No Time? Too Busy? 3 Surprising Benefits to OverschedulingErin Loechner
When Connor Bernstein’s mother, Jan Owens, didn’t have time to supervise his countless science experiments, he created his own kid-friendly kit. He then went on to develop his own massively successful business, Connor’s Kits for Kids, as a bright-eyed fourth grader.
In other words, Jan Owens’s busyness launched her son’s business.
To be fair, Jan Owens likely wasn’t keeping busy searching Pinterest for recipes or sifting through lifestyle blogs for kid’s birthday party inspiration. No, we’re talking about the “real” busy. The mountain-of-laundry, overflowing-sink, back-to-back-swim-meets-and-dance-recitals kind of busy. Because unlike the fake kind of busy, the real kind is surprisingly beneficial for kids, parents and families alike:
Busyness makes us happier. A recent study asked for volunteers to complete a survey and then wait 15 minutes for their next task. Each volunteer could then make a choice: (a) to drop off the completed survey at a nearby location and wait idly for the next task, or (b) walk to a location further away to hand in their survey, keeping busy until the next assignment. Surprisingly, those that chose the faraway location were found to be happier than those who waited idly.
There’s a joy in productivity, a pride in providing your children the opportunities they desire. As Jenny Deam writes, “I was deeply proud of these little people, who seemed to blossom as they tried, and sometimes even excelled at, an ever-lengthening list of activities. And, secretly, I was also proud of me, as I attended every Mother’s Day tea and sat on the sidelines for every soccer game…they seemed to genuinely love their very full childhoods that would be over much too soon.”
Busyness leads to creative solutions. Any mother who has successfully cooked dinner with a baby on her hip and a toddler tugging at her hem knows the secret joy of a multi-tasking job well done (once finished, of course). It’s why productivity sites like LifeHacker and Parent Hacks are so wildly successful we strive to find creative ways to tackle the day’s challenges. Parent Hacks publisher Asha Dornfest writes,”Busyness has a way of sharpening and speeding up my problem-solving, so, in some ways, I’m more efficient and creative now that I’m a parent. In the same way that a deadline focuses my attention, kid-specific time limits have a way of igniting my productivity. When my kids were young, the challenge was to get stuff done during naptime and the hour between their bedtimes and mine; now it’s the time while they’re in school.”
It’s a phenomenon backed up by science, deemed “focused distraction,” and it’s a direct descendant of busyness’s half-brother: multi-tasking. New York Magazine reported the art form in a recent article titled In Defense of Distraction: “London taxi drivers, for instance, have enlarged hippocampi (the brain region for memory and spatial processing)—a neural reward for paying attention to the tangle of the city’s streets…Research suggests we’re already picking up new skills: better peripheral vision, the ability to sift information rapidly. We recently elected the first-ever BlackBerry president, able to flit between sixteen national crises while focusing at a world-class level. Kids growing up now might have an associative genius we don’t—a sense of the way ten projects all dovetail into something totally new. They might be able to engage in seeming contradictions: mindful web-surfing, mindful Twittering. Maybe, in flights of irresponsible responsibility, they’ll even manage to attain the paradoxical, Zenlike state of focused distraction.”
Busyness offers your children independence. Just as Jan Owens’ busyness sparked independence in her son, our daily tasks are offering the same. Writes Lisa Firestone, PhD.: “Growing up, by its very nature, is a series of weaning experiences for children. Learning the lessons of how to get their needs met then transitioning to meeting their own needs is not only essential to a person’s survival but to their psychological well-being.”
We’ve all heard tales of parents that have relaxed significantly by the time their third, fourth, fifth child rolls around. It’s inevitable the more children you add to the mix, the greater the distractions. There’s no time to hover. So it’s no wonder children of larger families are often deemed more independent, better risk-takers, and more skilled at resolving disputes.
Of course, busyness for the sake of busyness is rarely a healthy habit. Dornfest writes, “The fact is, some families thrive on busy. Some children love the constancy of it, and some parents do as well. When it works for a family, when life feels full and vital but not overwhelming, then what’s the problem? The problem is when people are that busy out of a sense of obligation or pressure.”
Indeed, being busy and being stressed out are two different circumstances, and there is very little reward for the latter. But next time you struggle to pick up a gift for your kid’s teacher, drop off your daughter at dance class, grab dinner and meet your son at the spelling bee, take a deep breath and rest easy knowing you can, and might, reap the few benefits of busy.