It’s Saturday afternoon, and I am in heaven. I just took a deep, short nap, and awoke to a quiet, peaceful home “where everyone is sleeping” (the refrain to one of our favorite books). I’m sitting in the big comfy chair by the window, enjoying watching the joggers and walkers pass by on this first beautiful Saturday of September (a cool front came in last night so it’s below 100 degrees for the first time in weeks!) I’m sipping my re-heated coffee, plugged into my heating pad and “Zynex” electrical current machine which “zaps” my hip pain with electricity – Aaaaah, relaxing.
Waking up to our napping house, I was giddy! And I thought to myself, this is such a great weekend family ritual that we enjoy – let’s keep it up! I am now teaching with many moms of teenagers and older children, and several of them mentioned their busy schedules to me this week. As in, “You think you’re busy now, just wait…” or “They get even busier...I hardly see them anymore.” So I’ve been thinking about the longer school-days that await us in elementary school, the homework, the extra extra-curricular activities. And then I think about the Saturday morning we had today, enjoying time with Daddy who was off. MJ got up early with him and they went to the grocery store together while Ellie and I snuggled in bed. Then she stayed in my bed and did computer while I worked on my lesson plans for the week at school. Daddy and the kids had fun in the kitchen making a giant “Rainbow Fish” scone for us to share for family breakfast. Then they shared a family bath, and went to the park.
I realize we’ll grow out of the “family baths”, but why do we have to grow out of the other stuff? I know I’m usually naive and idealistic about things, but can’t my family strive to keep family time as our number one “extra-curricular” activity? Even if it means we do family time to the exclusion of other stuff? Right now the kids are not enrolled in anything but pre-school, and they seem very happy. They love to read and play and craft together, invent machines and games and ways to use their “down-time”. And they STILL want more of it. They STILL ask for more “home days” and time together. So, while I do feel that pull to sign them up for activities that I enjoyed as a kid, for activities that I know other kids their age are doing, activities that target wonderful skills like cooperation, physical fitness, artistic expression, and musical knowledge, my kids seem to be exercising those skills on their own terms, in their own ways, and they’re getting to do it together at home! Flying through the house like pteradactyls, inventing their own yoga poses, working together to defeat the imaginary monsters in the couch, creating instruments and composing songs, drawing maps for games of “hide and seek”, beading jewelry, and painting cardboard boxes.
I know it will be harder to say “no” to activities when “everyone else is doing it”, but don’t we still have that option? Isn’t that still within our control as the parents? I’m not there yet, so tell me if I’m wrong, but it’s not like families have to do sports, orchestra, scouts, youth choir, and chess club as kids get older, right? Those are all “extra” extra-curricular options. My philosophy so far has been to put the children in a school where I know they are getting to enjoy and benefit from many activities and learning opportunities such as these, and to do the rest at home. Does that really need to change in elementary school and beyond if it still works for us? And maybe it works for us because it is what they are used to. They’ve never been in soccer or ballet before, never had somewhere they have to be on a Saturday morning or Wednesday afternoon. I get the importance of exposing elementary-aged children to a variety of disciplines and experiences so that they might “click” with something and discover a hobby or passion. But can’t I work towards facilitating many of these experiences for us as a family and with other friends?
I DO want them to get to have some of those experiences, but I hope to look for shorter-term, lower commitment options – do those exist out there?
Here are some ideas I have for keeping “SLOW” in our “family living“*:
- I intend to hire a piano teacher who comes to our home. I know a couple of good ones, if you’re looking.
- Keep participating in “family” classes. This morning, my friend Jann brought 5-year-old Taylor to my “Family Time” Kindermusik class, an intentional choice she’s made instead of having him in the drop-off class with the other older kids because she’s trying to soak up this time that he still enjoys being with her. They brought me some bread and honey that they’d picked up at a local Farmer’s Market beforehand. What a lovely morning they spent together! There was another family in my class with a Mommy, Daddy, and two daughters (5 and 2) that could have been separated in soccer or ballet instead, but there they were – the whole family- singing and rocking together as we sang “I Love My Family”, holding hands and dancing to “Ring Around the Rosie”, and laughing as they “all fell down”! Something to consider…. (With Kindermusik, even the drop-off classes for pre-schoolers and older children include 15 minutes of “sharing” /bonding/ singing/ playing/ dancing time together.) Any other suggestions for family classes/ experiences in Dallas? Yoga? Art? Dance?
- Or plan the experience you want with your family and some friends if that class doesn’t exist – a soccer “play-date”, an “arts and crafts” day, a trip to a music festival, a family cooking day together. These are the kind of “connection-based” family experiences and opportunities I strive to provide in my “Play-dates with Purpose” – Come join my family for some fun! Check it out, and stay tuned for more to come…
- Find ways to connect after class: don’t just rush to the next event. Have your child share a favorite thing from that activity, share a re-connecting ritual see my post w/ ideas. Ask them to teach you something they learned when you get home. You might have to work to be included in the process, but this is where the emotional connections take place, and how the cognitive connections grow stronger. Yes, it takes more time, but it’s quality time all around!
- Volunteer together – make that your “Mommy and Me” activity in place of another “class”, or your family “outing” for the weekend. Check out “Wee Volunteer”s upcoming events
- Maintain a quiet family “rest time” on the weekends, at least. Perhaps my kids won’t be napping in a few years, but I plan to protect our afternoon down-time: for reading, for playing scrabble, for watching a movie, for doing a puzzle or crossword, for hanging out TOGETHER. No pressure, no place to be, no cost, no driving, LOTS of CONNECTION.
Reminder: I NEVER want any parent to feel judged while visiting my blog. Just like my seminars, it is a “judgment-free zone”! But I always invite parents to come here to pause and reflect about what is or isn’t working for their families, to gain insight from other parenting perspectives, to share my thoughts and struggles, convictions and ideas with you. Whether you take them or leave them, they will help you develop your own path for “intentional parenting”. You and your family might be happiest when you are out and about, attending different activities. Your special Saturday morning ritual may be sharing donuts on the sidelines of the soccer game. Or perhaps you get to enjoy some one-on-one time with one child while the other is in art class (like I did last year). Or maybe you need your kids to attend an activity together so that you can take a 20-minute snooze in the car with the windows rolled down, and be your best self for them that evening…we’ve all been there. But, just maybe you are the parent who is feeling overwhelmed by activities and disconnected from your children. If you are feeling that way, chances are they are feeling that way, too, and might just prefer to be at home with you. Have you asked? Have you tried it? One of the most emotional moments in the mommy-doc film “The Race to Nowhere” about the pressures American children feel in our fast-paced, product-centered culture, is when a 7th grader breaks down when saying she just misses having time to play in the backyard. (see my reflections on the film, one my most commented-on posts).
The good news is that connection with you is also what is most important for your child’s healthy development, so, as I’m trying to remind myself, you really don’t have to stress about what they are missing out on, and it’s free! A mantra that I teach teachers and parents to say to themselves in my seminars is , “Don’t stress, CONNECT!” You know your child best: if you sense they may need to skip an after-school activity to have some ice cream and conversation with you, do it. You know yourself best, too. If snuggling on the couch and reading to your child sounds more restorative to your spirit than driving them through traffic to their karate lesson, allow yourself that option.
“Sometimes the way home is love. Sometimes the way home is together.“
(Mattie Stepanik, child poet/ philosopher, 1990-2004)
* “Slow Family Living” is a movement and a philosophy. Since discovering it years ago, it has really influenced our parenting decisions. check out the manifesto I will offer a “Parent with Purpose” seminar on “Slow Family Living” in the spring so we can share more ideas with each other!