It may sound bizarre to say we’ve started scheduling free time into our kids’ schedules, but that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for a little while now. We started talking about it sometime last year—that as much as we want to encourage pulling together as a family and learning lifelong skills in the form of habits, chores, and well, other knowledge-based things, we wanted to make sure we were protecting time for our kids to just *be*. To do what they want. To read, to sew, to crochet, to run around outside, to journal, to lay down and think, write stories, bake something, free play, or otherwise do anything, everything, and nothing. During the school year for the big kids, we balance free afternoons with semi-free afternoons: afternoons where the kids and I come together to listen to stories read aloud, while each kid is able to do their pick of a quiet activity. Sometimes they choose coloring (usually the boys’ go-to choice), sometimes they choose to sew or crochet, sometimes they whittle, and sometimes they opt to just sit and listen.
With summer 2021 underway, we’re balancing protecting the kids’ time to explore their own interests with working as a family to unpack, settle in, and do some family home projects we’ve had our eye on for a while. What we didn’t want is for our kids to feel like they have to steal away to get time to read or play—we want to encourage reading and playing! But we also know our family needs routine and we can’t drop the ball on the basic household chores to play and have fun all day. This summer, we’re trying a mix of things: each of the big kids will have a consistent morning chore, a variable main chore, and then an evening chore that’s done right before bedtime. In between their main daily chore and the evening chore, they have an afternoon that’s protected for them: time they know we won’t ask them to do something unless it’s really really important or imperative, and time they can use however they want.
So far it’s been exciting to see the ways they choose to do what they want—and I love that they sprawl out throughout the house, not hiding away trying to read a book in between their parents fussing at them for not doing something, but time they know is dedicated to their choice. Instead of kids holing up in their room to stay out of sight in case they get asked to do something, they’re enjoying the space of our house and yard, knowing this is their time. Rather than feeling like they have to “steal time” to do what they want, they can relax knowing they’ve put their time in working to help our family and that this is their time for themselves—time their parents will honor for them, too. Instead of feeling like they’re at our whim 24/7, they have a structure and guide to follow and they know what to expect out of their day—from themselves and from us.
Our hopes as we do this are several:
I think one of the big downsides to US mainstream culture is the pressure to go go go go go—without permission to rest or enjoy. Obviously, many of us feel that pressure and tend to not give ourselves permission to rest, so we end up consuming too much TV in the evenings while feeling guilty for it, or binge-reading books to procrastinate on something stressful, or we spend all our minutes on social media without realizing that could have been given to something we might have enjoyed more. We feel the pressure to be on the go constantly, and the end result is we end up giving our time over to piddly things that expand to take ALL the time rather than intentional things we’d really enjoy doing in chunks of time, and the worst part of it? We feel stressed and guilty the whole time for putting off what we “should” have done and “should” be doing instead.
We want to raise our kids counter to this idea: to work hard but also to know it’s okay to play hard or rest. To work when it’s time to work, and to allow themselves to have fun and enjoy and rest when it’s time. To take it a step farther and actually *make* time to enjoy life, by being intentional and productive in the work time.
As always, our ideas and systems and roll-out aren’t going to be perfect. We’ll tweak as we go along and as our seasons and family’s needs change. For now, we love the results we’re seeing and the intentional way the kids are pitching in in the mornings, knowing their afternoon is coming.
What kind of work/enjoyment/play/relaxation balance do you strive for?
Do you think you had a good balance of those growing up? What could have made a difference for you?
If you’re a parent with kids at home, how do you manage this for your kids now? How do you manage this for yourself?
Andrew and Melanie fell in love over late night snacks, dozing off in the middle of studying for exams, words, and a shared love for stories. We see stories everywhere: in the little day to day incidents and in the bigger sagas over days, months, and years of our time. We cherish the stories that root us and we rest in the Story that gives our lives meaning. We love seeing the threads of stories come together in gut-busting, belly-laugh-inducing, choke-on-your spit ways, and we love the gentle, quiet, easily missed stories that ultimately can play a bigger part in our lives than many other more obvious stories. We're young, we're old, we're growing, we're learning. We make a lot of mistakes, fall down a lot, struggle with life, sometimes sit in our sadness, but ultimately we pick ourselves back up again and keep on trekking. We're on a journey of parenthood now and have been for over ten years, learning and growing into it right along with our six children.