A counter-cultural sabbath rest

soccerI am excited for 2013 for many reasons – not the least of which is that my family is taking a sabbatical rest from sports or other major commitments that we cannot do as a family. Yes, that means that we are even taking a break from the “sacred cow” of competitive soccer. Many around us think that we’re crazy and are quick to remind us that we likely are ruining our kids’ chances of getting a college scholarship – that our kids will never be able to “catch up” to the kids who are training in 2013.  Well, we’re willing to take that chance : ).

Why are we doing it? Simple. The health of our family.

We were apart way too much in 2012, and the health of our family suffered greatly. Among other things, we were apart nearly every weekend last summer and this fall, we rarely ate dinner together and it was rushed when we did. Becca and I went on very few dates because we simply didn’t have time. Our family didn’t play games together, rarely went to the park as a family, and were not able to have regular family devotionals and extended conversations. We seemed to spend more time fighting than laughing, and our older kids were stressed a good deal of the time because there simply were too many things on their plates.

Sunset picSo we decided to take a break from the chaos, slow down, and see what happens. We are already seeing a difference, as the practices and other commitments have died down in December. We eat dinner together nearly every night, are playing games together, are watching old home movies together, and, as a result, are talking and laughing a whole lot together. In addition to more of that type family fun, we are excited to take some road trips together, run on the local track “team” together, have our 10 and 11 year old coach our 4-year-old’s soccer team next fall, and just hang out more together.

Now I’m not living in a dream world – I know that this won’t solve all our problems and won’t result in no fighting. I know that it won’t magically transform our home into the Cleaver home, and we don’t want it to. Becca and I simply want to build deeper relationships with each other and with our kids. And we want our kids to to develop deeper relationships with each other, because the reality of it is that most of their current friendships will fizzle out, but they will always have their relationships with their siblings (and their parents).

Before I sign off today, I want to be clear that I’m not advocating this for everyone in 2013. While we think it is right for our family right now, it definitely is not for everyone. That being said, I can’t wait to see how our family dynamics are affected by it, and how our relationships are strengthened through it. Stay tuned for follow-up blogs next year on the sabbatical’s impact on our home.

  • Katie Shenk

    Phil, I will be very curious to hear your stories and experiences throughout 2013 and beyond. I, too, have been struggling with the direction of competitive youth sports. I feel as if each sport is demanding year-round attention from young children, which in turn is creating a generation of one dimensional individuals. Some of the most interesting people I have met over the years are those who have a vast array of experiences to share and more to explore. Not only do I agree with you that the demands of activities can strain family relationships, but I also think children need variety, both mentally and physically, in order to properly develop into successful young adults. You should reach out to our friend from college (Meagan McGuire Frank); she is researching and writing a book about youth sports and I’m sure she would be fascinated to hear how your year progresses. Perhaps if more parents are willing to stand up for what we believe, we can alter the course in a posiive manner. Best of luck to the Darkes! Katie Shenk

    • phildarke

      Thanks for the encouragement Katie! I agree with all of your concerns. It is interesting that many of the parents who have expressed agreement with our concerns played sports at high levels (college and beyond) themselves. I think that we understand the importance of balance and risk of potential burnout ourselves, and are seeking to ensure that we raise our children in a way that gives them the best chance of not burning out, being well-balanced, productive members of society, and still loving the games they play when they are parents themselves. We know that team sports have tremendous value in teaching leadership, teamwork, and other life lessons, are a whole lot of fun, and can be enjoyed for a lifetime – but too much of a great thing is still too much.

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