The Struggle to Protect Sacred Family Time

The family vacation begins!

The family vacation begins!

I am not complaining. At this very moment I am heading off to a family beach vacation with my husband, four children, my parents, sister, brother-in-law and two nieces. I could not be more excited or grateful. I understand that all of us being together is truly a blessing and there is no certainty that this will be able to be repeated. Last year, our “family” vacation to visit my parents in Florida over winter break did not include my oldest son, J, who stayed home to attend mandatory basketball practices. Last spring, J left a family trip early to get back home for baseball practice.

A message appeared in my email inbox today that read: “Varsity basketball game, 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 26th.”  If my son had not taken this year off of basketball to train for baseball year round, he would not be sitting next to me on the plane, excited to be heading off to spend invaluable time with family (which includes his older sister, on break from college).

Next year, he may rejoin the basketball team. My older daughter wants to study abroad either next year or the following year…

I know. These are very much first world problems. Family vacations are a luxury. Kids have to make sacrifices and show dedication to their sports. However, I do see many parents having to make tough and stressful decisions because of their kids’ sports-related commitments, and it makes me wonder—when you really look at the development of a child, what is more important—time spent with family or more time spent at the free throw line?

These types of issues have caused our family to make some uncomfortable shifts. When our kids were younger, our family was on a roll. We had Shabbat dinner every Friday night, during which the six of us (or sometimes more…friends were/are always welcome) would sit down, slow down and connect as a family. As our older son hit high school, many of his basketball and baseball games were held on…Friday nights. I know several religious families who simply would not allow their children to play on Friday nights, but that is not the decision we made for our son and our family. We let him play. Quite often, there would be an empty spot at our Shabbat table, or sometimes our Friday night dinners would consist of hot dogs (kosher, at least) and a bag of chips, and our family sitting on rock hard bleachers, watching our boy play.

As kids get older, and life gets insanely busy with various commitments, it becomes harder and harder to grab family time, whether it is for a Friday night Shabbat dinner, brunch after church on Sunday or family vacations. I know of families who have spent a portion of Christmas together, but Christmas evening or first thing the next morning, Dad takes Jimmy to a hockey tournament in Rochester and Mom takes Susie to Duluth to celebrate Christmas (round two) with extended family. The family divided.

Even when parents are strong enough to draw the line and say, “We are all going to visit grandma for four days over Christmas break,” kids at very young ages will beg their parents to stay home as they are afraid of the wrath of their Pee Wee hockey coach, “If you miss practice, you will sit on the bench for three games.”  How cool would it be if the kid could say to the coach, “But I am going to spend time with my FAMILY over the holiday—to see my GRANDPARENTS who I only see once a year. How you can bench me for that?”  Maybe EVERYONE should take some time off to spend time with family, and then no one will be punished or rewarded for missing or not missing practice because there won’t be any practice or games for at least the few days that surround the holiday. How about society gives kids (and parents) the message that no matter what religion, if any, you practice—uninterrupted family time is sacred time? If parents are going to take time off from work (I would also advocate for employers allowing a few extra days off for employees around the holiday time—Europe does a much better job of this), it is important that the whole family is able spend time together and connect with each other.

My family does not celebrate Christmas, however, I view Christmas break/winter break as sacred family time. My husband takes time off from work and we try to do something special as a family for at least a few days. I know it is not always easy for families to do this because of work obligations, financial constraints and  kids’ sports commitments (and  divorced parents have an even tougher job of carving out family time). My concern, however,  is not so much about whether or not families can go on an actual “vacation” over winter break. A vacation could be just spending uninterrupted time at home together as a family. But I feel that families have to fight so hard to find time to be together because of all of the outside obligations that parents and kids face. It concerns me that family time is becoming less and less valued in society today.

I know many moms who struggle with this issue. When I interviewed moms for book #1, I asked a veteran mother of three children, ages 21, 18 and 16 to reveal the most important lesson she has learned in her years of mothering, and what she would like to pass on to other moms. She explained,

“Looking back, I can’t believe how much I worried about 8th grade basketball. Go on family vacations and do not worry about your 4th grader’s traveling soccer coach. You do have to teach your kid discipline, but to miss out on family time because the coach says he is going to sit your kid, I can now say, ‘Let him sit your kid and don’t miss out on family time.’ If your kid is good enough, she/he will play. Maybe not for that coach, but eventually. You have to decide what you can live with and not worry about what other people are doing or thinking.”

This mom’s oldest son went on to play college football at a highly reputable school. I am not so sure if she actually took her own advice with him, however, I do appreciate her hindsight.

For right now, I am going to appreciate the week I have with my family. All of us together—my daughter on break from college, my son able to leave Minnesota because he is not tied to a sport. My hope is that you are able to grab as much family time as you can, and enjoy each other during this holiday season.

Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a peaceful, happy, healthy and prosperous 2014.

Comments

  1. With one son playing high school basketball right now, I talk about this issue all the time and how families are expected to keep their kids available for practices and games during the holidays…drives me nuts, I joke that we can never go on vacation again, but there is some truth to that. Enjoy your time together and happy new year!

  2. This is exactly what scares me about getting the kids too involved in sports. We have the Shabbat issue, but also the divide and conquer issue. On the other end of all that is the worry that I’m holding them back. That quote at the end from your research hits home with me. I already feel that way now or I can imagine myself feeling that later, I guess. Anyway, I’m going to connect you right now with my friend Hilary who wrote a book that touches on this topic. Maybe she will want to use this post in some way. She has been writing about kids and competition and the value of it for all kinds of magazines (The Atlantic, etc.) and the book came out last year. She would really have a lot to say on this post. She studied parents and kids involved in soccer, dance, and chess.

  3. Yes, Nina, there are no easy answers, and it can get really tricky on many different levels. Thanks for connecting me with Hilary. I will definitely check out her book!

  4. Sally Horstman says:

    Just discovering your blog this morning! Happy 1st birthday! This one jumped right out at me. Amen, sister! You are so right! I cling to every moment of family time I can get with my daughter in college and two boys tied to sports. We got to sneak in 3 whole days as a family over spring break and my daughter chose to do it even though she and I both knew she might not be able to earn enough “sorority” points to attend the spring formal. She came with us anyway. I am so thankful!

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