Do you get up before light and go to bed long after dark, but still feel there isn't enough time in the day to accomplish everything on your to-do list? Do you struggle to balance work, family, household chores and social obligations? Do you fret about the bills' due-by dates, the kids' discipline, crime rates, terrorism and your health?
If you just said Yes, Yes and Yes, you are not alone. More than 90% of respondents in a National Women's Health Resource Center survey last year reported that the level of stress in their lives was moderate or high and more than half said that stress adversely affected their personal lives. Many of us are busier than ever — and, according to some experts, busier than we should be.
“Many of today's jobs are not family-friendly,” says David Reuter, a Catholic family counselor at the Center for Peace in the Family in Eureka Springs, Ark. “Employers often demand that the job comes before the family. Many families are dependent upon two such jobs to make ends meet. Mom and Dad are often stretched to the limit.”
Reuter believes that many of today's families are further strapped for time because their children are involved in an overwhelming number of extra-curricular activities.
“Many sports programs demand endless hours of practice time and games can take our children hours from home and late into the night,” he says. “Add a few unavoidable social events and there is next to nothing left for the family at home. Time for chores, meals, family recreation, family communication and prayer are carved out of what is left: not much.”
Reuter contends that this kind of strain on family time is a threat to the health of individual family members, not to mention to the emotional and spiritual well-being of the family unit.
“People say and do things they often regret when they are under stress,” he explains. “Our ability to be patient, kind, understanding and forgiving is often quite limited at such times. Harsh discipline, yelling, name-calling, cursing and mutual blaming can rule our family relationships and we can lose all sense of peace in our home.”
Some Catholic families are making a conscious effort to remove themselves from the typical, modern-day rat race and preserve a healthy home life.
With five young children, a full-time job and a home daycare business, Joe and Jeanette Klein of Blaine, Minn., have plenty of opportunities for stress in their family life. They are careful, though, not to let work or outside activities threaten peace in their family.
Jeanette explains that, before the family will commit to any outside activity or obligation, the activity must meet certain criteria. First, they consider whether a proposed activity could potentially bring the family or an individual family member closer to God. Second, the proposed activity could be approved if it teaches a valuable life skill such as swimming lessons or karate. Finally, no outside activity, no matter how worthy, is acceptable if it would significantly detract from what Jeanette calls “family time.”
“If it means we will not be able to eat supper together or even see each other some nights of the week, then this is not a good plan.”
In addition to limiting outside activities, the Kleins further reduce stress by taking regular family trips to break up their routines and spend undisturbed time together.
“We have a family cabin we go to frequently,” Klein says. “This gives us nice time together on the ride there and back, and time uninterrupted by the usual demands of life while we are up there. I really cherish that time.”
Darcee Thomason of Portland, Ore., finds that not watching television greatly decreases stress for her, her husband and their five children.
“The real beauty of getting rid of the TV,” she says, “is the amount of time it frees up to do things like play games as a family, talk, tend to the housekeeping, go for walks, read or work on craft projects.”
Besides gaining time, Thomason believes that her family benefits from an absence of the stress-inducing images and information many television programs pour into the minds of their viewers.
“There is an element of stress that is added just because of the information that is sent into your home and we completely avoid that,” she adds. “My children don't see graphic images of the military happenings overseas.”
The Thomasons are active members of their community, participating in sports, chess clubs, school committees and their parish pastoral council, but they make an effort to restrict the number of their outside commitments and are careful not to let social activities threaten their family life.
“We limit after school play-dates and sleepovers,” Thomason says. “Usually we go for a hike together as a family each Saturday. We attend Mass, we read, we pray and we study together.”
She is clear, however, that the things her family does to reduce stress are not difficult or extraordinary.
“Any family that put the same priorities first in their lives would have a similar result. The teachings of the Church reinforce what we are trying to do.”
Prayer Produces Peace
Jerry Coniker, father of 13, grandfather of 56 and co-founder of the Apostolate for Family Consecration and Catholic Familyland in Bloomingdale, Ohio, knows a thing or two about the stresses of family life.
When he looks back on the life and work he shared with his late wife Gwen, one thing stands out as the most essential element in preserving family peace and keeping his children faithful.
“The most important thing we did to protect our family was to pray the daily rosary,” he says.
He worries that today's hectic schedules and the frenzied pace of modern family life leave little room for family prayer.
“We have to get back to the basics and anchor our children in the truth,” he says. “It might be hard to find time [for family prayer] so maybe you'll have to schedule your spiritual life.”
Coniker further recommends that Catholic parents make frequent, short prayer a daily habit. Particularly in those moments when the stress of too many responsibilities and too little time threaten to get the better of us, he suggests saying a short prayer and abandoning oneself to the will of God before responding to the situation.
“If the kids are pushing your buttons, get a prayer out before you respond to them. If you have a disagreement with your spouse, pray about it for a while before you overreact.”
David Reuter agrees that faith and prayer are critical to overcoming the challenges of stress in modern family life.
“Christ our peace is with each family as we struggle to make good decisions, develop our gifts, and love one another through the thick and thin of everyday family life,” he says. “Our Catholic faith enables us to find the wisdom, courage, strength and support we need to face every challenge.”
And for those times when we feel over-stressed and overwhelmed by worldly worries, Reuter offers a simple reminder: “Our faith is in Jesus Christ who said: In the world you will have troubles, but fear not, for I have overcome the world.’”
Danielle Bean writes from Center Harbor, New Hampshire.