I have been thinking a lot about how I can prepare myself to take some breaks from work as we approach the holiday season. I want to take that time to wind down and enjoy my family. A break often sounds better than it ends up being. When I stop and think about it, I think I struggle with how to enjoy my family—how to get what feels like real quality time instead of simply spending time together. Even taking a day off to go to the zoo as a family ends up being a ton of work and I feel frustrated by the energy of my children. On those days, a break actually seems to send us backwards. But, I’m trying some new stuff lately that I hope will help other dads who want more out of the time they get with their kids.
You’ll find a lot of advice on how important quality time is to relationships and even how to get it. However, the advice often falls short especially if the relationship has much tension in it already. For example, if you find yourself easily annoyed by your child’s needs or desires then that’s a sure sign there is tension in the relationship. Quality time is hard to come by when there’s tension. It’s actually more accurate to say that quality time is the result of a healthy relationship, not the antidote to a struggling relationship. In many cases, quality time between people who don’t get along can make things worse.
The Role of Memories
Positive memories function as a prerequisite to spending quality time with someone you care about. The reason we feel close to an old friend when we see them again is because of the way we’ve felt around them before. These feelings are attached to many memories of our experiences together. Sometimes the positive memory comes in the form of extreme grief like the loss of a pet or a loved one. Sometimes it’s wrapped up in crazy experiences like the time you got lost together in Chicago on the way home from your first concert. You and your son don’t have those memories yet. On top of that, you have the age difference that creates very different interpretations about how the relationship should work.
Before you come up with a long list of things to do with your kids take a moment to think about the things that you want to see yourself doing with them. What are the things you actually enjoy doing with them? Many parents spend a lot of time doing activities they think will be good for the kids’ education without stopping to consider how enjoyable it is. If you have more than one child your memories will be different for each one. My best memories with my son are building blocks together while my favorite memories with my daughter is coloring at the table. We laugh, we chat, talk about each other’s projects, and so on. It’s not what we’re doing that’s so important, it’s the fact that we are enjoying it together.
Often I’m tempted to believe that my time with my kids is when I’m supposed to be teaching them how I think the world works. I don’t think that’s it. I think all we’re really doing is showing them how we work. We think we are toughening them up by being cold or dismissive but we are actually just telling them that we are cold and dismissive. And we wonder why they distance themselves from us eventually. Our breaks from work are opportunities, not just to try to teach our children valuable lessons, but to create shared experiences that help us look at each other with respect and adoration—to really value the perspective they bring to the family.
I wish I had a list of hard and fast rules or guaranteed activities to deliver to you. But coming up with these activities ourselves may actually be the point we so often miss. You and your child will need some time to figure it out, but no one is more equipped than both of you to learn how to relate to each other. If you can remember that then you will both be on your way to enjoying each other more. Enjoying each other more is what makes a break truly restful.