Life for my family and marriage is a whirlwind of endless activities. We never seem to be able to stop and take a breath. How can we preserve a sane existence?

We sympathize! Our family calendar on the wall is so complex that it requires a degree in mechanical engineering to make it all work! Here are some guidelines we consider:

1. Are the children thriving?

Are they happy? Are they positive and cheerful? Are they juggling their activities and keeping up with school? If the answers are Yes, these are good signs. Can they play independently, or do they look to you for constant entertainment? Are they exhausted? Do they mope around the house? Are they so busy that they can’t keep up with regular chores and homework? These could be warning signs that too much is going on.

2. Do the kids have enough free time?

Kids need time to be kids. They should have plenty of unstructured time to allow their imaginations and independence to flourish. Hyper-scheduling them so they are on the go from one activity to the next turns childhood into a job, and risks burning them out on the activities they once loved. Free time also allows them to discover a wider array of interests and talents they may not have known they had. Make sure their extracurriculars aren’t preventing them from running around the neighborhood with friends, digging in the dirt, reading their favorite new series, or shooting baskets in the driveway.

3. Are the children able to spend time with the rest of the family?

Don’t let activities be so all-consuming that you have no family time at home. Some of us rationalize: Time spent at Bobby’s soccer games counts since we are there together.

But let’s be realistic: Bobby is playing soccer, Mom and Dad are chatting with friends on the sidelines, and little Susie and Timmy have run off to the playground because the game doesn’t hold their attention.

Family time means interacting, like sharing a meal and conversation or playing a game. Make sure activities don’t prevent your family from ever sitting down to eat together. Some days are extra crazy, but the norm should be dinner together, even if it means eating early or late to accommodate schedules.

4. Are you and your spouse able to spend time together?

Don’t forget about your marriage. There have been days where I come screeching to a halt at a soccer game with a ballerina in tow, while Tom zooms in in the other car, with an actor and a sleepy 4-year-old as passengers.

We look at each other and say, “Oh, hello! Nice to see you!” We know too much is happening when we can’t attend an event in one car! Make a conscious effort to carve out special time with your spouse.

Remember: Just because an activity is a great opportunity doesn’t mean you have to sign your child up. It is okay to say No. Our kids do not have to play every sport, audition for every play, join every club, or attend every party.

The McDonalds are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.