Family Breather

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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Cari Donaldson


Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a weekly podcast about homesteading at

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  • During the warm months, we love to go to “the park on the lake”.  Shady, tree filled, picnic tables, cleanish public restrooms, and lake access for swimming.  And it stays shallow for a looooooong time so it works for anyone who can even walk. 

    When there’s snow, the arboretum down the road has amazing sledding hills (I know, I know…not really the purpose of an arboretum).  Free to use but priceless to us.

  • Laurenp2424

    Great article!

  • That’s another thing I miss about Michigan- the lakes!  In MS, there were either no lakes, or they were full of things I didn’t want to swim with.  Here in CT, there’s something that can only be called a “swimming hole” down the road.  It’s beautiful, but it’s just not the same somehow.

  • Colleen

    We go to the beach or one of the many playgrounds/parks in the area.  My kids must go outside everyday, it’s not optional.  And we love going places – even if it’s Home Depot because they are building racecars with the kids that day.  We’ll do anything!  If I homeschooled we would have a fieldtrip everyday, and my kids wouldn’t know how to read, but they could name all the animals at the zoo, that’s for sure!  Sometimes we just go for an after dinner walk to get all the crazies out before bedtime.  But I agree, it’s much needed 🙂

  • Yes!  If the kids don’t get a chance to get outdoors, things become very ugly, very fast!

    And we’re also big believers of family errands.  Everyone goes- even if most of us stay in the car while the errand is run.  How else are the kids going to develop fond memories of mom and dad embarrassing themselves by singing at the top of their lungs to radio songs?

  • What a great reminder, Cari! I have such fond memories of my family of 11 hopping in the van and “going for a drive” not quite knowing where we would end up. For my family now, I think this weekend calls for a hike at the local nature trail, maybe topped off with an ice cream cone. 🙂 

  • I’m a huge fan of the “going for a drive” course of adventure.  In fact, that’s what we call them.  “Where are we going?”  “On an adventure!”
    Some adventures end up better than others (I’m thinking specifically of the time that we loaded up to go to Cabela’s, but ended up breaking down at the top of a mountain and having to be towed home), but that’s the fun of adventures, isn’t it?