A Wish for Less Stress

I recently interviewed Ellen Galinsky, President of the Families and Work Institute in New York. Her 1999 book, Ask the Children: The Breakthrough Study That Reveals How to Succeed at Work and Parenting is filled with insights from children that lead to strategies for happy working families. I asked her to reflect back on the seven years since the book's publication and what her wishes are for children today.

If I only had one wish, I would wish what the largest proportion of children in my study and book, Ask the Children, wished. They wished that their mothers would be less tired and stressed. For those who are employed, work has become more demanding and pressured. Many employees are electronically tethered to their jobs and the boundaries between work and family life are much more porous.

Furthermore, the lives of children have become increasingly pressured and scheduled.

So, I would wish to see some of these pressures abate and that mothers were less stressed. I would wish that valuing motherhood--that caring in general--was more than rhetoric but was a reality. And I would wish that mothers could live in the present. It shouldn't take an illness for us to learn to cherish each moment as we live it.

Okay, I know that I've made three wishes. So I am greedy in wanting the lives of mothers (fathers and children, too) to improve!

We all want the best for our children, right? What are your strategies to minimize the stress in your life and spare the children?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  April 17, 2006; 10:00 AM ET  | Category:  Raising Great Kids
Previous: Friday Free-for-All: Your Worst Childcare vs. Job Dilemma | Next: Putting Family First

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In Anna Quindlen's 'Loud and Clear' collection of essays she has one from May 2002 called "Doing Nothing is Something" -- it's one of my favorites [my wife and I read it independently and both commented to each other on it].

The central point was that we so over-structure our lives and our children's lives at times that we don't take the time to schedule 'boredom'. With all of the summer camps and activities, the need for children to have boredom time -- time to do nothing but think and create away from TV and the computer, away from video games, away from the soccer practice and t-ball league -- is something that we are forgetting.

The statement that most struck me was 'Downtime is where we become ourselves, looking into the middle distance, kicking the curb, lying in the grass or sitting on the stoop and staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky.'

Everytime I feel the stress that we aren't providing the time and structured activities for ourselves and our children, I pull out a copy of this essay and re-read and find a little more perspective.

Posted by: A Dad | April 17, 2006 11:32 AM

We only allow one after school activity for each of our children. We don't watch much T.V. and computer time is limited to one hour. My husband and I don't bring work home and both resist the urge to check office e-mails while away from the office. Also, I think it is important to take a vacation, even if it is a stay-at-home vacation. I think it is so important for working people to take vacations and I increasingly hear that many working people are limiting their vacation time. It's a big no-no, you need it to de-stress (if you are stressed that is, not all working parents are stressed out like maniacs) and enjoy life and family!

Posted by: working mom of two | April 17, 2006 11:45 AM

Working mom or two - We do the same thing. I only work part time, but our time off is our time OFF. Most of the time TV is watched together - we rent movies - and play video games, but not daily. We go hiking and walk the dog - meet friends and grill out.

Each of our kids are allowed 1 activity (beside scouting and church groups) and after they have finished homework they go outside and PLAY - whether it is 100 degrees or 20 degrees - raining, snowing - they want to go outside. We dress them appropriately and give them a ball or skates and off they go. Talk about a natural destresser for kids - running and playing and making up games. It is a natural destresser for parents too - get your kids some exercise and they eat and sleep like champs. Parents - get out and play with your kids then let them make up their own games and give them some freedom.

Posted by: cmac | April 17, 2006 12:07 PM

I agree with everyone's comments so far. Keeping activities to a select few seems key. We also watch much almost no TV. For a while our kids were watching quite a bit of TV (for their age, which is very young) and they were asking for it all the time, especially when they were bored. My husband (a SAHD) decided to try to cut it out almost entirely. For the first few days it was hard, but now we can see they are so much better at entertaining themselves and almost never ask for it anymore. They still watch it occasionally, when they're sick or for a special treat.

We're big fans of the Center for a New American dream, which has a lot of great information including my favorite, "What kids want that money can't buy."

Posted by: Ms L | April 17, 2006 12:17 PM

The family Easter bash was at our house once again this year, which means, clean the house becomes priority #1. Finding a place for all the junk that comes through the threshhold as well as the shopping, planning, organizing compounds the stress.
I found a solution to this problem. If you have a wife anything like mine, she'll inevitably be wasting her time doing something useless like scrubbing the closet baseboards in the kid's room or making another trip to Wall-Mart to purchase more junk. This is the time to rally the kids and grab a hefty bag. You hold the bag open, let the kids do the scooping. Anything out of place - in the bag. If you fill one up, get out another. Make sure the bananna stand a candle and a figurines, make it in the bag. Work quickly and never look back. When you get to the kitchen give the refrigerator door a firm jerk. Anything that falls off - in the bag. When you get to the tupperware cabnet, all those plastic containers - in the bag. Don't worry, you'll never find the matching tops anyway. Talk to your kids in an excited, yet hushed tone of voice like its an emergency. Convince them to put as many of their toys that are laying around - in the bag. Movies, puzzles, pieces, socks, and especially those Happy Meal Toys - in the bag.
When the place becomes reasonably clear of junk, take the bags and put them out of sight, preferrably next to the outdoor trash cans for convenience on garbage day. And if your wife finds out how you got the placed cleaned up so quickly and complains about the method, simply offer to get one of the bags and dump it in the middle of the living room floor. At least all the junk will be in a nice, organized pile and you and the kids did your share.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 17, 2006 12:30 PM

I think most parents would like to be able to spend as much time with their children as they can and many people find creative ways to do it. I carpool to work. work at home 2 days a week and leave early and come home as the bus rounds the corner. I've been extremely lucky in this regard.

I also sit with my younger child while he does homework, to answer questions and mainly be available. This is when I generally find out what went on at school that day. Having something to look forward to on the weekend also helps me keep work stress at bay.

Posted by: working mom of two | April 17, 2006 12:41 PM

Ha. Okay I know everyone gives Father of 4 grief, but the bag trick? Brilliant, effective, and better than scrubbing baseboards. AND I've actually done it. A lot. I do it with my kid's all the time. I usually tell the eldest, if you can remember what is in the bag by garbage day, you can have it back...

As you are getting rid of the bannana stand, candle and figurines, we don't have those. My husband and I have established a tense but workable truce relating to objects he completely devalues and misunderstands as clutter. Yes, we have clutter zoning regulations in our home...

Posted by: Lahdeeda | April 17, 2006 12:45 PM

My decision to leave the metro Washington, DC area was result of desiring a less stressful life. WDC is a tough area for a married couple to raise a child, but trying to do it as a single mom was damn near impossible.

In NoVa, I had to schedule playdates with other children. Our neighborhood did not have young children my daughter's age. Also, she went to a school that was not in our neighborhood, so she couldn't go a few blocks away to play with her school friends.

Here in Arizona, we live in a neighborhood where there is a sense of community that I never felt in NoVa. My daughter can go play with the kids next door without having to schedule a time to do so. Out west, people have a better sense of balancing family, work and play. People are more relaxed and much friendlier.

I realize that moving across the country was an extreme way to find balance for my daughter and me, but after two years as a single mom in NoVa, it was clear that something had to give. I managed to raise our standard of living and have a more relaxed quality of life in doing so.

Posted by: western single mom | April 17, 2006 12:45 PM

My solutions to diminish stress were pretty obvious - basically eliminate what I and the kids didn't really have to do, and make whatever we did as fun as possible. Like we would play the same little games (have them count a certain kind of car or whatever) on the drive to the school or walk to the corner store etc. When I found some things especially stressful I would try to figure out a way to make those things easier - one was always the rush to get out in the morning. My daughter would seem to make a game out of not getting dressed, like flinging her shoes across the room when we had to put them on. I realized she (1), didn't want to leave for school and (2) enjoyed the attention of being dressed; so I made games out of the process that were more productive and fun for both of us. Sort of the "spoon full of sugar" approach, corny but effective. And finally, just learning to let things slide off my back when I couldn't do anything about them, like too much work for the time allotted on the job etc. Not the task I mean, the worrying part.

Posted by: Catherine | April 17, 2006 1:17 PM

I realize I'll come off as elitist, but a huge stress reliever is our cleaning lady who comes every other week. I do not worry about the dust on the mantle, or scrubbing the bathroom floor. My weekends are my time with my kids and husband (although with fishing season in full swing, I know where he'll be most Saturdays...).

I also leave work at the office, and never check voicemail or e-mail from home. (OK, I admit checking e-mail, but only if I'm home with a sick kid. NEVER if I'm sick or on vacation.)

My kids are too little to be all scheduled yet, but I do have my 3 year old in a dance class once a week. That's about all I can handle and cringe at having to add another activity when my baby gets old enough. We will very likely be limiting the number of activities, like other parents do.

Posted by: KS | April 17, 2006 1:31 PM

We alleviate stress in our house by focusing on our family first. That means no special school nights (which come up every week in our town), lots of unscheduled time on the weekend, and making choices about activities. I am sure it would be great if we went to more parties, cleaned the house more, etc., but in the bigger picture none of that matters. We also try to choose our battles so we don't argue about small things. This helps my son to become more independent and means that there are fewer arguments in our home. I will also say that much of this happens because my husband and I decided to have one child. Our son is terrific, and we have never felt the urge to have more. In these hectic times, I am glad to have a lot of time to spend with him. For me, more kids would have been difficult and stressful.

Posted by: Kris D | April 17, 2006 2:37 PM

Agreed on the garbage bag trick and cleaning service. I'll pay for time with my kids and eliminating the stress of a dirty house.

I just went through the house like a bat out of hell the past 2 weekend and threw away dozens of garbage bags of junk . My husband and I went throught the kid's toys when they spent the night at grandma's house and they will never miss one thing we pitched.

We ask grandparents to limit toys for Xmas and Birthdays. We recommend DVD's, gift cards to book stores and McD's gift cert (as a special treat). We have always asked grandparents to make a donation to the kid's college $$ for birthdays as well - the kids and I count up the money in their banks every so often - go to the bank together and they get a lollipop. They save every penney they get.

Posted by: cmac | April 17, 2006 2:47 PM

Like others, we limit our kids to 1 extracurricular activity each. We also limit them to the SAME activity that can be conducted at the SAME time by all the kids. For example, swimming, tennis, and ice skating lessons are offered offered at the same time and place to children at different skill levels.

I also don't schedule any lessons for weekend mornings. I think it's important that the whole family is able to have leisurely mornings on the weekend.

But not only do we limit our kids' extracurricular activities, we limit our own. When my husband and I come home from our full-time jobs and hour-long commute, we focus on our kids and each other, period. We let the calls go to voicemail and don't make any commitments for weeknights.

I'm amazed at the parents (mostly Moms) I see who try manage their full-time jobs while still keeping up with volunteer commitments, PTA, scout leadership, book clubs, etc. These are the most exhausted Moms I know. They are trying to be so much to so many people that it's killing them.

Posted by: MM | April 17, 2006 2:48 PM

It's all about choices. We have a modest home that is almost paid off. We have jobs that do not wear us ragged. This allows us the luxury of time. Time with each other to eat breakfast and dinner. Time on weekends. Time to play games. We limit outside activities so that we all have healthy, manageable schedules. We limit how we spend our money. We save for retirement and college, and no expensive vacations or cars or gadgets or electronics. Our son is happy and secure. Our house is the smallest in the neighborhood, but it's a great neighborhood and we love where we live. We don't have as much money as our neighbors, but we have the same great school and more time than most of them.

Posted by: simplicity | April 17, 2006 3:49 PM

I would love to hear more from Western Single Mom about relocating to a slower-paced area. I always wonder if moving elsewhere would result in a slower pace of life for my family. We try hard to keep things low-key here, but get caught up in church, school activities, volunteering in our community (in NoVA), and of course, work. And all our friends do as well.

Is it really different elsewhere? When we visit family in other areas the pace there seems a little slower, but I see some of the same signs in those places as well. We have decided that it's us - we seek out activities and become involved because we want to be engaged, and these things seem like fun when we sign up. But when the time comes to do them we sometimes hit a wall of stress trying to balance them with a bad night's sleep, a work deadline, a child's cold, or something else.

Is it really easier in other parts of the country?

Posted by: Stressed in DC | April 17, 2006 4:00 PM

I agree with everyone so far! But I'm going to tell a little all-too-common horror story. Something I am subjected to quite frequently as an English teacher at an urban high school in California.

I teach juniors, so my students are sixteen- and seventeen-years-old. By all accounts, they are between the ages of all-out partying and laid-back responsibility. But because I teach AP, the former takes a backseat to the latter, for which I am grateful. However, many students, perhaps five or more in each class, have overly-involved parents.

Don't get me wrong; there is no shame in being involved in your teen's activities and academics, but there is something wrong when it interferes with their happiness.

For example, about a month ago, one of my students came up to me, looking tired, and said that she was too busy last night to complete the homework well, and she was apologizing to me.

Apologizing! This girl, one of my best students in that class, was struggling with a simple essay assignment? I asked why and she listed her other activies. In addition to many AP classes, this girl was in sports and dance and tutoring for tests like the SAT and the ACT, as well as making sure she tried her hardest in all of them. I asked her why doesn't quit a few if they are going to impact her work, and she told me that her mother wouldn't approve. That quitting is failure. Her days were organized and scheduled by her mother and often she doesn't find out about things until her mother turns on the ignition and says, "Let's go!"

I could tell this girl new it was wrong and didn't want to stand for it, but I could also tell that she loved her mother and saw the importance of doing what she asked.

Since there was no reason for me to contact the woman, as her daughter had an A and did not appear to be sick or stressed to the max (though I'm sure she was), I didn't. Because it's not the only time that parents have pushed their children, thinking that the excess activities will make them get into better colleges.

It's a sad reality, but I'm glad everyone here seems to be thinking logically about reducing stress and activities!

Posted by: The horror | April 17, 2006 4:05 PM

Yes, Western Single Mom, Is living in the Northern VA, DC area cruel and unusual punishment for raising a family? I've lived here all my life and I would like to hear from other people that lived elsewhere.
Any input will be appreciated.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 17, 2006 4:32 PM

Once I finish my masters degree, we're pulling up stakes and moving. There's no real point to us living around here. Aside from Brookside Gardens (nice, but hardly unique), there's nothing here we like that can't be had elsewhere, and plenty here that we don't want.

I agree we all want less stress in our lives. The problem is that we're not willing to do what's necessary to get less stress in our lives.

Posted by: Jacknut | April 17, 2006 4:49 PM

My kids have tons of activities and we do scramble some to get to them all. I'm not going to apologize. I want my kids to have more than academics: I want them to be physically healthy and active and to have some sort of artistic outlet. One of my kids is a natural athlete and the other is a talented musician.

The athlete is still young and I have her in multiple sports. That way she gets core skills in many sports and will eventually decide for herself what she enjoys most. The musician is older and branching out with more instruments. In the meantime, it important for him to participate in a sport to keep fit. Both kids are happy and healthy. I'm particularly pleased to say that about my teenager.

That's a completely different subject than the stress of being a working parent. I did fine with one kid, working part-time. With two kids I just couldn't ever get to 9am meetings on time. I created stress for my kids and put a great deal on myself. Speaking of boredom. I remember a day when I was bored for the first time in a year. I went around telling everyone "I'm bored, I'm bored". I was so jazzed! Now that I don't work I do sometimes get bored and I don't mind a bit.

A strategy that works very well for my husband is to coach. He comes home major stressed from work and then goes out and spends a couple of hours teaching kids to play ball. He'll come home smiling and stress-free. It's a lot cheaper than therapy!

The comment from the teacher is interesting. Teachers think everything is about academics. Parents tend to see their children as whole people needing much more than academics to be healthy, happy and successful.

Posted by: pta mom | April 17, 2006 4:50 PM

Re: Western Single Mom and Father of 4 comments

I grew up in the DC area with two working, high-powered, stressed-out parents and too many activities/pressures (just like "the horror" was describing). I vowed to never put my marriage or kids through the same thing.

As an adult I have lived all over the country in big cities and smaller towns: Minneapolis, San Francisco, Austin, small-town Vermont, Milwaukee, and now Chicago, to name a few.

In my experience, there are some places where, on the whole, the pace of life is slower and less frantic and pressure-filled than I remember DC being. Like "Western Mom" I don't think I'll move back to DC to raise my family for the reasons she mentions (no kids yet, but a great husband). BUT (and it's a bit but), I have also found that regardless of where you live, there are people who carry this stressy mentality with them. Likewise, regardless of where you live you can choose to simplify and not join the rat race.

Posted by: Wanderer | April 17, 2006 4:56 PM

It's a bit more laid back out west. I think it's the people more than the area, and the cost of living. D.C./NoVa draws a lot of govt/career/computer types etc and there is a big 'drive' to push kids to do all these activities, to push yourselves to get ahead, to buy the overpriced homes *homes are sooo overpriced in that area* and to do all the things the neighbors are doing. It's more a mentality than location, I think. I lived in New England, California, and now Washington. My favorite places were the slightly rural town in N.H. I lived in for a while, and where I am now in Washington State. The trade-off for less stress? I have to drive 30 minutes to find an Indian restaurant, and I can't find a chinese place that serves duck...

It's all in what you want out of the place you live, and your ability to not find yourself keeping pace with the Jones'.

Posted by: lahdeeda | April 17, 2006 5:02 PM

"Likewise, regardless of where you live you can choose to simplify and not join the rat race."

I agree with that statement. Nobody is going to take your children, spouse, or home away from you if you don't participate in every extracurricular activity that is offered.

I find that if you don't worry about what everyone else is doing, you can have a relaxed life around here. It's when you feel the need to justify your life and live up to others standards that you end up over involved and frantic. It's okay to go to work on Monday and tell everyone that you just stayed at home and relaxed all weekend. The kids played (unstructured) outside and made up their own games. It's during these "bored" times that kids realize who they are and what they want to do. Not the structured activities that constantly tell them what they should be.

Posted by: LC | April 17, 2006 5:08 PM

Avoiding (or limiting) stress ultimately requires realizing that 1) you can't have it all, and 2) it's o.k. We can do a lot (some of us more than others), but we all reach a point where we can't do "just one more thing." (This applies to adults fully as much as it does to kids.)

Of course, deciding what to de-emphasize or give up is difficult. One rule I have tried to pass on to my children is that "people are more important than things." That doesn't mean we need to live like ascetics. But when we have to choose (and we all will, at some point or another), the people should come first.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2006 5:26 PM

Weighing in from the West... I moved to Colorado from the East Coast over 10 years ago and love the slower, friendlier vibe here. Although it's possible to overbook yourself anywhere, this is a place where you'll find tons of support in your search for work-life balance.

Posted by: Friend | April 17, 2006 5:52 PM

Re the effect of where we live: Apart from whatever the expectations for what people will do in different places, there are differences in how easy it is to do things.

When I lived in Tucson and in Pittsburgh, I could go to the post office, the dry cleaners, and the grocery store in just a little while. When I lived in Boston and, now, in DC, it's much more difficult to do simple tasks in a simple way. There's traffic, it's hard to park, and you're more likely to have to wait in line to do whatever you need to do. Day after day and week after week, these mundane hassles add up, both in terms of the time they take and the toll they take on your energy and enthusiasm. It's FRUSTRATING to always have to wait in line.

There are ways of reducing the demandingness of some of these things (i.e., living close to work, buying groceries online, etc.), but, even so, there's some residual stress associated with simply being where we are.

Posted by: THS | April 17, 2006 7:29 PM

We moved from Northern Virginia last year, for lifestyle rather than for work.

It is wonderful to no longer live in a place where it takes 20 minutes to get anywhere.

I have many, many friends here who know me well but do not know what I do (beyond that I work from home). It seemed to me to be the first question I was asked, in DC.

I remember walking through downtown DC on a workday with my beautiful, Betty-Boop-lookalike 6-month-old daughter in a frontpack. I swear, passersby glared at me, as if I didn't belong there in their work area. Here, my girls get smiles and compliments. You can tell a lot about a place by how children are treated.

My daughters can walk to their friends' houses, and we know our neighbors very well. When we lived in the outer suburbs, we didn't know any of our neighbors since they were so busy commuting.

Strangers smile at us, all the time. More importantly, I now feel like smiling!

There are a whole lot of things about DC that I miss. But I think THS is right that the traffic wears on you. People seem a lot more stressed out in DC than almost everywhere I've been. Heck, I was in NYC last weekend and was surprised at how nice and relatively relaxed everyone was compared to DC folks. Of course, your experience may vary-- I'm just sharing mine.

Posted by: Anon | April 17, 2006 8:56 PM

In case anyone is still reading posts, I have lived in Utah, Colorado and Northeast Ohio and all of them are less stressful and just as nice as DC. Me and my husband regret moving here and are always looking to get out.

I've actually found that people here are anti-family. The west is really different and there is lots of stuff to do and see. The people are friendly too and you can make just as much money there as you can here.

Posted by: Scarry | April 18, 2006 9:46 AM

Yes, DC/NoVa and suburban MD are exasperating for working parents who are trying to lead balanced lives. It takes forever to do a simple errand. Customer service here stinks even in the most expensive stores. I hate my commute and my husband hates the American Legion bridge with passion. But this is a great area to raise a child. Every weekend you can go to a museum (free), your children public schools are diverse and international (free), we have fantastic cultural events here (sometimes free), U.S. Capitol is just around the corner. So, before we all pick up and move to a small town in the middle of nowhere think how much more sophisticated and enriched (and less sheltered) your children's lives are in this area.

Posted by: bethesdamom | April 18, 2006 11:13 AM

Things are definitely more family friendly out West, and not just in smaller rural areas. I'd argue that Seattle has plenty of career and definitely more computer types than DC. My wife is from the North East and occasionally talks about wanting to be closer to her family, but is convinced her 3 day work week would never fly back there. In general, flex time is defiantly the norm rather than the exception out here, and many people (myself included) work 4 10 hour days or 9 hour days and take every other Friday off.

When I was single it was easy to take a 4 week leave of absence to go climbing in Alaska every couple of years, and when I got married and became a father there was no issue with my taking a few weeks off then working 3/4 time for a few months so we didn't have to worry about daycare until our kids were at least six months old. I block off family time in my work Outlook calendar and those appointments are respected. My boss hasn't batted an eye when I've said I can't make a meeting because of unforeseen family commitments. As long as I get my work done and meet my deadlines it's just a non-issue.

A lot of it is just ingrained in the culture. I was amazed when I started traveling East with my wife and the first thing everyone I met wanted to know was what I did for a living. Out here people will spend a good 30 minuets to an hour after meeting talking about hobbies and family before getting around to discussing work. People just aren't defined by their jobs and those attitudes spill over into how employers relate to employees.

Posted by: Seattle Dad | April 18, 2006 11:44 AM

I've heard it described:
DC lives to work. California works to live.

Posted by: West coast- East coast | April 18, 2006 12:44 PM

You have permission to mention my letter in this blog, if it would give you something interesting to talk about.

Posted by: Juliette Spirson | April 18, 2006 3:52 PM

Oh my gosh Bethesda mom you are so right. I have never seen another museum, been exposed to diversity or any cultural events until i moved to DC. The small towns of Pittsburgh, salt lake, Denver and Cleveland just don't have any of that stuff.

Thank God I came to the only city in the country! Now if I could only afford to live here and put up with the people, things would be great. Sorry, I can't talk more, but I have to scamper off to a museum befoe my husbnd drags me off to a small town.

Posted by: Scarry | April 18, 2006 3:56 PM

Oh please, Scarry. We have enough battling on this blog -- working vs. not-working, men vs. women. PLEASE don't go starting DC vs. non-DC battles. We're all happy with where we live -- the good and the not so good. DC, Pittsburgh, Ohio, whatever. Otherwise, we'll move. Get over it.

Posted by: Sick of Bitterness | April 18, 2006 4:03 PM

First let me tell you sick of bitterness that I will say whatever I want. Second, i'm tired of the people in DC who think the world starts and ends here. There are a lot of other people on this board discussing saying the same things I am, I just chose to say it in a funny way.

So shove it.

Posted by: Scarry | April 18, 2006 4:24 PM

Don't worry Sick, you know what they say about angry people being insecure in the first place. Shining through!! And this string was going so well! And, yes, there does happen to be more culture in the nations capital than in a small town, not for better or worse, it's just a fact. Now let's all play nice, we were doing so well and school's almost out for the day!

Posted by: claws mcgee | April 18, 2006 4:36 PM

Oh, and I missed the funny part? Please splain.

Posted by: claws mcgee | April 18, 2006 4:37 PM

I missed the part about small towns. I didn't realize that I was talking about one? please splain is to me? And i'd also like to know why it's okay to say the below quote and think you are not going to offend someone. I am also not insecure, just beause I don't think that dc has more culture than any other city in the country.

You apparently are just another full of yourself DC person, which is exactly why I don't want to live here.

"So, before we all pick up and move to a small town in the middle of nowhere think how much more sophisticated and enriched (and less sheltered) your children's lives are in this area."

Posted by: Scarry | April 18, 2006 4:46 PM

Scarrrry indeed! I am so sorry you dislike it here so much, what a shame! Perhaps you can find something, anything to like about our crappy city?

Posted by: claws mcgee | | April 18, 2006 4:52 PM

I love DC, but I can find plenty of culture in small town America, as well. How sad that someone needs to demean other ways of life. You can learn a lot at the Kennedy Center, but you can also learn a lot at a County Fair.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 18, 2006 5:00 PM

Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say the city was crappy. I said there are just as nice places to live elsewhere that aren't that expensive because father of 4 ask if people had a different experience.

I was offended by bethesda moms comments. It's not the city it's the people in the city and the cost of living. grow up and find someone else to pick on becase i am not a good target for you.

Posted by: scarry | April 18, 2006 5:10 PM

I don't understand why sick and claws mcgee are picking a fight with scarry, unless they are the same person. People were talking about the subject of other places to live so scarry joined in. I also think that if you are going to say small towns are uncultered and basically sheltered then you should expect someone to say something back.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 18, 2006 5:26 PM

scarry, scarry, quite contrary,
how to ruin a blog?
with sick & claws, competing with straws,
and working moms stuck in a bog

Posted by: who needs it anyway | April 18, 2006 7:40 PM

I can speak for one "other area of the country" -- the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I grew up in a town of 2,000 where my parents knew practically all my classmates' parents (I graduated with a class of 54.) There were no fast-food joints, no movie house, and when I was growing up, just "broadcast" TV -- and we pretty much only watched a couple things a week on PBS.
I was outside all the time sledding or playing or collecting Monarch caterpillars to raise. Back home, we all read, drew, did crafts, listened to music and enjoyed being together. At school, I could participate in anything I wanted to -- student government, band, newspaper, quiz bowl -- without the incredible overcompetitiveness and overscheduling I see in the Twin Cities.
If you can learn to make your fun in a small town, you can make it anywhere!

Posted by: wenholdra | April 18, 2006 11:17 PM

thanks for all the input. I think it's pretty safe to say that the DC area and Northern VA suburbs is one of the stress capitals of the nation. I hate to admit it, but I got my daughter up at 4:30 this morning so she could complete a huge history project that was assigned over Easter vacation, excuse me I mean spring break. Later today, she'll come home and the first thing she will do is reach for the family size bottle of Advil.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 19, 2006 6:06 AM

I grew up in a small college town, which was great because there were so many more amenities offered there than a normal town of its size. A lot of diversity, as well as talks, free events, etc. I lived in the DC area for many years but have yearned for that small college-town life again. We moved away recently, and I'm so happy to be in a college town again. Best of both worlds, as long as you're not a "city person."

Bethesda was using the "straw-man" tactic where you identify the alternative as an extreme position (dull backwater town) and then shoot it down, thus claiming to rebut the other person's argument. But it's not a fair tactic. What many other people are saying is that DC is more competitive and stressful (and less family friendly) than most other cities, as well as towns.

Posted by: Straw man | April 19, 2006 7:21 AM

What does this even mean?

"scarry, scarry, quite contrary,
how to ruin a blog?
with sick & claws, competing with straws,
and working moms stuck in a bog"

Posted by: Scarry | April 19, 2006 9:31 AM

Scarry, you spent all this time as a SAHM mom with your kids and don't recognize a spoof on a nursery rhyme when you see one??

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Posted by: VA | April 19, 2006 9:59 AM

I'm not a stay at home mom. I have one child who is two and I've worked since I've been 12 years old. I geuss because I amm not a mean person by nature that when somone is mean to me it takes me a while to sort it out. Thanks though for telling me what it meant, I geuss they didn't teach me nursery rhymes where I grew up.

Posted by: Scarry | April 19, 2006 10:08 AM

RE: Teachers only care about academics

The teacher who posted about one of her AP students was clearly concerned about the student, not about the English work that did or did not get done. I am also a teacher, and the degree to which kids are over-scheduled is truly disturbing. Not because they have no time for homework and study, or show up for class unprepared, but because my middle school students turn into little hyper monsters when they don't have time to work off their energy and stress talking with their friends, playing pick-up four square, and enjoying the spring weather. Pressured high schoolers often don't show the stress as obviously, but they feel it. It's my opinion that, beyond school and *maybe* one required activity, even high schoolers should only have activities they ask for and schedule themselves.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 19, 2006 3:55 PM

Teachers and academics: maybe the problem is not too many outside activities but too much homework. Teachers get the kids for serveral (the best) hours of a day. Then they load them up with homework, without regard for the fact that the kids DO need to play with their friends, DO need to relate to their grandparents, DO have other interests and skills to develop.

The idea of one outside activity only is arbitrary and unproductive. Should we live without musicians and athletes? Should a kid who goes to chess club be denied the opportunity to play a sport? Some skills must be taught early in life for a person to excell in their adult life. Music and sports are obvious but there are also those kids who become our greatest scientists.

No one in our family wants our son to have to decide between music and sports. That includes him. My son makes the commitments, with our counsel, but I insist that he live up to those commitments.

Our schools have paid lip-service to the need for kids to have lives outside of academics but they have yet to really implement that policy. We all want to keep up with the Asians in science and math, we want to keep up with the Europeans in languages. That's all great. But parents DO want their kids physically and emotionally strong and I vote very strongly for both sports and music for both of my kids.

A love of music will stay with my kids into their adult lives. Playing sports will keep them healthy and social into adulthood. I'm looking at the whole child who will eventually become a whole adult.

Posted by: pta mom | April 19, 2006 4:25 PM

Things are starting to get testy on this blog again . . . why does it always go there? There isn't a need to bash other people's choices or comments. Please, everyone, I'm all for having dissenting opinions, but I think it's most constructive if you can state your views in a neutral way.

My teen daughter overschedules herself, and then gets stressed when she has to meet all the committments. She's very social and active and wants to try everything. I'm stressed just being around her sometimes and helping her to get to all those committments (since she doesn't drive yet so we have to shuffle to/fro music lessons, scouting, sports, etc). Our preteen son signs up just for what he wants, which so far is only school band and a sport. He's much more laid back. I think a lot has to do with their personalities of wanting more more more and trying to get ahead ahead ahead. Some of our daughter's thinking might come from the fact that I do work outside the home - sometimes as much as 60hr weeks, and she must see that as a way of life is this area. Although the past 5 years I've curbed those long hours immensely; I was about to crack from the stress. Now I make it a point to relax - at first I had to go out of my way to do it, and kept worrying about being late to the office, etc. but now if I'm rushed out of the house in the morning, I hate it. It's not normal for me anymore and I like myself (and so does my husband) better in this more de-stressed mode.

Posted by: alexandria | April 19, 2006 4:36 PM

This posting is very pertinant to my current decisions. My husband and I are both overachieving professionals working more than full time, and caught with the realities of very young children and aging/ health issues in our parents. I've reclaimed some vacation time the last two weeks and am actively persuing what we can do to totally invert the priorities and time commitments in our life. We have decided that we don't want out children to see how we are living and internalize that as what is expected or appropriate. (My life for the two weeks of vacation has been great :) Can it be maintained?)

I haven't read all of the comments to this posting, but I was struck by the recurrent theme of moving away from the DC area as a way to reduce stress. This too is something we are considering ... finding a house that is less than half the cost of our current one, and a social network where "more" and "overachievement," are not the norm. Professionally, I also must endorse the position of the earlier posters who comment on the over-structured and over-scheduled children and adolescents.

I'm wondering how this will all play out, and how I will deal with my own internalized deamons (ie - what will my parents think, despite knowing it doesn't matter :) We shall see.

I hope others are finding this community of support as useful as I am.

Posted by: entropy(2under3yrs) | April 21, 2006 12:04 PM

everyone would like to live in there childhood town...but people have no choice sometimes because of job...spouse...and personal circumstance...such a having a special needs child who needs the best school envinroment this area can provide.

Posted by: soyalonzo | May 1, 2006 5:54 PM

I was the classic 'latch-key' child way back in the 50's and 60's. Looking back, it was rather sad. Coming home from school every day to an empty house; waking up on summer mornings with your parents gone. An overwhelmed, exhausted mother who ended up totally burned out by the time I was in high school. Lucky for her, she got her own pension because my father ended up bankrupt and broke! They ended up living on my mother's Federal pension!

I have worked my whole life but I stayed out in the Virginia suburbs working as a secretary with flex time and my only child never had to be a 'latch key kid' thank God. How I envied my friends homes where their mothers were waiting there for them in a clean house and yes a batch of freshly baked cookies!

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Posted by: John S | September 2, 2006 12:29 PM

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