I remember hearing about the joys of parenthood many times over…and then I had 4 kids in 7 years. What joy is there in sleepless nights, constant mess, dirty diapers, monotonous routines, and sheer exhaustion? On top of that, I was told to try and have fun with my kids. Really? Comedian Jim Gaffigan put my experience into words when he was asked about having his fourth kid by replying, ‘Imagine drowning, and then someone hands you a baby.’ It definitely hasn’t been the sheer delight and bliss that I naively imagined going into it.
I’d like to reemphasize my foundation principle for parenting, it’s not about getting it right all of the time every time, but more about being present as you seek to love your child well.
One way that I believe we can love our kids well is to have some fun with them. First, let me tell you what I don’t mean by ‘having fun’. I don’t mean that you should just tote your kid around to all those things you enjoy and let them try and keep up. Not that it’s bad to include them in your pastimes. Kids learn how to enjoy life by being with those who are enjoying life. So, if you like to fish take them fishing, shop take them shopping, camp take them camping, and so on, but please don’t just take them along with you to those things you enjoy. Having fun doesn’t happen through osmosis.
Now, what do I mean by having fun? Simply put, do stuff that’s enjoyable for both of you. Here are some simple principles:
– Make sure the fun activity is fun for both of you. For me, this does not include the game ‘Candyland’. I’m pretty sure whoever invented that game had it out for parents. My kids like to wrestle and chase, which is something I can smile at and have fun with. Basically, choose activities that both of you enjoy, rather than trying to force the fun out of something.
–Keep it short. This is age appropriate. I can take my 8 year old fishing for a couple of hours. If I try the same activity with my 4 year old I’ll probably be fishing my gear out of the water after twenty minutes. Having fun can be momentary. If an activity outlasts my attention span, chances are my kids won’t fare much better. This is why Monopoly is rated for ages 8 and over.
–Remove the ‘ruiners’. Try to make space for fun. Put away the phone. Schedule it in if you have to. We’ve started putting fun into our calendar with weekend trips and a yearly adventure. At the same time, allow for spontaneity. Some of my fonder memories have come by sneak attack.
If you’re stuck and can’t think up anything fun to do with your kids, here are just a few prompts which have worked for me:
~Pull a fun and non-embarrassing prank on your kids. For April Fools day I got an idea from this kids activity blog to freeze their cereal for breakfast. We all had a pretty good laugh (except my 4 year old who takes breakfast very serious).
~Get down on the floor. I think I have about five seconds from the time I sit or lay on the floor before someone jumps on me. Kids love to wrestle around. Just sit on the ground and see what happens. Being a present parent often feels like living in a petting zoo, you’ll eventually get use to it.
~Get a family pass to the zoo, science museum, aquarium, etc. For us in Jackson, MS a year pass at the zoo costs about $65, and the children’s museum around $75-$100.We tend to take the mile walk around the zoo about once a month, and when you go at different times on different days you’re bound to see something different. For the past year my kids search for a lizard they found in a crack of wall about two years ago. Show up and kids will find something interesting.
~Participate in your kids interests. My oldest daughter is all about creating stuff. To have fun with her includes whatever crafts, glue, and paper we can find. My 8 year old son loves sports. If I show up outside some sort of game is going to happen. Whereas my 5 year old just likes to be with my wife and I, to ride her bike with us as we stroll around the neighborhood. The principle here is to just show up. Be available for what they enjoy. By enjoying their interests you validate their personality.
~Get your hands dirty. There’s nothing a child likes more than dirt in their fingernails. Let them join in on the yardwork or gardening. Help them build a fort out of mud and sticks. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what you do so long as you’re enjoying yourself. You might just be surprised at how much fun you end up having.
~Plan a monthly outing. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. Nearly everyone lives within an hour drive of some state or national park, recreation area, outdoor playground, etc. Once a month go on an age-appropriate hike, fly kites, take a picnic, skip some rocks, hike up a dry creek bed, rent some canoes or rafts, or simply show up somewhere and see what happens.
~Take an adventure. This summer I decided I’d like to take a yearly adventure with my family. We live in a country of vast geography. We’re planning now for where we’ll go this summer. If skills are involved (such as hiking, knot tying, boating, rock climbing, swimming, etc) we’ll take time through the year to learn those skills. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it does have to be out of the ordinary.
As Bilbo Baggin’s said, ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ Get swept off with your kids!
Regardless of what you do, have fun with your kids. When they see that you enjoy being with them they’ll begin to understand and believe that you take delight in them. What a gift! Give them opportunities to see you smile, laugh, act silly, and react in surprise. You don’t have to force it, all you have to do is show up and be available.
Leave us some comments with ideas that have worked for you! We’d love to hear from you.
-By Branden Henry