Is it parenting guilt that's driving us to make family time a 24/7 event? And, is spending every waking moment with our children good for us, as parents?
From the looks of our Facebook timelines, Pinterest boards, Instagram feeds, family time is on-trend in the Land of Parenting. Every single moment — outside of work and those few-and-far-between date nights and girl's nights out — is filled with kid-centric activities. Vacations! Weekend trips! Park time! Movie nights! Even activities that used to be strictly for adult fun are now overrun by our little ones — concerts, happy hours, dinners at what used to be exclusively kid-free foodie havens.
We're not sure when the shift to taking our kids everywhere became status quo. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this generation of parents grew up in the latchkey era, coming home to the empty two-story cul-de-sac suburban homes of the '70s, '80s and '90s while their parents were taking advantage of the working boom of those decades so that they could selflessly turn around and pay for their kids' $100,000 college educations (thanks, Mom and Dad). As a result, we want to spend every waking moment with our kids. We never want them to feel like they are alone or neglected or second to our career/marriage/friendships/life outside of parenthood.
Maybe it has to do with the influx of social media in our lives, because for goodness sakes, when everyone is watching how you parent via your Facebook account, you can't let your "friends" think that you're a lazy parent who lets your kids watch one more episode of Ninjago, just so that you can get a healthy(ish) dinner on the table before 8 p.m. or, gasp, kick your feet up and finish reading the last chapter of the book you started three years ago.
All we know is that family time has taken over and we're really starting to wonder — is all of this time together as a family really good for our kids... or for us?
Possibly. Overrated certainly sends a message when it comes to how we feel about spending 24/7 with our kids, but it is also exactly what we mean. Because, "overrated" implies that people have it wrong. That parents have it wrong. That while we think that time together as a family is certainly important, and even a priority, that it's not everything. And, it's certainly not all blissful picnics in the park, trips to the zoo that involve skipping and holding hands and weekend getaways full of poolside drinks while our kiddos splash nicely with each other nearby.
Family time is overrated because every parent knows the reality of life with kids. That someone is going to hit their head going down the slide at the park and that you're going to forget the picnic basket at home. That your newly potty-trained preschooler is going to have an accident in the middle of the indoor rain forest exhibit at the zoo on the one day that you braved not bringing back-up clothes. That your poolside margarita is going to melt in the sun while you catch your can't-quite-swim-yet daughter at the bottom of the water slide... 35 times in row.
For parents, when it comes to family time, the difference in the "could be" and the "actually is" is exactly why it's overrated — because the vision that you have in your head, or the family time that you're hoping to create, often falls flat (and sometimes even takes a sharp right turn to disaster!) when you're in the moment.
The good news is that, as far as we're concerned, the pressure of family time is off. Here's what we're challenging ourselves to do, as we are just as much victims to all-the-time-family-time as anyone else — we're using the quality over quantity rule of thumb when it applies to the time that we spend as a family. We're trying to get back to that place — or possibly discover that place — where we believe that we are better parents if we take time for ourselves, our marriages and our relationships, and that our kids will benefit from this as well because when we are together as a family, it's because we truly want to be, not because we feel guilty or we feel like we must.
For our kids, teaching them to have time to themselves is just as valuable. They are growing up in a world where go-go-go is the name of the game and if you aren't having daily play dates or running from one extracurricular to another until bedtime, that you're not succeeding... or that you won't be successful in the future. Instead, let's teach them, by example, that being alone is OK sometimes.
As family, especially as our kids grow, we want them to want to spend time with us and each other. It may be a parenting pipe dream to expect that our future tweens and teenagers will choose to hang out and have family time. However, we're hopeful that by finding family time balance now when they're young, we can set the stage for those years ahead when family time is low on their priority list.
Maybe, just maybe, finding this balance in spending time together as a family will help us to see — and appreciate — the good moments of parenting among the bad. That we don't care that our margarita is melting in the sun because there's nowhere you'd rather be than catching your little girl at the bottom of the water slide for 35 times, if not 135 times.
Share your thoughts on family time in the comments section below! Do you think it's overrated or would you happily spend every waking moment with your kids?
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