Ah, summer… that glorious time of freedom! ‘Tis the season to put aside our work and simply relax. Isn’t it wonderful?
…Ha! Yeah, right. Not when you’re the adult. As homeschooling parents, we may anticipate the summer months a bit more than the average parent (at least we get a break from teaching), but summer days are still far from lazy. Sometimes they can be even busier.
The truth is, we parents very rarely get a real “break” from tending to the needs of our children. Parenting can be a tiring and thankless endeavor, and we may find ourselves getting burnt out, feeling like we are simply being dragged along by a stream of tedious tasks. It can, of course, be immensely helpful to find time to get away from our children and regain a little sanity a more balanced perspective. My husband and I had the opportunity last month to go on our first kid-free trip—8 years in the making—and it was wonderful! But these kinds of getaways are few and very far between. Even finding time for a date night can be a struggle for us. With this in mind, how can a burnt-out parent renew the joy in their parenting? I’m sure there are numerous answers to this question, but for now, I will focus on just one that I have found helpful: playing with my children.
…Wait, what?! Am I really saying that I can’t get away from my children, so to help my sanity I should spend more time with my children? How does that make any sense?? Allow me to explain in the best way I know how: with a children’s book.
Dr. Seuss was a household staple growing up, and one of his books I’ve always enjoyed is The King’s Stilts. In this story, King Birtram has a number of very important and taxing jobs. But he always takes time at the end of the day to pull out his treasured stilts for some play. As the story goes, “This was the moment King Birtram lived for. When he worked, he really worked… But when he played, he really PLAYED!” Everyone in the kingdom is happy… until a grumpy royal adviser steals the stilts, hiding them away so the king can work unhindered by “distractions.” But his actions actually have the opposite effect. Without his beloved stilts, the king loses all his drive. He becomes useless, and his kingdom teeters on the edge of ruin. (Thankfully, the faithful page boy recovers the stilts in the nick of time, but you’ll have to read about that for yourself.)
Like a parent, King Birtram can’t easily get away from his daily work. His responsibilities are such that they require constant maintenance, so he can’t just look forward to a vacation now and then. One might imagine that he would get lost in the drudgery of doing the same work every day, but he doesn’t, because he always takes some time for play.
As we go about our days, we can get caught up in all the tasks that need to be accomplished for our children. Our time can feel consumed with childcare: feeding, clothing, caring for their health, playing peacemaker, and trying to nurture their character, not to mention overseeing their academics. But is this why we had children? Merely to keep them alive, groom them, and then release productive citizens into the world after 18 years or so? Of course not! We had children (I hope) because we wanted little people to love and to enjoy. How much time do we take to actually enjoy our children, rather than seeing them only as little responsibilities?
Even as a more relationship-oriented person, I have to admit that I often lose my focus here. When I’m not completing a necessary task, I tend to get caught up in my own interests, neglecting the fact that my children haven’t had a particularly enjoyable moment with me all day. I can start to think of my children as a burden on my time, rather than as one of the chief purposes of it.
This summer, I want to get more into a habit of really playing with my children. Instead of impatiently snatching that “no-no” away from my toddler for the umpteenth time as I continue with my work, I want to take a break to tickle and wrestle with him. Instead of waving off my kindergartener who has brought me yet another book, I want to take the time to read it, and to let her read to me. Instead of telling my older girls to wait yet again while I reply to this post online (because I really need to set this random stranger straight… heh), I want to stop and play a game with them. These activities not only teach me more about my children and their unique interests, but they also demonstrate my love for them in the form of quality time. And when we enjoy our time together, it’s amazing how our attitudes improve. A joyful (and playful) heart really can be good medicine to the burnt-out parent’s soul.
Of course, as the king’s story demonstrates, there is a proper time for work. And in the end, I suppose it’s not entirely about whether we are working or playing. It’s mostly about spending my time fully with my children, rather than shuffling them around as my mind wanders elsewhere.
When I work with my kids, I want learn better to really work. And when I play with them (which I think is truly the best part), I want to really play. I think our kids will notice and appreciate when we put more effort into truly enjoying our time with them.
In an effort to make the most of this summer, my girls and I made a list of things (both productive and fun) that we want to do before school resumes. What would be on your list?
Photo Credit: All photos taken by Jessica Cole.