Getting Over Over-Scheduling
by Win and Bill Sweet
Linda called us with, "I've got a terrible problem." Her problem turned out to be unintentional over-scheduling. She told us her husband comes home from work at 6:00 p.m. every night hungry and tired after a hard day at the office. She likes to have dinner ready to put on the table when he walks through the door. But when she goes to the kitchen to prepare dinner, her four-year-old son, Eric, seems to always choose that moment to demand her attention. He wants her to play with him, hold him, or read to him. He whines, cries and sometimes starts throwing toys when she doesn't respond. Linda reported that, fortunately, she does not get angry because she is sure he isn't behaving this way just to annoy her. She finished her explanation of the situation with, "I don't know what to do; something is wrong. I want to lovingly nurture my son, but I want to nurture my husband, too, according to his needs—dinner at 6:00 p.m."
We questioned Linda further about her routine with Eric. "I have a part-time job five days a week delivering merchandise from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. I always take Eric in the car with me. Lunch is usually a picnic which we eat in the car, or sometimes at a park where Eric plays for a little while."
On days that Linda doesn't have to go home to clean house or take care of other necessary household tasks, she and Eric visit one of her many friends, all of whom have children for Eric to play with while she and the friend chat. She and Eric get home about 4:30 p.m. She usually looks at the mail and then starts dinner (or tries to start dinner) at 5:00 p.m.
Linda was afraid there was something wrong with her son. We reviewed the situation and offered the opinion that there was nothing wrong with Eric. The error lay in the management of Eric's environment. All children innately need lots of time with their mothers for healthy growth and development. Even though Linda's routine included lots of physical togetherness—in the car, at the friends' homes, and at their home while she cleaned house, there was very little undivided attention on Linda's part devoted entirely to Eric. Eric was basically living in an environment of neglect of his acute need for "Mommy time."
After reflecting on her typical schedule, Linda agreed that it was her routine, and not Eric, that was the problem. She was over-scheduling; Eric was constantly exhausted. She quit her job so she and Eric could remain at home all morning. This time included attending to household tasks when Eric was contentedly playing or sometimes napping, but a lot of time was spent giving Eric undivided attention. They still visited friends, but only two or three times a week and the visits were much shorter than they had been before. The afternoon schedule now gave her free time to again nurture Eric, fulfilling the longing of his heart with the emotional nourishment that he naturally craves as the child that he is. Providing this nourishment with as much dedication as she had always placed on providing Eric proper meals brought wonderful results.
The new program now includes giving attention to nurturing herself—something so important, but seldom practiced by mothers. She spent some money to add decorating touches to the house that she'd been wanting to do for some time. This brought her joy and contentment in being at home, and she found, to her surprise, that she didn't have that "I've got to get out of the house" feeling nearly as much as before, and better yet, she didn't feel the compulsion to turn on the TV. Linda confessed, "I think I was addicted to TV, and it feels so good to be free of that now."
Once her new routine had been operating for awhile, Linda gave us a call and joyfully reported that there had been a magical change. She had determined to make it a high priority to give Eric an abundance of "Mommy time" in which she gave him her undivided attention, taking his lead in their activities. Instead of piling toys in front of him and instructing him to "play," she sat with him and they played together. They lived near a wooded area and spent wonderful times among the trees. Linda was surprised that it was actually fun and extremely satisfying for her. She handled the temptation to think about all the things she "should" be doing and she constantly reminded herself that nothing was more important than nurturing Eric in that "now moment."
There was still dinner to prepare. If they were going somewhere that day, Linda started to prepare as much of dinner as she could before they left the house. To handle the transition from play/cuddle time to preparing dinner she began tenderly taking Eric on her lap at the right time and telling him she must fix dinner for Daddy, because he was going to come home tired and would be very hungry. Eric was 98% cooperative and the other 2% in which he was wishing he could have more time with Mommy right at that moment was no problem. Linda didn't feel he always understood what she was telling him intellectually, but he somehow "got the point."
There were many additional beneficial results, all of which gave their family the gift of Joyful Family Living.
Principle: When something goes wrong, the error
is most likely in the environment, not the child.