Yesterday school started for our elementary aged children, and I was more nervous about it than I should have been. They were also a little nervous – if the day before school was any indication. You can always tell when it’s either a full moon or your kids are slightly anxious about something. Everybody acts crazy.
Parental and Kiddo Stress
As a parent, it is difficult to sift through all of the different things we want our children to experience and learn while trying to protect them from rough patches.
For example, I get nervous that my kids might struggle with their school work. Then I get nervous that their school work will be too easy and they won’t run into a challenge until they’re in college. Then it’s too late to build resiliency into them.
Then I worry about how well they’ll get along with their classmates. Will kids be nice to them? Will my kids be nice to the others? Will they get made fun of or bullied? Will they ever make fun of someone else? Will they have courage to be friends to the friendless? Will they this and will they that?
And then making good choices… what will they run into on the internet? Will they develop potty mouths? When they start hitting their middle school and high school years, will they face down peer pressure when they need to? Will we give them a long enough leash… but not too long? And how long is too long? How strict is too strict?
It’s maddening, I tell you!
And if we, as parents (yes, I’m assuming you’re as neurotic as I am) have stress around this stuff, how much might our kids stress out about similar or other things?
The antidote to the stress that goes on with imagining every scenario and potential good or bad outcome just might be very simple.
The antidote might be the habit or art of having fun as a family.
This might not only be antidote to stress, but it also might be the antidote to some of the worst-case scenario outcomes we imagine in our parental brains.
What Fun Is Not
Fun does not require two things that many of us assume these days that it requires: (1) money and (2) technology.
In a family, it also does not require that your child be excited about things like game nights and hikes and miscellaneous pranks (I really need to up my prank game – or teach my children how to play pranks on me, the easiest and most willing target in the home).
The habit of fun is almost hampered by the flinging around of cash and the overuse of technology (i.e. video games, tablets, etc). And it’s also hampered by the tendency of parents to let the kids lead in this area. If we do, they’ll very seldom pick game night – especially if this is a new thing in your home.
Suburban life funnels us into this world of over-spending, over-use of tech, and over-capitulating to the whims of our kids. These things short-circuits our ability to create a habit of fun.
Fun does not need to be expensive. And we don’t need to subcontract it out to a screen.
Some Ideas for Developing the Habit of Family Fun
Some of the most enjoyable, relationship inducing moments of fun with our family have been around simple things like taking walks, doing crafts around the house, and playing games.
These ideas are so blah, right? A walk? A knock-down drag out game of… Sorry or Monopoly or Ticket to Ride (highly recommended)? Crafts? Really? I admit, I prefer to leave crafting to my wife. That probably means I should give it a shot. How fun might it be to sit around using things around the house to create decorations for some off-brand holiday?
I admit that I struggle with wanting to do some of these things, but when we do, the payoff is always immense, despite the occasional crankiness after a long hike. Conversations just seem to happen. And if we let our own selves be silly, laughter is usually a given.
The key is to decide the time is worth it and go all in. As the parent, you cannot expect your 14 year old to be excited, but you must press in and keep going – without telling the 14 year old how much fun he or she is supposed to be having. Eventually, they’ll catch on.
Dr. Bob Barnes from the Parenting on Purpose podcast often talks about how important it is for the parent – especially the dad – to commit to the fun, even leading in any silliness.
Cheat so bad at the board game that the kids have to get onto you. Get overly and ridiculously angry after losing the same board game – in fun, of course. Start an impromptu foot race on the hiking trail.
Play pranks. Teach your kids to goof on you. Show them how to take good-natured ribbing. Show that winning isn’t everything, but relationships are.
Even more powerful than getting them off their screens and into something fun with the family is if you and I get off of our screens and get super-present with them.
I’m feeling some conviction as I write this, but I know that as the school year goes on and my kids get older, it’s imperative that we know how to have fun as a family. It’s a habit worth building, and I believe it’s more powerful than a few laughs. It’s a major, long-term relationship building block.