How do you stay connected with your kids?
My childhood wasn't what I would call Wild. Although I lived in the Yorkshire Pennines, with its vast and beautiful moorlands, being the daughter of a Police Officer meant safety was always first and I was very well looked out for and perhaps a little bit monitored. (caution was always key) I do however still have strong memories of making tree swings in the woods with friends and falling off, coming home with mucky hands and knees when I could see the sun setting, (no mobile phone call to tell me to) and falling asleep under my line dried sheets, with a mind full of happy adventures. Just 30 years along, I can already see that my own children don't have the same kind of freedom my generation did.
Parenting these days can be so much easier in so many ways, with plenty of things to keep our kids instantly entertained. With this comes a weighty dose of guilt and concern that our children also need to keep a real connection with outside, with living things and the ground beneath our feet. We both feel very strongly about making sure our kids have a childhood full of experiences, with a respect for their surroundings.
Do you ever feel as though you're constantly battling time spent on screens indoors, feeling the need to have enough active time outside and to allow our children to use their imaginations and give them freedom to learn on their own a little more?
So how do we balance both?
It's something we're always working on with our own children. In the last four years we have lived in a beautiful but very tiny 2 bedroom cottage on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, clinging onto the "Wild' life and each other until we were literally bursting at the seems. I know at the time we felt we were holding our family back. The boys shared a tiny converted attic and Margot was still sleeping in our room until she was almost two, it didn't feel like we were getting anywhere.
Quite often we'd worry that we weren't offering our children all the opportunities they perhaps needed to grow and we worked harder than ever to earn enough money to move house. We had a small yard to play in safely away from the busy road, but as the water from the hillside flowed freely through it, it's mossy flagstones weren't exactly a good place to play. Instead we put on our walking boots and baby carrier and walked to the nearest woods, where we found more interesting places for the kids to walk, with more ups and downs than flat boring manmade paths. We went armed with water and chocolate (a tip from my sister in law for convincing my nieces to walk further) and walked where we could find sticks to throw in the reservoirs and make up our own adventure stories. When everyone else seemed to be enjoying an early evening BBQ after school in their sun soaked gardens, we invited ourselves to our parents houses and enjoyed time (and memories) together playing with the kids there. We made the most of every opportunity to get outside and connect with the living world, watching the lambs grow and the earth change colours with the seasons was one of our main reasons to stay put in our teeny tiny house.
Inside we huddled together with movie nights, playing cards or listening to music and asked the boys to creep upstairs to bed so they didn't wake their sister. We had to limit their screen time. It really didn't feel like an option to allow them to sit for hours on end keeping themselves entertained. Living in such close proximity to each other it was glaringly obvious that as much as they were learning some new and amazing things, that the games and tv watching was also disturbing their connection with each other and eating away at their ability to play and use their imaginations. I know at the time we felt we were holding our family back by keeping them in such as small space and while we worked as many hours as we could fit in to enable us to move, we knew that we still needed to spend time with them. Stay connected.
Late last year we made the decision to finally move on and we will always be so grateful for the extra space for everyone to grow. Staying connected is still a daily challenge, it requires a lot more effort than turning on the tv to grasp a few minutes of head space or saying yes to a few quiet hours while our eldest gets lost in a world of fortnite with his mates. When we moved we made a few rules and we've been doing our very best to stick to them.
Here's a few of the things we do to keep connected. Some of them may be worth a go...
Fitness tracking goals = limited screen time
Why not try using excercise/outside time = computer time? In honesty we didn't really think it would work when we bought the older boys some second-hand fitness trackers. We came up with a simple idea that a certain amount of steps (outdoor time) equals an hour on the PlayStation or Ipad. Means more time with us and less time playing in online worlds where their minds get all pumped up with adrenaline with nowhere to use it. Ashton can often be found running and jumping around the house or offering to pop to the shop to make up his extra steps. We're currently planning which activities to do in the holidays so that there's a balance, seems to have struck a chord with them and means that they are responsible for their own activities.
'The family that eats together stays together' or something like that
I'm not saying it's easy to do, we know all too well how hard it can be to manage meal times. Work, school, after-school clubs, nursery and mood (let's face it) can determine where and when we sit together as a family to eat. We do try to eat dinner at the table together as often as we can so that we can talk about our days, encourage them to try new foods and pay attention to each other. Somedays it's a disaster and no one particularly eats much and Margot runs off at least 12 times but it still feels like we're staying connected.
Pets are gold. (it doesn't have to be feathered or furry, even insects will do, we've tried that!)
Please don't underestimate the healing qualities of having some kind of pet. A few weeks ago we brought home two budgies (now we have three) and have time out feeding them and watching them. Sounds a bit daft but it's ever so therapeutic and teaches them to take care of something other than themselves.
Use your body - we have legs, we use them more
Walking is so simple but when we're so pushed for time it's always the thing that goes and we jump in the car to pop to the shop or to get to school on time. The boys are able to walk to the park and the local shop on their own now we've moved. We may not live out in the sticks anymore but it sure is good that they can walk out the door and have some freedom without the worry of the road. We have started to walk to and from football practice for extra activity too and surprisingly had the BEST chat about going to high school and gained some great year six gossip!
set family challenges - climbing a mountain is not entirely necessary
It doesn't have to be a big one, but something you can all do as a team and feel equally empowered by. Going for a long walk. riding bikes, learning to climb, anything really that you pushes you out of your routine and pulls you together. Activity isn't always favoured in our house and if we mentioned 'a short walk' for the dog, we're usually met with sullen faces or worse, an attitude. We're lucky to have spent the last two years going away with our sports teacher friends in the October half term, who help push us to move more. Last year we set a challenge of climbing a (small) mountain together in Wales. It was the BEST feeling seeing the boys faces all red and sweaty at the top, feeling exhilarated that we'd all managed to do it! I've also never seen them walk as fast home!
I'm sure there are more things but I figured this may be enough for you to read in one go. Would really love to know if there's any helpful tips you have tried to keep the connection between you, your family and our real world?