Caught Up In the Carpool Line

It’s another Wednesday morning. You’re up early, hopefully before the kids, yet wishing you were not up at all. In a haze you pour a cup of coffee and begin counting the events that must transpire before the weekend, seeking a little bit of hope upon the realization that it is not too far away. You snap out it and get on to your typical morning routine, heading out the door and into the carpool line with your peers who have all just completed their own similar version of the same hazy morning routine.

And there is similarity in other areas as well. You drive the same or similar cars. Perhaps work similar jobs or have daytime routines. You have the similar longings and dreams. And in similar fashion, you probably will not have all the time you want today and will find yourself rushing to pick up those kids at what seems to be an all too early 3 o’clock, get them to some post-school event, feed them, bathe them, and get them in the bed, all so you can wake up the next day and do the same thing. And by now, you may just be coming to the same unexciting realization as everyone reading this- that maybe your life is just not that exciting. Maybe even a little…gasp…depressing?

Even if you are not in this stage in life yet, it can come upon you much more quickly than you expect, so take note, there is still something to learn here because you may be familiar with this truth: You are living a life that you never really intended. You perhaps felt some control over things awhile ago, and maybe even consciously chose to do have kids, maybe stay home or still work, but the cement seems to have hardened and your choices seem to have dwindled. You feel as though you have little autonomy and choice in life anymore. And furthermore, a successful day has gone from exercising, grocery shopping, or closing some big at work to simply getting everyone out the door without messing up their clothes. So what gives? How’d you get here? And what do you do about it?

Well first, it’s not uncommon to wake up around middle age and begin to wonder what in the world you are doing with your life. But this wake up can usually be attributed to the fact that one has stopped working towards life goals, or never had those life goals to begin with, in which case you have just been absorbed into the carpool line of life. You buy this car, go to this school, enroll the kids in this event simply because everyone else has done so. At some point you relinquished control of all your life, caved, and bought the minivan because you watched the family in front of you in the carpool line easily get in and out everyday, and again, easy has become our highest daily aspiration.

You forgot that you hated minivans, and maybe still do. But you really hate the minivan life. The minivan life is like the minivan itself. It’s easy to drive, operate, and for the kids to get in and out. But you don’t like it. You weren’t enthused about the it’s sleek, yet not so sleek design. You didn’t pin photos of it up online. You didn’t think ten years ago “I am really looking forward to my first minivan purchase”. You just found one for a good price. And that’s what the rest of life has become, a carpool line of easing into our late forties or early fifties with our dual sliding doors, completely dissatisfied and full of regret.

But nonetheless, there’s hope. You can regain control. Here’s how:

1.     Admit you lost your way.

Like most anything involving change, it first requires us to admit that something is amiss.  You must be willing to see and admit that things are not going as you planned and actually desire to do something about it to improve it. Other steps you can take are to have this conversation with your spouse, or perhaps a counselor. But not matter what, you have to be willing to evaluate what is not where you want it and where things got off track.

2.     Figure out what you do want.

Once you realize you don’t have what you want, sit down with yourself, maybe your spouse, future spouse, and maybe even your kids (assuming appropriate age) and figure out what you do want. Ask yourself and the other key stakeholders in your life questions like “Where do we want to be in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years?”, “What do we want to have achieved in the next year?”, “What do we want to be remembered for by our loved ones?”, “What do we want for our family or career?”, “What would we want our obituary to say?”.

We need to ask these questions because we are doing so many things and have our children doing so many things, but usually we never stopped to ask why? Is there anything wrong with basketball, minivans, dance, piano, youth group, or any number of things, events, and places we drive in or to. No. There’s nothing wrong with them in and of themselves, but all these things become problematic because they have no deeper purpose or meaning in our lives. They certainly can, but if we did not choose them for those deeper reasons, they are simply more things to do. So we need to formulate goals for our lives and for our families and out of that, make decisions as to what we buy, where we go and what we sign up for. This is how we begin to take control. But we’re not done yet.

3.     Create rhythms that support your goals.

In order to reach your personal and family goals, you must begin to shape your daily lives and activities based on where you want to be. Just like most anything in life, it’s not a sweeping or drastic change that makes a big difference. Those drastic change often are not maintainable. It’s more so the day to day life, which is actually clear based on the current dissatisfaction with the day to day that led you here in the first place. These day to day activities would be most accurately called Rituals of Connection. Examples of these would be family meals, waking up and going to bed, coming and going, going out and going away, and couple rituals. You more than likely have some form of a routine now, but it’s probably not giving you the life you desire, hence it’ not a ritual. It’s just a mundane routine. 

What makes a ritual a ritual?

To be a ritual, it must be executed three times or more, survive a normal threat (i.e. another equitable event), be repeated, coordinated, and significant, have a transition phase into the ritual (ex. Ringing a dinner bell), enactment (ex. everyone seated, saying the blessing), and an exit (ex. asking to be excused). See, manners and etiquette do matter! And finally, these rituals change as a family matures and ages.

On a larger scale, rituals need to be affixed to some larger goal of what you desire or yourself and your family. Through this process, we usually realize that we can accomplish much of what we want in life if we add intentionality to what we do out of necessity and eliminate more events that we use to find meaning and purpose. We realize we can breath once more if we could make dinner a meaningful time for all and didn’t have to find a special time to connect with our child in the week that we never actually find and feel guilty about. We find one or two extracurricular events for our kids to participate in that truly give them the experiences we want for them to have rather than doing everything that comes our way simply because their friends do it. Who knows- if everyone took a step back, there may be far fewer activities to begin with. Perhaps we would not have to create reasons to not be at home if home was a meaningful place once more. And maybe you could sell the minivan and get out of the carpool line of life.

For more on this, I recommend reading The Intentional Family or perhaps coming to counseling. And if you would like, I would love to speak at your church or group on how to become a more intentional family.