In this day & age, we tend to think that our children need to be busy. We are told that they need to fill their time with activities if we want to keep them on the “straight & narrow.”
I don’t think that’s true. I think that what kids really need is time to explore. Time to play. Time to just be kids. Time to learn to occupy their time with activities that are not planned (and also not online). Time to be in nature. Time to be with their siblings, cousins, or family.
When we realize that it’s time to stop filling up their schedules, life becomes so easy. We did this a few summers ago…
A few summers ago, we were given the choice to put one of our sons on a travel team for the summer and to put our other sons on summer sports teams, meaning daily practices between the three of them, and a trip every other weekend to play a game.
We talked about it.
We asked our kids about it.
In the end, our family said no. We all agreed and we were all excited for the summer ahead. Eight weeks of whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.
We didn’t say no to the game, the sport, or the team… so to say. We just said no to the “time.” We said no to the schedules. We said no to the business.
We said yes to the flexibility that summer. We said yes to time at the beach. We said yes to bike rides. We said yes to going away for weekends or weeks at a time (since we both work from home, this was possible in the summers.)
We said yes to having lazy summer days, spent swimming, reading, playing, and doing whatever we want to be doing. On our own schedule… or no schedule at all.
Our kids could take a bike ride at the drop of a hat without worrying about being late to practice or a game.
It’s a feeling of relief on those days when you don’t have to look at the time constantly to make sure are somewhere on time.
It’s when you don’t have to send texts to teammates or friends about when & where you have to be for the game today, but instead, you are home when you get a text with a picture like this:
With the caption, “So glad we decided to do NOTHING this summer because it’s turning out to be EVERYTHING we wanted. Just look at these sweet smiling faces behind me! xoxo!”
It’s when you know that you can just relax and enjoy your day, because you have decided to simplify your life, which means saying NO to certain things, so you can say YES to the ones that matter.
Simplifying life can be whatever you need it to be, as long as you feel good about it. As long as it is right for your family.
It means spending more time with them just talking. We don’t need big plans to connect, we just need to be present with our children.
I know that when the kids say, “I’m bored” that what they are really saying is, “I am forgetting how to JUST PLAY… I need more time to do nothing!” Our kids weren’t in any camps that summer, they weren’t in any leagues, classes, or practices. They weren’t scheduled… they weren’t on video games or in front of the TV. They were just kids. Playing. Reading for FUN. Dreaming. Running. Swimming. Biking. Daydreaming. Enjoying their summer.
It’s not an easy concept: simplifying lives. We are all so busy but try to remember your joy when you had simple summers as a kid.
It’s not easy to tell friends that your kids are doing “nothing” when they ask which team they are on this summer, or which classes you signed them up for (Outside of that summer, my wife usually goes with our children to some sort of summer enrichment program to challenge them in reading, science, studying, art, or math)
Saying NO to these things can make you the odd-man-out. It’s ok.
I’ve learned to deal with it because when we look back at our children’s childhood, we want to know that we chose family time over that specific activity.
We want to know that we chose to give them time to play together over time to play with teammates. We want to know that we gave them room to think, create, grow… without restrictions of time.
It might not happen every summer, but once in a while…
Our kids will still be learning, by reading a book that they have been wanting to read.
Our kids will still be active, by playing outside, swimming in the ocean, and riding their bikes.
Our kids will still be responsible, by helping out around the house so they can get outside & explore.
Our kids will still be creating, by building sand castles in the sand, forts in the woods, and obstacle courses in the backyard.
Our kids will still be thoughtful, by being patient as they wait and learning to enjoy the sounds of nature.
Lack of play & lack of simplicity is pressing upon our families & our children…
Psychologist Peter Gray notes “As free play has become less common in the developed nations of the world, kids have become more troubled. Anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased in young people in an apparently linear manner that seems to mirror the decline in play.”
In fact, Jean Twenge, a researcher tracking changes in public mental health over time, has stated that rates of anxiety and depression among children and adolescents were far lower during the Great Depression, World War II, the cold war, and the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s than they are today.
Learn to say NO to everything so you can say YES to one thing. Simplify your lives and watch those little smiles show up a little more often.
When we learn to have a “simple life” we learn to free up our time, thoughts, and feelings so we can use that energy on the important things in life: family time.