As a single parent my life can get pretty full. Perhaps the most dangerous trap that trying to juggle it all can lead to is that the kids can start to feel as if they’re just another ball I’m juggling. As much attention as they’re given and as much they’re told how important they are, they can sometimes get lumped into the chaos of work, home, family etc. It’s easy for them to blame it on the divorce but regardless, as important as it is that they understand the realities of life, the last thing I want them to feel like is just another spoke in my life’s wheel.
Part of the problem is that they don’t get to experience time with relaxed dad or undistracted dad. Even when it’s their turn, an e-mail about a project or a phone call can easily pull me away despite my best efforts not to let that happen. And as an independent contractor, it can be difficult to just “shut off work” at 5 p.m. Sometimes notes on a project come in at 6 p.m. or a call from a client comes at 6:30 and as an independent, there is always the fear of losing a client over a missed call or not being there when they need you.
So you juggle. And sometimes you drop the ball. And sometimes it’s at the expense of the kids.
So what’s a parent to do? Well. Some times you have to make a conscious decision to block out the rest of the world and give the kids your undivided attention. Or at least that’s my opinion.
A few years ago one of my sisters called me with an interesting offer. She and her husband live on one of the finger lakes and they had become friends with the guy who owns three houses directly next to them. He rents them out to vacationers and had an opening. He offered it to them at a remarkably lowered rate since it was the off season and he hated to see it empty. It was an amazing offer but they couldn’t find anyone to take it for that week. So they called my wife and I about it and we decided to take them up on the offer. And so my family and I took off for Lavonia, NY.
It wasn’t Orlando or Hilton Head but personally I kind of liked that fact. We had an amazing beach house complete with canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats in one of the most amazing lake communities I’d ever witnessed. AND I didn’t have to sacrifice 3 months pay to make it happen. There were no lines, no rushing to get everything in, no walks to the beach, no $10 sodas just a full week of nothing to do but play in the water, go boating, fish to our hearts content, barb-b-que hot dogs, sit by the camp fire and make smores. AND they got to know their aunt and uncle to boot. On a deeper level, there was magic in being surrounded by nothing but blue skies and water instead of deadlines and office walls.
What I learned that first trip was the value of leaving work behind and playing with my children. Not just playing catch for 30 minutes, but really playing with them. The resulting benefits were undeniable. Their attitudes were better, their reactions to their mom and I were better. And I believe it all stemmed from the fact that their mom and dad were more laid back and less reactive themselves. The kids didn’t feel like they themselves were a distraction, they weren’t an annoyance, they weren’t “in the way,” they were the center of our universe and as a team we took a break from the rest of our lives to focus on our parent / child relationships.
So fast forward a few years to today. Now divorced, the level of chaos has grown 10 fold as I try to maintain the lifestyle we once enjoyed as a nuclear family. As the annual trip to the lake started to approach I honestly didn’t know how I could afford to do it either financially or logistically as work was becoming more of a priority. And then I realized; as I saw the kids starting their summer vacation without me; as my ex-wife and I started attempting to figure out summer schedules, camps, day care, and seeing how all of it was affecting the kids, I realized then that I couldn’t afford NOT to do it. We needed to launch into summer together. We all needed a break to reconnect and remind ourselves that we as a family are the root of all that’s crucial. And for that to happen, the kids needed to be with fun dad, undistracted dad and less reactive dad.
And so it was that we came up for the first week of their summer vacation. And within 24 hours all of the benefits started to become blatantly obvious. Suddenly the 13 hour drive up here, which had reached new levels of angst and anxiety and had me proclaiming that I’d never do it again, quickly demonstrated the value of every mile and every “don’t make me pull this car over.” Even the trip itself became its own battle that we conquered as a team, high-fiving each other as we exited the mobile prison that desperately needed more elbow room.
Just a couple of days in, the kids and I have been reminded that our lives may have many spokes, but we as a family are the bike. The kids are not balls I’m desperately trying to keep in the air along with work and the home and the finances. We’re all jugglers working together. We are a team and sometimes the team needs a break to bond and reconnect, away from the stress. But most of all, I think the kids needed to see me blow everything else off to be with them. Yeah, I still have to clean a bit; do a little laundry; make meals; be responsible etc. Yes I answered a couple of work e-mails and did a couple of quick project fixes to keep things moving back on planet earth. But I’m the one leading the charge as we jump off of the dock into the lake. I’m the one jumping in the Jeep to go by night crawlers and hooks for their rods.
You’ll be able to come up with 1,000 excuses not to do it. But I can’t tell you how crucial it is that you do it. Especially if your family is experiencing a new reality of two households and new routines. Because as important as it is that your kids know you’ll blow off the world for them, it’s not just the kids that need to be reminded that you’re still a family.