* Happy Father’s Day! None of this – my blog, my family’s summer-long adventure, or my family itself – would be possible without my amazing husband. Similarly, I would not be as able and willing to take a three-month hiatus from my job and daily pressures without the support and encouragement of my Dad. Both fathers have been instrumental in helping me create my dream life. Thank you! *
As I wrote in my last post, my family has taken the summer off from our hectic schedule of work, preschool, dance / gymnastics / swimming / soccer classes, birthday parties, play dates, home improvement projects, yard maintenance, etc. in the hopes of slowing down for some quality time together before my oldest starts kindergarden. As much as we enjoy all the people and fun activities in our daily life, we seem to always be busy doing something so there doesn’t seem to be much time left for actually living. Far too often, when one of my kids will ask me to read a book, play a game, or do yoga with them, I say something like, “Sure honey, I’d love to, right after . . . . ” but never get around to it. This summer, I have been able to enthusiastically respond, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
In recent months, I’ve also grown uncomfortable with how much my husband and I instruct our kids to “hurry up,” “sit down,” and “be quiet.” The reality of our busy life means that we are often trying to get somewhere, but it is completely understandable that my child wants to finish the Lego robot he’s building or examine the new flower bud that’s sprouted on her way to get in the car. Why should what we care about always take precedence over what they care about at a given moment? This summer, on the other side of the world with nothing we have to do and nowhere we need to go, we are allowing the kids to set the pace most of the time (although not when there’s a plane to catch or it’s bedtime). Similarly, research has shown that human beings should not sit as much as we do, and kids especially need movement to learn about the world around them. So we are letting them run and climb and even stand at the dinner table if they want. Finally, I don’t want my kids to lose their shout. Their zeal is still unrestrained by social expectations and self-consciousness. They get caught up in a moment of joy, surprise, imagination, anger, or frustration and get LOUD. I want that to be acceptable this summer.
Now a month into our summer adventure, I can report that this is easier said than done, but it can be achieved. My husband and I are on the same page with these goals, and it takes proactive efforts to pursue them. Small children are generally more active and noisy than is appropriate in most locations. In a restaurant or grocery store, I have to repeatedly ask my kids to stay still and quiet down. To remain true to our vision for this summer, my husband and I have worked to create spaces where my kids can be kids as loud as they want and explore at their own speed.
Good places for child-driven days are game reserves, farms, and the beach, where no one is in a hurry. But a special destination is not necessary. For example, this week we took a day-long walk. I packed sandwiches, fruit, and water bottles and we set off with our double stroller (which meant our three kids had to take turns walking). We stopped by the miniature train tracks where we’d ridden on a tiny steam engine the day before. From there, we fed vegetable scraps to a field of wild bunnies. Then it was on to a park overlooking a valley where we had a blast on an old-school teeter totter and a metal jungle gym that would not pass American safety standards. We had a picnic in the shade before walking on to a local bakery for a loaf of fresh-baked ciabatta bread.
As we walked, we discussed things we saw, heard, felt, and were thinking about. We did ask our kids to stay off the road, but we walked at their pace – stopping often to admire flowers, insects, or fancy houses – and never asked them to keep their voices down. I knew that it is unheard of for a white family to be out walking, but i never felt unsafe and I didn’t mind the funny looks. We returned to my in-laws’ home five hours later, tired and happy.
Although it has taken us a bit to break bad habits, there’s no doubt that we are hurrying, restraining, and shushing our young children less. And when we only raise our voices once or twice a day, our kids listen. Overall, the last five weeks have proven my theory that children’s poor behavior is inversely related to the amount of attention they are receiving from their parents. My kids are usually pretty good, but there has been even less arguing, crying, and complaining since we have been more focused on them. Of course, we cannot cater to our three kids all the time. When my husband and I want to do our own thing (e.g. watch a rugby game, write this blog post, read a book, etc.), we simply explain that we need some time for ourselves but we would be glad to do what they want when we are done. Since our days are unscheduled, we can always follow through on this promise. So we get our grown up time while our kids entertain themselves and then we reconnect afterwards.
Unfortunately, we cannot maintain this work/school-free lifestyle forever. Nor would I want to. It seems that every day there is a fun playdate, neighborhood gathering, birthday party, camping trip, or work event we are missing at home. Part of me is looking forward to going back. In the meantime, we are making progress in developing new habits during this three month pause that we can bring home to our regularly scheduled life. If we can give our kids a little more time to do what they want and a bit more space to move and make noise, I believe we will all be happier, calmer, and more cohesive as a family. Lucky for us, we have two more months to practice.