As a parent of 4 boys whom I am aspiring to raise to be godly young men, I really love James Dobson’s book Bringing Up Boys. It is a great read and chock full of wisdom, especially for this Mama who is learning how boys are wired in order to understand them better. Out of the entire book, my favorite chapter (which is applicable to raising boys AND girls) is called “Chasing the Caterpillar.” Strange title, I know. It really doesn’t have anything to do with little boys chasing caterpillars. Dr. Dobson tells the story of a naturalist who did a study on processionary caterpillars, which march in unison. Basically, he lined them up on the inner edge of a flowerpot and watched them march for several days. On the third day, he put their favorite food, pine needles, in the middle of the pot. Did they break off and pursue this food, providing their bodies with nourishment and keeping themselves from starving to death? Nope. For four more days they marched in an endless circle, eventually dying of starvation, mere inches away from their ideal food source.
Sort of a depressing story, isn’t it?
Why did Dr. Dobson put this not-so-delightful tale in a chapter about parenting?
Because, my dear friends, do any parents nowadays remind you at all of these caterpillars? Even more convicting, does it remind you of yourself at all? Even a teeny bit?
I know for myself, especially as my kids get older and are more involved in outside stuff, I can relate to those caterpillars. Too many parents these days are literally racing around from one thing to another, day after day after day. Volunteering at school, running errands, sporting events, plays, scouts, church, band, dance, playdates, birthday parties….the list could go on and on (and on!). I’m not saying any of these things are bad. In fact, many things we or our children are involved in are quite good. I know exactly how it feels to say yes to too many of these good things, only to find myself stressed out and snappy. Just as an example, last spring we had this whole caterpillar scenario going on in our household. We had kids in a couple of different sports, scouts, Bible club at school, PLUS all of the things either me or my husband helped out with. I won’t even list those–they make me tired just reading all of them!! We had many weeks where our whole family didn’t even have a single night at home together. Sure, we may have grabbed a quick meal at home, only to “divide and conquer,” him running a kid here and me running others somewhere else. It was ridiculous. When a lot of these things ended for the summer, we all took a giant collective sigh of relief. Thankfully this past fall wasn’t nearly that busy. It was wonderful. This spring I’m feeling a little like those caterpillars once again. Granted, I do like to get my share of running around and I do enjoy socializing, but I love nothing more most evenings than staying home and getting down time with my “people,” a.k.a. my husband and children. I can’t imagine that kind of crazy running around most of the year or having many kids in multiple sports, etc. every season. Not only are the children worn out, but it can’t be all that great for most marriages either.
Now, where do we draw the line? Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of these activities are good things that are meant to build us or our kids up in some way. It’s a fine line to walk. Do we say no to the things that really matter to us or our children? Do we put a number on the amount of activities, etc. that our family is involved in? How does a family limit their activities to a managable level without feeling like they are depriving anyone? I wish I knew the answer to that–this is a personal thing I believe each family must decide for themselves. In January, my oldest 3 all wanted to play soccer. However, looking at the practice days and times for each age group, we discovered that the boys’ age levels would have had to practice on Scout nights. Now, my boys love Cub Scouts, plus I am a leader for the one den as well. My husband and I sat them down and had them choose if they wanted to do soccer or scouts, then gave them a day to think about it. Well, after weighing the options, they both chose to stick with Scouts. Their sister, however, is trying soccer as her practices are on a non-conflicting night. Besides preschool, my little boys aren’t in any activities yet, so I know these dilemmas are just going to get harder! Honestly, my gang is happiest when they get home from school and don’t have to rush around to get their homework done. They love to just come home and play, sit down to supper with Mom and Dad, and have time to just be kids. This Mom and Dad love it when we can just enjoy quality time with the children and spouse God has blessed us with. Isn’t that worth saying no to other things that steal time and energy away from what matters most to us?
I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be one of those caterpillars.