I recently reposted a newspaper clipping on the LAADD facebook page that spoke to a child’s inability to deal with boredom and not knowing what to do or where to go when they had down time. It seemed appropriate to me only because I had just endured a summer in which my kids required a lot of hands on management as my ex-wife and I juggled life and child care.
When you’re a parent I think it’s natural to feel like you need to provide your children with plenty of different experiences. I know my ex and I make a point of exposing our kids to a lot of different places and activities. Our first born was out of the house and introduced to the outdoors and the community no more than a week or so after being born. We’ve always done everything we can to give the kids a sense that the world is a place to explore and enjoy and make a point of providing them with opportunities to experience people, places and nature first hand. And yet, as freelancers, our lives and budgets sometimes dictate that responsibilities are what they are and the kids are required to entertain themselves.
And so comes summer. Life for a parent doesn’t stop when school lets out. We still have jobs and deadlines. There’s no final bell ringing and you never see staffs running out of the building throwing their employee manuals to the side dancing ala High School Musical. (Although that would be pretty awesome). But the reality for most people is, we have to figure out what to do with our kids for a span of 8-10 weeks. When I was a kid it meant playing with friends in the neighborhood, riding bikes, pick up baseball games and watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. But that was 35 years ago. Our society today seems hell bent on making a parent feel guilty if their kid isn’t involved in at least 5 extra curricular activities at a time and playing soccer or in their first dance recital by age three. And of course for summer, there may be a plethora of camps to choose from that are supposed to help provide parents with child care while offering kids something fun do to. But the truth is they’re typically scheduled mid day requiring us to drop the kids off at 9 and pick them up at 1 or 2 which is REAL convenient when you have a real job, but then that’s a whole nother post.
Getting back to summer. As the summer was coming to a close, I myself marveled at all that the kids and we as a family had done. There were horse camps, fashion camps, soccer camps and school summer rec camps which included field trips to a water park, the zoo and public pools. We also made a few road trips to go tubing, fishing, swimming, and smoring, (um … it’s a word.) And yet, as the out of school fiasco came to a close, there were rumblings of discontent with summer being labeled as a boring uneventful 8-10 weeks.
My mental, emotional, financial and physical exhaustion would suggest otherwise. OK. So did we go to Disneyland? No. Did we take a 2 week road trip to Yosemite? No. Did we break bread with the Dalai Lama? Did we swim with dolphins? Nope. (A lot of Carp maybe, but sadly not dolphins). Regardless, from my perspective, all things considered it had been a pretty cool summer break filled with a lot of cool experiences, plenty of diverse activities and most of all a lot of family time. And to me that’s what was most important; especially now that we were fully entrenched in a two home family, the fact that the kids had a lot of time with both their mom and me.
I was so taken aback by some of it and the fact that, even after all of the efforts my ex-wife and I had put in to ensuring our kids had a great summer, there were still those who felt it wasn’t enough. My response? I suggested we all go out for dinner to celebrate the end of summer. But before we did, everyone had to write down their top 10 favorite moments of their vacation. We all then sat down together, including my ex-wife, at what has become our “celebratory restauran,” and recanted all of the events that shaped the summer.
My goal was to refresh everyone’s memories. By reminiscing and laughing as we thought about different things we did and reminding each other of certain moments many of us forgot about; perhaps we could refocus on all of the great family time we shared. We’d be able to recognize the efforts that went in to making sure everyone got to their camps on time and realize just how much was accomplished during the past few months. I also wanted to have a chance to remind the kids how fortunate they were to have the opportunities they were provided.
Once we’d gone through our lists and began remembering all of the events that had taken place in a the span of a couple of months, my ex then suggested the kids pick out one or two things that we’d like to try and do NEXT summer. So everyone thought a bit and wrote down a couple of summer vacation goals. So rather than them being things we didn’t get to do THIS year, they became things we’ll get to do NEXT year.
And it all seemed to work. As everyone read through their lists, it was obvious we had each forgotten about a few things. By the end of it our middle child had amended her own list which was now her top “25” favorite moments. Even our oldest, who came to the table with an attitude about the “lamest summer ever,” left laughing about some of her favorite moments from the summer and excited about next year’s break.
So let’s think a second about what it mean to entertain our kids. Do we hold some amount of responsibility to provide our kids with activities and experiences? I think to some extent we do. But I also think we have just as much of a responsibility to make them aware of what it takes to create those opportunities. That life isn’t just a
big carnival every day. As Laurie Helgoe Ph.D. writes in her book, “Introvert Power,” we as parents have just as much of responsibility to teach our kids how to enjoy solitude and down time. That we need to teach them the joy of quiet and the ability to sit alone in a room and read a book and feel as much enjoyment and
fulfillment as when they’re out on the lake tubing. I agree with that. Life is about balance and understanding that we work hard, play hard and should also relax hard.
Whether you’re married or divorced, you have a life. A life filled with responsibilities, pressures and deadlines. Keeping our kids entertained should not be one of those pressures. After all, we aren’t cruise directors. At the same time we should show our kids that despite the negative aspects of life, it can be fun and we owe it to them to show them the value of cutting loose once in a while. And of course we owe it to ourselves to take a
break and enjoy this time with them as well.
Is it easy to go overboard in our attempt to keep up with the Jones’s? Yup. Do we occasionally let guilt push us over the limit sometimes? U-huh. Do we suffer from our own peer pressure to entertain our kids with a trip to Disneyland? Sure. I think that’s a lesson for all parents. At some point, we need to recognize that it’s o.k. to say no and teach our kids the art of not only entertaining themselves but by making a point to add responsibilities to the list of summer “fun” things to do. Again, it’s about balance. Easier said than done sometimes, especially when your kid is proclaiming out of sheer agony how “BORED” they are. But that’s an opportunity for us to teach them how to become “UN-bored.” Give a man a fish, teach a man TO fish, yadda yadda yadda; Go mow the neighborhood lawns to help pay for our trip to Florida.
I can only hope that as they get back to school and share their summer experiences with their friends that they’ll realize even more just how amazing the past several weeks have been and be reminded of how fortunate we are to, above all, still be a family.