MaryangelaAn interesting – and unplanned – common thread appears in the work of all three of our columnists this month.

Jennifer Christ calls it the “mad dash,” Annemarie Scobey-Polacheck describes it as “over-programmed” and Jeff Wenzler speaks of how “overcrowded our kids’ lives are.”

Jam-packed schedules filled with athletics, dance, music are the norm for many children.

There’s no denying the benefits of extra-curriculars in keeping children healthy, introducing them to a variety of interests and occupying their time constructively, so they don’t find time for life’s vices. Yet, how much is too much for a family?

As Annemarie wrote, individually the children might not be over-programmed, if each is involved in one or two after-school activities. That’s certainly manageable for one child, but multiply that by two, three, four or more – and family life can become quite hectic.

I’m particularly aware of that as our family just returned from a weekend trip to Indiana for a rugby tournament, an event that forced us to miss dance practice and an open house at the dance studio. The week ahead is filled with softball, piano, tap, jazz, ballet – and of course, more rugby – and this is for only two of our three daughters, as the oldest, Marisa, is away at college.

Our lives, it seems, revolve around the girls’ activities and shuttling them to and from games, practices and lessons.

Yet, with one daughter in college, I know how quickly it all comes to an end. Marisa is busy with classes and continues volunteering at an abuse shelter, but she doesn’t have the packed schedule of dance, music and aerial fabric classes that she had in middle and high school. And since she lives on campus, we don’t have to shuttle her nearly as much.

As our columnists write, it’s important for each family to find the right balance that will work for them. How much is too much will likely vary for each family, but it’s important to consciously make that decision.

Balance is most definitely the goal, as Annemarie writes on Page 5, it’s important to find “the activities that engage their children without sacrificing the pleasure that can come from having unstructured time as a family.”

Jeff Wenzler, on Page 11, takes this theme a bit further and reminds parents that it’s not only important to be physically present for your children, it’s important to be an available parent as well. Read his piece to understand the distinction.

Many times, in fact, children’s activities contribute to family togetherness. In our case, the many hours driving to and from lessons and practices have been great opportunities for conversations about school, friends and issues that might be important in the girls’ lives.

We’ve also been fortunate to find activities for the girls where the coordinators share our values.

This past weekend of girls’ high school rugby in Elkhart, Ind., is an example.

Yes, Divine Savior Holy Angels’ A-team won the Midwest High School Rugby Championship with a hard-fought victory over a very tough Catholic Memorial team, and the DSHA B-team won the festival portion of the tournament defeating Vernon (also from southeastern Wisconsin), but the highlight of the weekend for me was a Saturday evening Mass and dinner, arranged by a DSHA parent, Julie Wendelberger.

She had randomly contacted a Catholic parish in the Elkhart area to ask for Mass times and Fr. Bill Sullivan, pastor, graciously welcomed the team and parents to their Saturday evening Mass, and also allowed us to use their church hall for a dinner after Mass.

What a warm welcome from the Indiana parish where the usher greeted every Milwaukee visitor warmly and Fr. Sullivan made us feel at home during the Mass and visited with us afterwards during the dinner.

And as Julie wrote, “We have so much to pray for and to be thankful about as a team. Perhaps, this is the ‘extra help’ from above that is needed to take back the national title” (for which DSHA and Catholic Memorial will both compete in Palo Alto, Calif., in mid-May).

Gathering for prayer and fellowship in the midst of the highly competitive tournament – and seeing their coaches take time to pray with them – seemed to put the weekend and the girls’ efforts into perspective and likely delivered a powerful lesson to the girls.

This marks the last issue of Catholic Herald Parenting for the school year, but we’ll return in fall with a revamped publication and a new name, but with more of the same informational, inspirational content you’ve come to expect.

Have a wonderful summer!