I've just read this interesting article (thanks for linking to it, Rhonda!) and was left with a lot of material for thought.
"Children need wild, unlimited hours, but this time is in short supply for many, who are diarised into wall-to-wall activities, scheduled from the moment they wake until the minute they sleep, every hour accounted for by parents whose actions are prompted by the fear their child may fall behind in the rat race that begins in the nursery."
While we do not live in a primitive society, and I do believe in orderly routines that include, for instance, regular meal times and bedtime, I also think children need a lot of unstructured time to play, develop their imaginations, and just be. This isn't neglect - this is a real need for children (adults, too) which is being pushed aside in a world where everything is compartmentalized and ten different activities are vying for every open slot of a spare hour.
Our government is using taxpayer money to pay for longer and longer school hours, extended afternoon daycare programs, compulsory education from the age of three - and for what? For the good of the children, supposedly. But is it really in the children's best interest to be shut between four walls for most of the day and shuttled between home, school and afternoon engagements?
The reality is that, as it becomes more common for both parents to work long hours, a lot of things are lost, some of them important, some of them among what makes life worth living. There is no real place for the child in such a life; and so people campaign for long school hours and many after-school activities, while the only purpose of it all, truly, is to create a place where the child can be until he is picked up, driven home, fed supper and put to bed.
Please let it be known that I'm not criticizing anyone personally. I have friends who work long hours because that is what has to be done for their family at this time, and they are most certainly well-meaning people who love their children. But I often hear the argument that children are "deprived" when they aren't given enough organized activities, and/or don't go to school, because supposedly they won't "fit in". I say that children who have no free time to dream and roam, and little to no contact with nature, are truly deprived.
We all live in our unique circumstances. We all strive to make the best we can of what we have. I have a firm belief that when you have a goal in your mind, and particularly when you pray for it, little by little, almost unconsciously, you are changing the circumstances of your life. If your goal is to live simply and spend more time together as a family, but you don't know how to bring this about at the moment, don't be frustrated. Wait and pray, and eventually, almost always a chance will present itself.
PS: A very happy Shavuot to all my Jewish readers!