Raising children today is very different from when my parents raised my siblings and I. We enjoyed signing up for a sports team here and there, trying out a new class, but for the most part we were home a lot playing with each other.
Fast forward 30 years and wow, have times changed! I love that there is so much more information out there, special events, new activities, fun opportunities, and more! But with all of these possibilities, we seem to also have much fuller schedules.
I only ever saw this as a positive, and loved the fact that my 7-year-old daughter had done more, and tried more, than I had in my entire life! But one day that busy exciting schedule changed for us.
Almost two years ago our son was severely injured. Our entire world turned upside down, and our main focus became caring for him. I felt terrible that our daughter's life changed completely as well! No longer was I hosting play dates and running her from one activity to the next. Instead, we were home....we were always home.
Months passed and slowly we began returning to a few activities.
One evening after school, horseback riding lessons, a few errands, dinner, and homework, I told Mady that it was soon time to get ready for bed. She instantly broke down sobbing "I just want to play" she cried.
I was shocked! Our day had been full, but it was all pretty fun. No one had any meltdowns, I didn't ask them to do any chores, there were no sibling arguments, overall it was just a nice, busy day.
I took some time to reflect on everything that was going on and look at the situation as a whole.......
I believe that play time is incredibly important! However, it often gets traded, or even skipped, for "experiences". But our kids are young, and they only have one childhood.
Looking back before the injury, our life was pretty full and play time was squeezed in throughout the evenings and weekends. But when our life changed, they were able to focus on this important part of their childhood.
I'm thankful that my three are some of the most imaginative and creative children I have ever met! When they play, it often can take 15-30 min, or more, to just set the scene. They set up villages, their little people or characters often have little animal pets, they have vehicles, they set up roads that lead to stores, schools, parks, and more. So when my kids play, they need a lot of time.
Since that night when Mady cried, I have made a very intentional effort to keep our schedules less hectic. Occasionally family commitments force us out and about more than we like (especially around the holidays!), but very quickly we go back to making sure that we spend more time at home than we do away.
As a result I have found several benefits, although I'm sure there are many more:
- My Kids Are So Much Closer - When they get to spend a lot of good quality time playing together, they become genuine friends. Of course there are still sibling arguments from time to time, but I can honestly say that they LOVE being together!
- My Kids Behave Better - I have noticed that when there is too much stimulation, my kids can't handle it. They might be able to keep it together out in public, but once we get home they may have to "release" all of those feelings, and that often comes out in poor behavior, tears and/or even anger. By giving them lots of down time to do what they love, get creative, and unwind, they will sleep better and function better the following day.
- We Save Money - Doing so many activities can be expensive. By cutting back a little, we can use that money for more family travel, or something special for the kids.
- There Is More Excitement - By making extra events and activities a non-daily routine, it makes it more fun and exciting when we do go out, sign up for a class, or try something new. It also takes the pressure away from feeling like they have to always perform their best all of the time, so I think overall they are more laid back and can really enjoy the moment.
- We Get Our Money's Worth - If you are like me, you have spent a small fortune on providing for your children. From shelves full of books, bins full of cool toys, cozy bedrooms, and more, we have bought a lot over the years for our kids. By spending time at home, they really do play with and enjoy it all. There is not much in our house that I regret buying for them, because they really use and play with it all - and that's because I allow them the time to do so.
- In crease In Imagination and Creativity - Our daughter loves ending the night with imagination and creativity. She says that it inspires her dreams, inspires her artwork, which later inspires the way she puts characters together when she plays.
- Learning Teamwork - To create elaborate villages takes effort and teamwork. Together my three learn how to communicate, make decisions, compromise, and come to agreements on what goes where and when. It's interesting to see when someone has a fantastic idea and takes leadership to execute. The others surprisingly listen to the plans, and then jump in to help. They are learning to respect and appreciate each other and each other's work.
- Improving Manners - To go along with the point prior, they are learning how to behave appropriately. I know that you can learn a lot of these skills from being a part of team or league, but there is something to be said for learning to get along well with those that you feel the most comfortable with. I know my kids are more unlikely to yell at a peer than a sibling, so at home we get the most practice for perfecting our manners.
- Better Work Ethic - To set up these elaborate villages and play experiences takes work. It takes work to set them up AND to clean them up. They are also learning about organization - because not much is more frustrating than wanting something specific and not being able to find it.
- Respect - Not only are they learning to respect each other, but they are also learning what it means to respect our belongings and to properly take care of them. They understand that certain items may even have sentimental value, and to keep that in mind when entering someone else's home - their items are to be treated with just as much respect.
I know many of these lessons can be taught in other ways outside of the home, but how wonderful that you have the option to learn all of this without jumping in the car and going somewhere all of the time! So to any mom that feels the pressure to always give her kids new experiences - I ask you to please pause. You do not need to stop living your life, but I encourage you to take a moment to assess it. Ask yourself these three questions:
- Is my child really enjoying or benefiting from this activity?
- Is it worth the time that we are missing from being at home as a family?
- Is my child handling the demands of their schedule both mentally and physically?
I know as my children grow up our lives will change, and they will be able to (even want to) take on more and more. I know I can't keep them young and home forever. But while we are in this phase of life, I'm going to take advantage of it. Partly because our new routine is working so well for everyone, but also because I never want to look back and regret that I did not spend more time together as a family.
For us and our little family of five, we have found that trading majority of our activities for play time was actually for the best :)