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It's hard to be a real family when Mom is just a chauffeur

Q: My husband and I have five kids ages 11, 10, 7, 5, and 22 months. I would love to keep activities to a minimum to give the kids more time to be kids, but I am finding that to be difficult.

The two oldest are boys, and both are involved in Scouting and music lessons.

The girls, 7 and 5, are involved in one dance class each, and the 7-year-old will start piano lessons in the fall, along with Girl Scouts once a month and a church group that meets twice a month.

They all attend a charter school that does not have a bus and is 20 minutes from our house, so I feel like I am constantly dragging the baby in the car to and from school and activities.

Individually, I don't think any one of them has an excess of activities. But collectively it's overwhelming.

I want them to have opportunities to learn new skills, but it seems to come at a high cost. What would you recommend?

If I may be so bold, I think you've lost perspective on what's truly important here. You're thinking in terms of one child at a time, but you're not considering the impact all of this running around is having on the needs of your family as a unit.

I happen to believe that a family is more important than any one person in it. There are certainly times when the needs of a certain member of the family trump all other considerations, as when someone becomes dangerously ill, but those situations are exceptional, not the rule.

If you can find the time to think in terms of that big picture, I think you'll have to conclude that the children's activities schedule is taking a toll on your family's quality of life. In the final analysis, that's not good for anyone.

It's not good for you to be so consumed by kids' activities that you have no time for yourself. It's not good for your marriage that you are probably in a state of near-constant exhaustion by the end of the day. It's not good for your toddler to be dragged around so much. It's not even good for your older children to be the focus of so much parental energy. They aren't learning to put themselves into proper perspective. They're learning that what they want to do, they deserve to do. That attitude is certainly not conducive to give-and-take in relationships.

Worst of all, your family is slowly fading into nonexistence. You've all but admitted that you have no truly family time, which is the most important time of all. In my estimation, you'd do well to cancel most of these activities and use the time to go on picnics, take trips to museums, and the like.

I recommend that you begin your family's rehabilitation by sitting down with the kids - both you and your husband should be present - and simply present them with the facts: Their activities have become too much. You need to take a permanent breather from being a chauffeur. You need to have some time for yourself, and you and their father need time for just the two of you.

Then set the limit. For example, you'll drive a maximum of four hours a week. That's one hour for each child. Then have them help you work out what stays and what goes. There's bound to be some complaining, so you're probably going to have to make the final decisions.

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