A Time for Everything {Part 6}: The Art of Underachieving


Our 2012 Christmas letter provided friends and family with an obligatory update, one paragraph for each member of our family. Allow me to share my portion of the letter:

Marian: Has not been promoted. You might say I’ve actually given up. {George Costanza sweatpants episode anyone?} After four years of graduate school, five-and-a-half years of teaching college students, and five years of schooling my own kids at home, I now do none of the above, a status of which I’m quite proud. I used to refer to myself as a “recovering academic.” Now I refer to myself as a “recovering homeschool mom.”

The reality is: I’m simply recovering from doing more than I could reasonably handle and still maintain sanity. The kids have been in public school for a year now and it has been a blessing, exactly what all of us needed. Slowly I am finding rest and renewal and I don’t plan on adding new endeavors anytime soon. Though my roles as wife, mom, and fledgling manager of our home are plenty, I do enjoy a bit more time to pursue my love of writing, books, solitude, and compulsive furniture rearranging.

In short, I’ve professionalized underachievement and I’d like to share the wealth. There is method to this life of margin, rejecting prodigy-status for your kids, and playing wiffle ball in the backyard.


Keep in mind, this isn’t a how-to blog. Not really. I don’t like to be preachy or offer formulas. But I do want to challenge how we think and feel about certain issues. Actions and patterns don’t stand alone; they’re fueled by what’s going on internally.

So I’d like to end this series by offering up simple questions. These are the very questions I ask myself or that my husband asks me when we’re trying to decide where to stake down our yeses and our nos.

Here we go.

Am I saying yes out of guilt?

Could my time and energy be better spent elsewhere?

Am I being passively peer-pressured by my overcommitted culture?

Am I saying yes because I’m afraid of what people will think if I say no?

If I say yes to this, what will I say no to?

Example: If I say yes to soccer as an activity for Kid A, there’s a good chance I’m saying no to preparing dinner on the nights of games or practices, eating around the table together, and Kid A having open-ended play on those days. Play that might take the form of a fort in your dining room.

I’m not anti-sports and activities. Our kids play sports. We just don’t want their stuff overtaking the life of our family and the freedom of their childhood.


If I say no to this, what will I say yes to?

Example: If I say no to working part-time or full-time once the kids are in school, I am probably saying yes to cleaning my own house, scrutinizing the grocery-store flyers, and making the budget stretch in every possible way.

If I say yes, how will this affect my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health?

Too much stress makes us sick. Too little margin squeezes out relationship. Too much doing crowds out space for just being. What are the implications here? Perhaps they’re more significant than you think.

How am I wired? Am I taking my God-given uniqueness into consideration?

Example: If I’m an introvert and I say yes to an opportunity that involves a lot of engagement with people, whether it’s ministry, homeschooling, being involved in kids’ school, etc., I need to know that I’m going to be drained. I’ll have less to offer those who matter most.

Have I prayed about it and taken the time to listen in stillness?

The first time I did this, it was awkward. And I naturally love quiet. Our culture is not one to slow and still and appreciate the sacredness of open-ended space. Quiet listening doesn’t always yield a definitive answer but perhaps it cultivates a spirit that can more easily hear and discern.

Have I listened to wise counsel?

Your spouse? A trusted friend, counselor, or pastor? Those who know you and will be honest with you.

These are some questions to ask concerning our kids:

Can they handle what’s already on their plate?

Do they really want to do this or do I want them to do this?

Have they demonstrated the responsibility to say yes to this?

My husband recently challenged me with some good thoughts here. When considering a great opportunity for our 7th grader, he reminded me:

She is only 12 years old. This is unnecessary. Opportunities like this are a privilege, not something she’s entitled to. 

Basically, we earn the right to be busy with the things we want to be busy with. Generally speaking, 12-year-olds haven’t been on the earth long enough to earn the responsibility to be as busy as we’re often allowing them to be. I’d never thought of it this way. Most of us don’t. What if we thought of opportunities as privileges for our children instead of must-haves?

Are they getting enough sleep?

Here’s what The National Sleep Foundation reports:

Teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough). Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.

Want to know the very first sentence under the NSF’s category, “Teens and Sleep?”

Sleep is food for the brain. 

That’s some simple truth right there.

Babies and teenagers need more sleep than any other segment of the population. {But do not ever tell a sleep-deprived, brand new mother this statistic. She will punch you in the face.} How many of us are robbing our kids of sleep and health because we’re allowing them to be too busy?

Am I comparing my child’s commitments {or lack thereof} to other kids’ commitments?

Comparison is such a liar because it usually means we’re comparing our worst or mediocre to someone else’s best or better.

God picked you for your child. Don’t compare. Don’t cave because you see all of his friends equally overcommitted. Busy-ness is not a badge of honor but it is sometimes a badge of crazy. Stick to your guns. Know his or her limitations. Know your limitations.

My oldest is only in the 7th grade but I told her a couple of weeks ago that if I hear “but everyone else” one more time, my head would explode and it would be her fault. {I have no business writing anything about decent parenting.}

What’s my point? God gives you wisdom for your child. Go with it.

Am I saying yes just to make him / her happy?

I was talking with my mom about all of this stuff and she told me her own angst as a mother on this very issue, how it was easy to feel like a failure when a parental decision resulted in her child’s misery. How she knew that she could make everything right with the world by reversing a decision or giving in. In the short-term, that would have brought surface-level harmony, but not exactly abiding peace. Instead, we all weathered the storm. Perseverance usually gives way to perspective.

Her teenage self may rail against you today. Love her anyway. Try not to take it personally. Know that it’s not your job to make her happy each and every day of her life under your roof. {And now please copy this paragraph down and e-mail it to me because I need reminding more than anyone.}

What do you want the memories to be?

I kind of hate this question. Probably because I’ve already messed up plenty. I cringe at some of the things they’ll remember. Perhaps there are moments, days, months, maybe even years that you wish you could erase and do over.

But don’t let this question make you feel guilty. Here’s the amazing thing about God and his grace. He uses it all, even the stuff we’d rather forget.

Grace redeems what’s gone before and gives us freedom to live more purposefully in our tomorrows. We’ll botch things again, to be sure. But every day, new mercy.

Think about how you want your own kids to remember their childhood. I’m talking about simple things.

  • Every Friday after school, we get ice-cream.
  • Most Friday nights are family-fun night. We pile on the furniture and watch a movie and eat caramel marshmallowy popcorn.
  • They play outside with friends pretty much everyday.
  • Birthday parties are flag football and cupcakes.



  • We worship together on Sundays and eat turkey sandwiches and potato chips for lunch. Every Sunday, this is how we roll.
  • We read or listen to Harry Potter.
  • We try to eat dinner together as often as possible. Usually a simple, one-dish meal. We talk about our day and fuss at the kids for getting up too much or rocking back and forth on their chairs or chewing with their mouths open. Our dinner table is no Norman Rockwell scene, but we’re together and we’re talking and those things count for more than we think.
  • I let them play for as many hours of the day as possible. My driveway is littered with cardboard and bungee cords and junk from our garage. Right now these things are a restaurant. {Notice I did not say that I play with them.}


Do you see what I’m getting at? There’s no perfect. I’m not super-mom. I am usually survival-mom. But there are things we value — margin, play, simple rhythms — and we try to structure life according to these values.

They will not remember perfect parents or perfect days. But I hope they’ll remember their time with us as loving and unhurried and free.

Here’s the last question and it’s aimed at those of us who prioritize passing along our faith to our children. It’s the toughest question of all, one that makes me wince a bit because I realize how far off the mark we are on any given day.

If we say that God is the most important thing — that their spiritual lives, Biblically-driven character formation, relationship with Christ, and love for others is the most important responsibility of parenting — why does our lifestyle reflect something altogether different?

Like I said earlier, don’t let this question induce guilt but instead let it produce awareness. Awareness that leads to repentance and beginning again and starting simple. I’m not going to tell you how to do this; it looks different for each family. But I do know that good things like academics, sports, and all sorts of enrichment activities can actually have devastating effects on the spiritual lives of our kids. We make time for everything. Except God. And I’m reminding myself as much as I’m reminding anyone reading this.

Jesus tells us that Heaven and earth will pass away, but His Word stands forever. 

So I ask you as I ask myself: What are we standing on as a family? What has lasting value and how does this Truth influence our everyday decisions about our busy-ness, commitments, and priorities?



I hope this series has inspired a bit more freedom in the way you think about busyness and opportunity, especially as it relates to our families.

I hope you feel more permission to say no to the things that aren’t really necessary.

I hope that your values and desires for your family will shine more brightly than the overcommitment of our culture.

Be brave. Stand firm. Know that it’s okay if your kids hates you for a day. Or thirty. Risk being misunderstood by others and don’t feel like you have to qualify every no.

A time for everything, but not everything all the time. 

And if all of your overachieving friends leave you in their wake of busyness and bursting calendars, be content to hang back with us in the slacker section. We’ll do lunch at the cardboard restaurant in my driveway.


This post is part of a series. You can find previous posts below.

Part 3: Taking Time for Things to Settle

Part 4: How Cancelled Plans Can Make You Wise

Part 5: Make Time for Rock Sales


  1. says

    This post is an answer to prayer for me today as I’m battling a few situations which prey on my insecurity as a mother and decision maker. Thank you for reminding me that God chose me for this family. Also? I’m still chewing on the thought that rushed decisions usually result in resentment from an earlier post. You are wise and I’m thankful for you.

  2. says

    You wrote, :I cringe at some of the things they’ll remember. Perhaps there are moments, days, months, maybe even years that you wish you could erase and do over.”

    Certainly there are those “erase and do over” desires for all of us as parents, but I’d like to encourage you with this: when it comes to the memories of their growing up, kids tend to recall the good and elevate it to wonderful and recall our haphazard and elevate it to “we always . . ..” Wanna know how I know? I’ve listened to you and your siblings revisiting those years.

    You four are filled with grace for your dad and me . . . and we are forever grateful.

  3. says

    Love this series to bits! I am sitting on the other side of parenting…Emily is 21 now. And because I was always a working mom she did not get to participate ” like everyone else did”. We had to be selective because as an introvert in a extroverted profession by the end of the day…I was just spent. And summers were for swimming, rest, and church. Thanks for sharing your heart in this series. It helps me feel good about the choices I made as a parent, even if along the way I had a hard time accepting grace. AT the time she was little, I often felt so guilty for not being able to go like a “machine” for Emily and give her the “must haves”. THis blog will help so many!

  4. says

    Loved this series so much! We live in the middle of nowhere, literally, our driveway is two miles long. Our remote living has slowed the frenzied pace of life which is a wonderful gift to this season and place. Still i need to be reminded that music lessons, sports, dance, whatever it is I am lamenting not having for my children right now, can still be enjoyed in a different season. Much love scooper! (Loved seeing pictures of Greenville from the weekend, the Carolina’s are calling for me to visit)

  5. says

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful series. This is something I as an introvert need to pray and ponder. I think homeschooling always made me feel like we needed to do so many extras to get the socialization, but it was so draining for me.


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