I know that many of us parents end up feeling drained by our children’s schedules, especially as those children get old enough to have their own social lives and interests. Because our days seem full of child activities, we instinctively grab at any free space to do more adult things – spend time with our partners, hang out with our friends, play at our own past times, or even just get some things off of our never ending to do lists.
All that stuff is good, of course. It’s important to take time for ourselves, for our partners, and for our friends. Sometimes, however, we can forget that taking kids to soccer or dance or whatever isn’t actually spending family time with them. As important as it is for us to support our kids in this way, it isn’t the same as everyone getting together to do something as a family.
For example, this past weekend, I was at a writer’s event all day Saturday, and my wife had the kids at the first soccer tournament of the year. I got home in time to take in the final game, while my wife took our youngest out to do a few errands. By the time everyone got home, we were pretty tired, and it would have been easy not to go to our friend’s retirement concert.
But we went. All of us. As a family. And we had a great time. The music was a little too folky for the kids’ taste (for mine too, to be fair), but many of our friends were there, so we spent some time eating and chatting and doing something we could all enjoy.
Sunday was similar. We all had our own things to do – my eldest was at a sleepover the previous night, and I had an authors’ group I was running in the afternoon, and my wife had some things she had to take care of for a friend, and then I had to help a neighbour put in a patio. It would have been easy just to let our camp bowl-a-thon go that night. No one would have blamed us.
But we went. All of us. As a family. And we had a great time. I don’t really like bowling that much, and my kids are getting to the point where they can beat me, so it was a humbling evening, but it was good to spend some time doing something together as a family.
There will be times, of course, when the family really won’t have the energy for one more thing. Sometimes the better choice really will be just to stay in and give everyone a break. We need to make sure, though, that we do keep enough time to be together as families.
These times let kids know that they’re part of a team, that they’re valued not only as individuals with their own gifts, but also as members of a larger group, as contributors to the family. We might not all love the same activities. Some of us might not like folk music, and some of us might stink at bowling, but we’re still a part of each other, still loved, still included.
That’s a powerful message for kids, one they need us to give them more often.