Christians not immune from 'frantic family syndrome'

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Su Nalpho is like a lot of women, she juggles it all: family, home, career and volunteer commitments. What's missing from the list: down time.

Nalpho, who calls San Diego home, said she is reprioritizing her life so that she has more breathing room.

"The kids have violin lessons, piano lessons, tons of homework and other activities," she said. "If they do one more thing, I'll have to cut down on my cooking and we'll have to eat out more, which means junk food, so I don't want to do that."

Nalpho, who has a career as a software designer, said tennis recently got bumped off the activity list because the family schedule has just gotten too hectic.

"Right now, I'd say my stress lever is at about 9.5," said Nalpho, whose husband is in the Navy and away on assignment.

Psychologist John Rosemond said this type of stress is typical in our culture today. He coined the term "frantic family syndrome," and defines it as "the result of emotional resources that are stretched to the max by an overload of outside commitments."

He describes the symptoms of the syndrome as a lack of energy to be proactive in your family's life, children misbehaving, family members becoming activity addicts, your health suffering and time available for building relationships is sparse.

Even church activities, which may seem good for the family, may be causing some stress.

"It comes down to a choice for the family," said author Pam Farrel. "Church can be a great asset and a great way to enrich us, or it can sometimes be a distraction if you think you have to be there every time the doors are open."

Farrel, who lives in Southern California and has written numerous books including, "The Ten Best Decisions a Parent Can Make," said that every family needs a mission.

She said all families are good at something, but in order to discover its strengths, the family needs to sit down and look at what each person does well.

"Once you have this mission you become more cohesive and effective as a family and it runs more smoothly," she said.


Reassessment advised
The Family Stress Center, in the San Francisco area, offers families help in finding solutions to the daily problems that can make family life difficult.

"We have to step back and look at what too much stress and commitments do to all of the family members," said Barbara Bysiek, executive director of the center. "Sometimes we as adults think we're the only ones stressed, but it spreads to the children, too."

Bysiek, who is also a licensed clinical social worker, said that children all handle stress differently depending on their personalities, but generally, over-commitment causes anxiety.

"They have all of these activities and projects to do, but they can't complete any of them," she said. "Our culture pushes children to be involved in so many activities that they can't do all of them well and then they feel stressed because they aren't excelling."

She said that when families come in for counseling, she recommends sitting down and looking at the family's priorities as a whole and then breaking them down by importance.


Working together
Bysiek said that priorities have to be important to each family member. She said a good example of what should be a top priority is sitting down to dinner together at night.

"Families need this, it promotes bonding," she said. "Everyone needs a safe haven and your family should be your safe haven. By all means, yes, meal time together is a priority, if it's not, make it one."

Another priority, she said, should be time to take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually and physically.

As for the Nalpho household, they are working together to eliminate time-sucking activities from their schedule so that they can slow down and enjoy each other more, but some of the chaos is out of their control.

"True, we're just coming off of the holidays, but it's also just that time of year, the kids get sick and pass it back and forth," Nalpho said. "Someone always seems to have a runny nose, but once this passes and my husband gets home, things will settle down a bit more. I'm looking forward to that."