I’ve written before about spending unstructured time with the kids. That time, it was Easter, I was facing a staycation with kids and reflecting on my habit of both consciously and subconsciously avoiding unstructured time with my kids. It ended up being fine and actually enjoyable - we went glamping, to (most of) their delight. But only because I proactively tackled and planned the time.
But as of late I have found myself again gnashing my teeth about why it’s so damn hard to enjoy myself with my kids. When there’s structure, we have a half a chance. Without it, it seems utterly hopeless.
After summer, which was a long stretch of only the slightest structure (mainly meals), I was ecstatic to be back to the routine of school and work. But…the weekends. The weekends! Unlike many other families we know, we don’t have super-busy weekends of sport. And, I don’t know whether this is like or unlike other families but in our house, unstructured time leads to boredom and fighting.
“Boring people get bored,” I am very fond of saying to my children, which has zero impact. (Well, probably negative - I am well aware how annoying and presumptuous the statement is.) “Read,” I say. “Draw.” “Go to the park.”
I still clearly remember the very first day when the light at the proverbial end of the tunnel of those early years appeared: it was a Saturday, I was sitting at the dining room table doing some admin, and it suddenly occurred to me that I’d had an hour of quiet in which I could actually get something done. The kids were 4, 4, and 7, and it was the dawn of the post-toddler era, i.e. when I finally had a bit of time and a bit of space.
Back in the toddler era, I also clearly remember thinking that every Monday was a blessing because the weekends were so tough and tiring. “How was your weekend?” colleagues would ask, and I would pause and try to recall and parse the blur of playgrounds and toddler-care and pinball-like socialising from the weekend…and try to skirt around the fact that actually it hadn’t been that great.
5 years later, my kids are older and increasingly self-sufficient, but recent plan-free weekends have reminded me that they still need active management and stimulation. It’s certainly less physically taxing than before, and the range of possibilities has increased beyond playgrounds. But bigger kids require bigger entertainment, bigger outdoor spaces and bigger incentives - bigger journeys, bigger costs. And we’re back to where we so often end up: having to pencil in another regular to-do: making sure we have fun-wholesome family activities planned for the weekend. Now I miss the ease and predictability of the playground.
There are certainly moments I experience deep satisfaction from spending time with my children. But they feel quite rare. I can hear my inner critic: “Stop being such a whingey-pants and count yourself lucky” and the old adage rings loudly in my head: “You spend the first 18 years of their life trying to get away from them, and the next 18 years trying to get close to them.”
But I do genuinely feel alone in my grumpiness about spending time with my kids, despite knowing that parents are known to be less happy than non-parents. So if you also feel alone in this sentiment, know that you’re not.