Recently, I was reminded of something that we all often forget: Quality time is free.
For me personally (and it might be because we have a large family), it seems like a lot of the “fun” we have to plan and spend money on, like going to movies, going out to eat, going to an amusement park, ends up being stressful. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t live up to our expectations, maybe it’s because our kids ages 1-14 rarely like the same thing, or maybe because it takes so much effort to organize that I’m exhausted before we even arrive. I don’t know why, but it’s true: the planned and costly “fun” just isn’t FUN for us most of the time.
The other day, I was thinking about some of the best times I can remember with my parents as a child. One of my fondest memories with my dad is a summer evening that we spent simply flying a kite in our yard. With my mom, I have memories of going hiking and exploring around the ranch I grew up on. Then it occurred to me, all of those memories were free and unplanned. They were just genuine, organic quality moments.
That led me to reflect on some of my favorite memories with my kids – the most stress-free, truly fun times. Guess what? Those too were “free.”
When I said yes to a mess. I realize it sounds odd, but some of my favorite memories are the times I said yes when the kids asked to wash the car, pull out the arts and crafts paint, or play in the rain – even though the idea of the inevitable mud or mess made me cringe a little. In the end, their sheer delight is almost always enough to make me join in too!
When I stopped to see what they were seeing. Sometimes I get so caught up in the next task or where we’re going that I rush the kids along, even when they’ve stopped to point at something they think is neat or to ask a question. Some of my favorite memories with the kids are the times I took the time to pause and be in the moment with them. Favorites include when our second oldest stops to blow dandelion seeds or pick flowers, or when the toddler asks to stop and see some wildlife when we’re out for a run.
When I let them help me. You’re probably picking up on the fact that I’m a bit of a control freak (my husband would say it goes beyond “a bit,” but he’s just rude). Anyway, some of my other favorite memories are the times I resisted the urge to “do it myself” and let the kids help when they asked. For example, our nine and eleven year olds LOVE to help bake and cook. Every time I say yes, I get a little glimpse into their creative sides and the responsible people they are growing up to be. Awesome memories, I tell ya.
When I had no plans but to spend time with them. The Christmas before last, my husband and I took the three oldest kids on a surprise trip to Disneyland for Christmas. We had so much that we wanted to do, and we packed a lot of (costly) fun in, but it was exhausting. Looking back, my favorite memory from the entire trip was the unscheduled afternoon where we just let the kids choose our activities. Upon their request, we made an impromptu stop at the beach and ended up spending the whole afternoon looking for seashells, splashing in the waves, and generally having nowhere to be and nothing to do but enjoying each other’s company.
When I made an exception. Rules and consistency are important. Believe me, in a house with five kids, we survive on rules and consistency! However, some of the best memories with my kids are the times I made an exception, like when I said “yes” to going to the park even though it was past bedtime and my toddler was in jammies. Or the time I let the teenager order the most ridiculously-sized root beer float at Sonic (and yes–he did finish the entire thing!).
My take-away? Instead of forcing fun, I’m going to try to take the time to be in the moment with my kids, rather than letting the “free” quality time pass me by.