Today's guest blogger is Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist on staff at Bryn Mawr Hospital and in private practice in Bryn Mawr.

Busyness is an epidemic in our society. Feeling busy, overwhelmed and over-scheduled has become the norm for most parents. Between work, driving kids to sports practice, helping with homework, and cooking dinner, many parents report being 'maxed out.'

If you answer the question of 'How are you?' with the word 'busy,' I encourage you to take a moment to reflect before the start of the school year.

The biggest mistake that busy parents make in the fall is signing up for too many volunteer activities at your child's school where your child is not directly involved in the event.  OK, I sound like I'm discouraging parent participation, but I'm not.  I'm recommending that parents select their volunteer activities wisely in order to maximize enjoyment and prevent burnout.  Again, a burned out parent is less able to help with homework, laugh at their kids' silly jokes, and keep up with the daily demands of family life.

In September, signing up to bake a tray of brownies in November seems like an easy task.  And agreeing to make two hours worth of fundraising calls in December seems like a nice way to give back. What you can't foresee in September, however, is that your in-laws will overstay their welcome in October, your water heater will break in November, and your family will get invited to three holidays parties on one weekend in December.  In other words, your family life becomes increasingly hectic as the fall progresses.

When selecting an activity that requires 'behind-the-scenes' effort (committee work, baking cookies, fundraising calls), it's helpful to choose one that you are certain to enjoy. If you love to be in your kitchen, you'll be happy to bake cookies for the bake sale. If you have great ideas for how the school can raise money, join a fundraising committee. My only recommendation is that you fight the urge to over-extend in this domain by signing up for multiple committees or activities that you may dread when the day arises.

Let’s break it down into real life examples.

'Sign me up!  I love being at those events!

  • Working for two hours at an event where your child is present (sports game, carnival, homecoming).
  • Helping your child's class change into Halloween costumes for the Halloween parade.
  • Chaperoning a dance or field trip where your child is present.

 'I will select the activity that is the best fit for my interests and schedule.'

  • Baking cookies for a bake sale
  • Joining committees
  • Fundraising phone calls
  • Signing up for any job that has the term 'mom' or 'dad' in it: 'soccer dad,' 'classroom mom,' 'team snack parent.'  Once you are the designated parent for the job, you can guarantee that you will have a fair amount of behind-the-scenes responsibility.

When we parents over-schedule ourselves, we tend to burn out.  The key to maintaining a happy family life is to set and keep priorities for how you will spend your free time.  If you sign up for a shift at an event when your child is present, you will be able to enjoy giving back to the school and spending time with your child.  It's all about being mindful of how we use our most valuable resource, our time.

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