Families cope with crowded schedules

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

As harried American parents, we know we lead busy lives. We know our lives are just one big rush. But do we have to hear about it from researchers?

Scientists at UCLA have spent the past four years observing 32 Los Angeles families to determine just how messed up we really are.

A foundation has underwritten the $3.6 million cost of collecting all that family data. Now the data has to be analyzed.

Personally, I could have saved the foundation a lot of money if they would have just come to me in the first place.

Researchers say we have scheduled every waking moment of our lives. When we are together as a family, we're on the go, rushing to school, piano lessons, Girl Scout meetings, church events, youth league sports or even shopping.

Yeah, we know that. But do you have to remind us?

An Associated Press story described one mother's SUV as a rolling Wal-Mart filled almost to overflowing with snacks, backpacks and everything else that two on-the-go children would need.

Joni and I understand such a description.

Our two vans often are filled with assorted items, most of them belonging to the girls or related to Girl Scout activities.

As a troop leader, Joni has plenty of Girl Scout supplies to transport. We've been known to sell Girl Scout cookies from the back of the van.

Backpacks regularly get stowed in the vans along with assorted children's clothing.

According to the intrepid researchers, many parents and children live virtually apart five days a week, reuniting for only a few hours at night.

The scientists say parents don't have a life.

Sure, we do. It's just one dominated by children's activities and schedules.

Even our weekends are crammed with activities.

Researchers have concluded that families gather in the same room in the home just 16 percent of the time.

Of course, that's understandable during March Madness. Like a lot of dads, I can't help tuning into the NCCA basketball tournament with its marathon of televised games.

My wife and daughters stay away from me at this time of year. Last weekend they rented a movie to watch on the living room television while I was tucked away in the bedroom watching all those basketball games.

Still, as parents, we often don't have time to relax. Sooner or later, most moms and dads turn into unpaid chauffeurs shuffling children from one event to the next.

Talk about multitasking. It's amazing how parents can drive the car and at the same time find the buried backpack in the backseat or clean up a spilled drink.

We're thrilled with the rare moments in which all we have to do as parents is keep our eyes on the road.

What's most impressive is how we manage to keep adding more to our schedules. Rather than slowing down, our lives just continue to speed up.

It's gotten to the point that eating dinner isn't relaxing most of the time. It's a rush job.

Pretty soon we won't even have time to talk to all those researchers. Our lives simply will be too booked.

And when it comes to family time, we may just have to take a number.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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