Agree To Disagree

I love summer. The pace of life changes, especially if you have kids. Part of the reason for that is the fact that school is out, of course, but things are different also because the weather is warm, beaches, rivers and mountains are calling, and there’s all that ice cream to be eaten. Summer is a time to change priorities, to steal a little time from work and spend it with friends and family. Engage in favorite activities together and explore new ones. Bond with your kids in the warm temperatures. Feel the love.

Or pull out your hair until school starts as you try to get your kids to agree on what the meaning of “fun” is.

I have two children. He is older, she is younger. He is an athlete who needs daily physical activity, she dances but generally prefers quiet, stationary entertainment. His sense of humor reaches beyond his twelve years; hers is still catching up to her nine (though her understanding of the subtleties of certain kinds of human behavior sometimes surpasses his). He likes his movies with a high level of conflict and drama; she’s easily scared by much of the content in a lot of PG movies. He watches sports on TV almost exclusively; she finds sports dull as donkeys and prefers to stare at as many Disney Channel shows each day as she can get away with.

My son is a pizza-pasta-pancake guy and eats a very limited, though mostly healthy, list of foods. My daughter is like me and considers the exploration of cuisine one of the great adventures of life. She’ll try almost anything. She likes to shop; he’d rather do homework than find shopping on his agenda for the day. He loves the outdoors and wants us to do more hiking; she rolls her eyes at the mere mention of such activity. He likes ocean beaches with big, slapping waves; she likes quiet bay or lake beaches with gentle waters. He’ll play board games and is a stickler for the rules; she’ll play sometimes, but insists on making up her own rules and becomes disconsolate when others refuse to abide by them. My daughter likes crafts and wishes we could do more; my son considers participation in any craft a punishment and thus unfair unless he’s done something to warrant such treatment.

You see where this is going.

My husband and I believe strongly in family time. We all love each other, and we should have fun together. Particularly in a year where we’ve gone through some difficult times, it’s important for all of us to enjoy each other and engage in some activities where all we think about is what we’re doing at that very moment.

But what should those activities be? How do you find family activities that make everyone happy when your kids are so very different?

One answer to this question is to say to your kids, “Your sister/brother/the rest of the family likes this, so we are doing it for her/him/the rest of us.” We have done this on several occasions, and we will continue to do so. The key here is to keep the activities balanced between kids. I don’t particularly love this option as more than an occasional solution, but it’s necessary and it hopefully teaches the kids a bit of selflessness. (Also, possibly, resentment, but I’m crossing my fingers that’s not the case.)

Then there is the big slam-dunk activity both kids will certainly love; e.g., “We’re going to Disney World!” Obviously, this is not a strategy we can use very often.

Another option: “You go your way, and we’ll go ours.” One parent takes one kid to an activity, and the other parent takes the other. This may lead to a measure of happiness, but not to togetherness. We do this some–why spend the money to buy an expensive ticket for my son to see the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker when I know he will hate every second of it?–but most of the time, it’s not the solution we seek.

What about you? Have you confronted this dilemma? How does a family of four–or more–spend time together in ways its polar-opposite kids will enjoy?

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