain the same enjoyment I have from learning musical instruments. It's when extras that are unexpected crop up that I find tricky - it's probably about expectations as Simone says.

We have certainly found that our life has got a lot busier the more kids we have in primary school - before then they just did piano lessons one afternoon a week - oh that glorious memory! This year we're adding youth group, youth bible study and in another two years a different high school to the mix- I see it just getting busier for the next few years until they can get themselves off to things more independently.

Karen said...

I love the sound of the Tasmanian system...I would be more than happy with anything that could get rid of the mountain of notes (great description) that threatens to become volcanic as it overflows from the plastic box they all get thrown into when they come home from school. I have heard that some of the Catholic schools in Qld do something similar, but not in our NSW public system...

But back to the busyness issue. We are probably just entering the stage of mid-primary mad rush busyness (and acquisition of more musical instruments with that) here. For me, having the kids participate in a few different things after school and during school is a way of helping them to discover where their interests/abilities are. Because I also work a couple of long (8hr) days each week, this also limits after school activities to the days when I am not at work. Generally I try to keep one of the three afternoons I am at home as free as possible.

I think too the trap for the unwary is that we don't realise when we sign our kids up for sport, music lessons or whatever else is that over time, if they improve, the amount of time they take up will also increase (hard to foresee here in the beginning days of trumpet lessons where all I am hearing is very non-melodic honking...)