I come from a family of four.
On grocery days, my mom would pull into the garage, car full of food, and suddenly, a change would come over the family. We became louder, bigger, more. I don’t know what it was, or how it happened, but to this day I have the happiest memories of the unexpected, friendly chaos that ensued when the groceries arrived and we all gathered to put them away. It was as if my family of four became a foreshadow of the family of seven-soon-to-be-eight that I would have as an adult.
It was awesome.
So now, years and years (and years and years –ahem-) later, I’m surrounded by this family that I love so much that it breaks my heart every day because they fill it so full. But sometimes the friendly chaos becomes a little….well….well a little much.
Too much. Too shrill. Too intense.
And that’s when I know it’s time for us to take a break.
Not from each other, since I usually come to this realization on the weekend, which is sacrosanct in the family- Thou Shalt Not Leave the Family (for too long) On the Weekends. But a break is needed from the house, from the chores, from the routine. We all need a chance to take a breather.
I think this is common for every family, no matter what the size. At some point, the family needs to have a group battery recharge. If this need is ignored for too long, the squabbling and the bickering and the shrillness and the irritation will keep building and building until either a parent dissolves into a screaming fit, or a child breaks something big.
Neither result in anything good for the family.
In order to be most effective, the family breather should have the following criteria:
1. It should be close.
In an ideal world, you could walk there. When our family just started out, and it was only Ken and myself and Lotus, we could put her in the stroller and walk a block or so down to this fantastic stretch of common area called Hines Park. We could stroll along the River Rouge, stop at a little playground and let the baby wander around, and enjoy some quiet conversation. Then we’d walk home, feeling calmer and having had a nice bit of exercise to boot.
Not every place has such areas within walking distance. You do what you can. But the more easily the place is accessed, the more likely you are to go there before the family reaches critical levels of hysterics.
2. It should offer something for all the members of the family.
Everyone should enjoy going. Yes parents, even us. I know that so often the autopilot response is to put the kids first, and in most cases this is noble, but when dealing with a family breather, if the adults aren’t able to breathe, then it’s pointless.
When we lived in Mississippi, our family breather was the Memphis Zoo. It was a good 30-40 minute drive from our house, which meant that it required more planning than a leisurely stroll down to the local park, but it was worth it to us. The kids never tired of visiting, and the place was both small enough and visually attractive enough that Ken and I weren’t on high oh-my-gosh-we’re-going-to-lose-the-kids alert, and we weren’t bored out of our minds by watching the stupid penguins for the 7 millionth time. Compare that with, say, Chuck E. Cheese, which sends my eye into spasmodic twitching just typing out the name.
As kids get older, interests will change, and the location of the family breather will reflect that. We’ve always been transferred to a new state before that ever happened, but I imagine someday it’ll catch up to us.
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