I believe there are important lessons in having our kids play but not making it the central focus of their lives or the lives of the entire family. We still need to make space for family vacations, summer jobs, worship, academics, and yes, general leisure. I believe that one of the reasons that we struggled so much as a society when everything initially shut down due to COVID-19 was that we had been running ourselves ragged, and nowhere was this more true than in our overscheduled family lives.
A regular scroll through my Facebook or Instagram accounts makes it seem like this is easy for us, but detaching from electronics and work and the outside world and forcing our kids (and us) into nature takes real effort. There are some weekends when I just want to hunker down inside and knock things off of my work and home to-do lists. There are days when I argue that it is too hot or too cold or too wet for us to face the elements. But I refuse to believe that our children have to grow up in the countryside to appreciate the world around them. We just have to make sure they are given the opportunities to see past the concrete.
I have to consistently remember that my kids have to be allowed to be their own selves. I know this as they will eventually attend the same school I teach at. I know this as I pursue my own writing. I know this as someone who spent most of her adolescence struggling with finding my own identity separate from my dad’s position. Our children don’t get to choose the childhood we’ve given them. Let’s at least give them the freedom to find their way through that childhood.
But even in those moments I have to remember to check my response to their behavior. In those moments we have to ask each other for forgiveness, them for their behavior and me for the level of my reaction to that behavior. I want them to learn that anger can be good and justified, but how we express that anger needs to be appropriate to the situation and not be the cause of hurt to those we love. I want them to learn the importance of looking at the whole picture (something I’m constantly learning as well) and considering how their actions and reactions affect those around them. I want them to learn the value of offering grace even when that grace does not appear to be deserved.
What if we parents agreed that enough was enough? What if we stopped buying the grocery store cupcakes with rings or toys on top? What if we were more intentional with our stocking stuffers and got our kids things they could just eat or use for longer than a couple days? What if we decided that we wanted our kids to have fewer, higher quality items as opposed to junky stuff that breaks immediately? What if we determined to teach our kids the value of experiences over things that are easily tossed in the trash?
And how has this affected my daughter? I was boy-crazy girl who wanted a boyfriend from a ridiculously young age. I wanted to feel beautiful and loved and the fact that I didn’t have a real boyfriend until right after graduating from high school was a point of devastating disappointment for me. My 10-year-old talks about wanting to someday get married, has good friends who are boys, and we’ve started to see glimmers of crushes bubbling under the surface, but it isn’t her main goal. She wants to travel, she wants to be a vet, and then she wants to someday get married and have a lot of kids.