A while back a longtime friend was telling me about his work-life balance. He explained how he appreciated coming home to his children, entering his home genuinely engaged and mindful of their shared time. He was thinking out loud that his appreciation of family time would be different if he was a stay-at-home Dad, if he was around his kids all day long. Well that got me thinking on my experience.
Of course at-home parents have a different appreciation for the time with their kids. On one hand you get to see more of the subtle changes in your children; you witness more of the small things that make the big differences. And on the other hand, you have to fill eight to eleven hours with activities for people who have an attention span of twenty seconds. This usually means repetition, like re-reading the same stories, playing the same games. And this can get tough as you fight with boredom and try not to disconnect. In the work world this is referred to as “burnout”. Sometimes it can be remedied with a change in work duties, sometimes with a well-deserved vacation. Sometimes, though, it is the sign that it is time for a change. Well these solutions don’t fit so well for the parent/family dynamic though. Even if your spouse takes the kids on an afternoon adventure, it’s not the same thing cause there’s probably laundry to do, somewhere, and toys lying around, everywhere.
So what to do? I admit that I like routine, but you have to change it up. Sometimes this means breaking routine, going out and doing something at a time of day when you would normally be at home. Sometimes this means imposing your will on your children. For example, I can listen to the Trolls movie soundtrack twice in one day. Any more and I get irritable. So despite protests and tears and gnashing of teeth, it gets shut off. I learned this the hard way when Sweetie fixated on the same four songs off of the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. Four of fourteen. So impose away, that’s parenting – hey, I didn’t get to play my music in the car until junior high.
Another great thing to tap into is your creativity (okay, this option is a bit more feel-good too). I like creative activities. When the girls don’t want to play on their own while I change bed sheets, we build a big fort for them. When coloring gets boring we decorate cards for friends and family. It’s essentially the same activity, but the different medium makes it new and fresh. Because here’s the kicker; kids disconnect too. And nothing is more dangerous than a bored child.
I have found that if I don’t give the girls something to do, they will find something to do. This usually involves non-toys around the house that I don’t want them to play with (see above). Note to would-be parents: kids are active and require stimulation. Their little hands and brains need to “be doing” constantly. If your kids are like mine, then boredom is the cause for most problems. Again, there a way to prevent things from getting stale and stay engaged. Our experience is activity: we have enrolled the girls in a variety of activities to keep them active and to keep our shared experience fresh. From music-play classes to art at the park district, zoo camps to piano lessons, we have sought out a bunch of activities outside the house.
In reality, boredom is part of everyone’s lives. It happens. I don’t have a D3 guide to staying engaged while at-home with your children all the time. In fact, if any of you have suggestions for activities, please share in the comments section. The best way that I have found for staying engaged is to stay active with varied, creative activities, inside and outside the house. And while it wears me out, it is the most fun way to roll this at-home adventure.