Many of us as parents can look back to 'light bulb' moments, times when we see life in a different way, and which cause us to draw a line in the sand and resolve to live differently thereafter. Such a moment occurred for us when our children were five, seven, nine and eleven. Keen for them to be proficient in the water, I had made enquiries about swimming lessons. Other mums at school had recommended an excellent teacher called Kim who ran classes on a Monday after school. The only drawback was that it was at a school pool on the far side of the city. Even more inconvenient was the fact that, because of their range of age and ability, the lessons for our four children would have to be separate - one after the other. This meant that every Monday we had to dash straight from school through rush-hour traffic, in order to set up camp in the hot, steamy, chlorine filled atmosphere of the pool for several hours.
I would pass the time by taking a packed tea and getting the younger children to do their reading while the older children swam, but it did not make for the most restful start to the week. However, I was determined they should learn to swim and this seemed to be the only way to make it happen. Head down and blinkered, I persevered.
Before long the children were asking to do other after-school activities that 'everyone else' was doing: Brownies, Beavers, Cubs, judo, recorder, football, tennis, netball, drama and - the straw that broke the camel's back - gymnastics. Each of the activities required a trip in the car to deliver and collect the child/children and extra friends, and soon every day of the week was taken up with some activity. Not all of these cost money, but all cost time. Without us making a conscious decision, we had drifted into living at an unsustainable pace. The activities were fun, but there was no time just to 'be'.
The light bulb moment came when I listened to someone giving a talk entitled 'Rhythms of life'. The speaker talked about the tyranny of busyness and the frantic pace of life that we lead, which not only takes its toll on us, but sucks everyone around us into our spinning vortex.
As he spoke, my mind reflected on the Monday swimming marathon and other after-school activities that came a close second, and I resolved to make some changes to our family life. We are fortunate to live near the centre of our community, so taking that into account, my decision was to limit activities to those we could walk to. Any activity that involved strapping four children in the car and driving across the city, pressing through rush-hour traffic and then going through the entire procedure in reverse, would stop.
This simple decision changed our lives. We found a swimming teacher at the local school, and although she may not have been as experienced or qualified as the excellent Kim, she did the job we wanted. While our children will never be in the Olympic swimming squad, they do all have badges on their towels as proof that they learnt to stay afloat, and we achieved it without imploding in the process.
Different families will have different pressures on their time and energies. There may be some things that are important and that we definitely want our children to do, and others that we are not so concerned about. The important thing is to find a rhythm that works for you in your particular season of family life. If you live apart from your child's other parent and the child's time is divided between two homes, it will be even more important to monitor their pace. Those parenting alone will generally be the sole decision-maker and provider of the resources to make any activities happen, and they may need to be even more ruthless in choosing what they can and cannot do. They may also need to be prepared to ask for help and support where necessary.