I do a lot with my children, but I am a believer in giving them as much free time as possible. I don’t fill up our schedules, I don’t play with them on the playground, and it is very rare that I give them an idea for how they can busy themselves. I make them think about it, and I have taught them that if they are bored, it is their own fault. Sometimes I just straight up ignore them. They don’t need me to be there, directing them all the time. How else are they going to learn to think for themselves? Some of their best memories have come from me letting them be.
After birthing, nursing, holding, and sleeping with my babies (which was half wonderful, half utterly exhausting) for years, it felt good when they were old enough to occupy themselves for a bit and I could have a respite. I remember the first time my oldest discovered the Tupperware drawer. He played for almost an hour taking everything out, then putting everything back in. It was glorious! I ate strawberries while talking on the phone to my best friend. And because we both got so much out of it, I encouraged this type of play often.
As parents, we do enough and we plan enough. Free time is essential to a happy home. It is a gift when we get to have some time to do things that don’t require a lot of guidelines or structure. Giving my kids free time has done so much for them and for me.
It teaches them independence.
It is rewarding to see them discover and solve their own problems without me. I have watched them encounter a problem, then stand there for a while and think about how they are going to solve it. I try to resist asking them what is on their minds (sometimes though, you just have to) because it interrupts their thought process. I have discovered if I am patient and watch, I will find out what they are thinking. As they find their own answers, you can see the pride bubbling through them, like the time my son realized if he gave our dog a stick, he would stop chasing his golf ball while he was working on his swing.
It gives me freedom.
I do a lot with my kids, but I also need time to recharge my batteries. I do not have the energy to be totally engrossed in their activities all the time. I need downtime just like every mother I know, so when I say we are having free time, that includes me. It doesn’t mean they don’t speak to me or ask for help if they need it; it just means I am going to sit and read, write, or knit while they play. Then we are all refueled and better able to handle things like bedtime and getting out the door (well, we still do a pretty shitty job at those things).
It forces them to like each other.
Because we don’t have a bunch of stuff planned every day, and by now they realize they can’t count on me to play with them, they figure out something to do together. They know they have the whole day in front of them, and they can either play together or all alone. They usually choose together. Of course there are always arguments and power struggles, but when I stay out of it, they are able to come up with solutions so much faster than if I were to get involved and tell them to get along.
It lets them use their imaginations.
It teaches them creative thinking. When I see children get lost in their own world, pretending to be the one dude or strong lady who can save the whole population of lady bugs, well, that is everything. It is not something I can give to them. That is something within them that can’t be manufactured. It is theirs.
They make their own fun.
Because we are not always busy or have a strict schedule of events, they are not always wondering what fun lies around the corner. I know what happens to me and my family when there are a ton of plans and excitement. This especially happens when we go on vacation and are trying to fit everything in during a short amount of time. We all catch some type of the “What’s next?” syndrome. It always leads to cranky kids and adults.
I enjoy watching.
I love sitting alongside my children, watching them play together or listening to them squeal with laughter as the zip down the street on their bikes. It may look like I am not involved, but I am. Sure, sometimes I join in, but I am very content to be near, feeding one of my own hobbies or just simply observing them. They always seem to be more engrossed with each other when I am not there, probably because they don’t have anyone to complain to.
Sometimes we are super busy, that is just the ebb and flow of life, but I try really hard not to over-schedule our days, for their sake and for mine.
There is nothing like getting lost in something — a good book, watching ants build a home, or scribbling in a coloring book. Having free time allows my kids to be just that, kids. They will have plenty of years to run around with a tight schedule and talk about how busy they are. Their childhood will not be one of those times for them, or for me.