I want to say thanks to all of you who chimed in on the "summer fun time vs. annoying, ungrateful kids" topic. The vast majority of the comments were well-intentioned and respectful, and for that I am very thankful. I appreciate anyone who takes the attitude .... "Here's my experience; here's my opinion. This works for *our* family. It might not work for *yours*, but it's a suggestion I am willing to make WITHOUT assuming you are the dumbest person on the planet for even contemplating for one single solitary second that it might not be the best suggestion ever made in the history of the universe for *your* family, because all families are different, and all kids are different, and what works as gospel for us might not for you and that's ok, too, because the bottom line is we're all just trying to make our way without insulting one another or debating this for a single second." Or something like that. I might be paraphrasing. I was simply glad no-one got snotty or judgmental.
The vast majority of suggestions were that we should scale back our activities, in order that the kids might appreciate them more. I think that point is perfectly valid. However, let me be the first to assure you that it's not a non-stop, 25-hr a day circus around here. I'm as big a proponent of "down time" as the next mom. We go to the library once a week so they always have something to read, and we do "schoolwork" every day during the week, a time when the kids are sitting quietly at a table by themselves, working in workbooks or doing creative writing. My kids rarely play the Wii, we don't have any other gaming system, and they aren't obsessed with computers or videos. They do, however, have a tendency to turn into little couch potatoes in front of the tv if I don't monitor their time, which is probably another reason I like to get out of the house a lot --- they're perfectly content to watch 37 episodes of iCarly without moving, or the Three Ninjas Knuckle Up movie five times in a row (I speak from personal experience this weekend, and for the record, that might be the dumbest movie ever made ....Seriously? I'm supposed to believe a little eight-year old boy can take out seven grown men, all the while wearing an Indian headdress and shouting "hyah!!" ??? When I expressed disbelief to Kellen, he informed me, "Not a boy, Mom, but a highly skilled trained NINJA!" And the sad part is, he was dead serious. )
I think (and again, this is just me speaking for my three) that they are a little too old for "quiet time in their rooms", but they do **play** in their rooms (or on the staircase!) and I do encourage independent projects. In case you don't believe me, the words. "I don't care if you're bored, find something to do or I'll give you chores" came out of my mouth just today. :)
As luck would have it, when they were younger and I was more uptight about "safety", they actually had much more freedom to go outside and play. In Georgia, there were four other families with young children on our street, and it wasn't uncommon for all the kids to be outside from morning until evening, playing with one another, up and down the street.
Here, we live in an old neighborhood. There are no parks or trails or fields or creeks or playgrounds within walking distance. The playground at the elementary school is fenced and locked. There are none within biking distance (at least not any that I feel safe letting them go to alone.) There are ZERO children on our street, and only a few on the streets around us. The houses are small, on small lots, with small yards. So I find it slightly ironic (and frustrating) that now, when my kids are old enough -- in my opinion -- to have a bit more freedom to explore the neighborhood and play with friends, they no longer have the opportunity. And I do send them "outside to play" quite often, but it's never long before they are complaining they are bored and could we invite friends over??? There's something a little bit sad about watching your son try and scrimmage himself in soccer in the back yard ..... And then there you go, it's a scheduled play-date, the very thing I should cut back on.
I'm not telling you these things because I'm defensive about my parenting (ok, maybe I am, just a little) but rather to help clear up the (what I believe is a) misconception I somehow gave that we have activities planned every morning and every night, from sun up until sun down.
However, I do acknowledge that more down time, and encouraging them to make more of their own fun, wouldn't be a bad idea, and that is one of the things we're going to work on.
I love the idea of saving a fun activity for the end of the week and letting the kids earn it; so we've designated Fridays for that. We're also going to let each kid take turns picking the Friday activity from a pre-approved list. When we sat down with them and asked them to suggest activities, they ranged from "lunch with dad" or "more family movie nights" to "more time at the local water park", "Six Flags", and "can we go back to Great Wolf Lodge?" .... clearly, they ran the gamut.
We also sat the kids down and told them I would NOT cancel plans or un-invite friends if one of them misbehaves. I agree with everyone who said that is unfair to too many people. If, however, one of them misbehaves in the morning, the offender will have to sit out at least a portion of that day's activities. If it happens during the activity, they will also sit out. If it happens on the way home, or on a day we're staying home, or in the evening, we instituted a "chore jar" --- strips of paper with household chores above and beyond their normal chores. Really gross stuff that I don't like to do either, like cleaning baseboards and toilets and vacuuming out the van. I bought a small notebook to keep track if a child is told they must "pull a chore strip" during the day (because yes, I am the kind of parent who would forget ....) and they must pull the strip and do the chore the minute they get home. We're going on three days and no strips yet, although Brayden and Kendrie both came very close today and only got out of it by apologizing (UN-prompted) to one another for their actions.
I also started writing down a list of what we did (or didn't do) each day, and who got to invite a friend/have a sleepover/attend a play date/etc. I hope this will help me when the inevitable "It's not fair!" debate begins about how one child always is the preferred one. Of course, whichever child *that* is depends on who feels slighted and who is doing the arguing. According to all three of the kids, I ALWAYS favor "the other two" ... and best as I can tell, that's mathematically impossible. I just need to help them understand it, and also help them understand "Because I said so" is indeed a complete sentence.
I also need to work on my knee-jerk parenting style when it comes to arguing. A private e-mail I received from a friend brought up a good point .... even though arguing is annoying and drives me batty, it is one way that kids learn to work out disagreements and solve problems. So I'll be trying harder to balance a healthy amount of "letting them work it out without butting in" with "hush stop arguing for pete's sake because I said so that's why!"
So in a nutshell:
1. Fewer activities over all, although no-one is going to confuse us with homebodies, even with a calmer schedule, because *I* like to get out socially, too.
2. More "delayed" activities, IF they are earned, and letting the kids take a more active part in planning them.
3. Clearer punishment for kids who argue, fuss, fight, moan, complain, or in any way make life miserable for the rest of us.
4. More chocolate for me.
(Well, come on. That's just a given, isn't it?)
Thanks again for chiming in. I'd love to hear who else got some great ideas from the comments section, and how they're working out for you.
It takes a virtual village ...... (and a lot of chocolate.)