On my family’s farm is an old citrus orchard. Generations ago it was planted and carefully tended. When I was a child those trees bore juicy, bloated fruit that we would pick and devour, leaving us full, and with sweet sticky hands and faces.
Now the farm has grown. It has become more productive and expanded its boundaries. It is a modern business that needs to focus on the areas of high return on investment. The orchard is no longer a priority and so it fends for itself. The trees conserve their nutrients and moisture for survival. No longer do they bear juicy fruit.
The last few years have made all of us a little like those trees. It has been a difficult time by anyone’s standards, and many of us have adapted, but the cost has been the juicy parts of ourselves. Even our kids seem a little skinny inside. They’re tired.
Let’s be honest though, family burnout isn’t new. To some degree, it happens every year. We spread ourselves thin. We have events and meetings and tonnes of commitments. Our kids have clubs and co-curricular and sports and birthday parties and a million different activities. We all get tired and it is the juicy parts of ourselves that are sacrificed first; our connection, our creativity, our gentle fun.
The end of the long school year
Even in the best of times, a school year is depleting. It’s often enjoyable and rewarding, and there is so much growth, but our kids are naturally worn down by:
- Too much time with peers
It’s also pretty exhausting just growing up!
Teachers are tired too. Schools are such completely social institutions that we all wear each other out.
Children demonstrate how emotionally thin they have become in many different ways. They may respond by becoming agitated or adversarial. They are cranky and the smallest request is met with eye-rolling and grunts. Some misbehave and break boundaries as a way of taking some control. Some become quiet and withdrawn. We all need some time apart. Maybe that’s why we say, “School breaks up in December”.
And now, here come the holidays!
Taking time out for the holidays is essential. It’s time to feed on what sustains us, the stuff that makes us whole and bear fruit. The holidays are a time for families to gorge on love, connection and nature to ensure our children face the new year fat with promise.
In order to recover from a busy year and prepare for what’s ahead, we need to remove ourselves from routine. Family holidays are an investment in heart. They give us the opportunity to connect, for extended periods of time, with those we love, and who love us.
Not everyone has fancy holidays in luxurious accommodation. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. Camping in the bush or on the beach gives us the opportunity to reconnect with nature.
Nature has its own rhythms. When we slow down and tune into those rhythms, we breathe more deeply and we find calm. There is something about the smell of a forest or ocean that makes us remember that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. It puts the problems of our daily lives into sharp perspective.
Nicole Caulfield is Deputy Principal at Lourdes Hill College. She is also mum to five teenagers…Yes. Five! Every year her family holidays in national parks. She says, “There is nothing better than seeing your family relax after the hustle and bustle of busy lives. Going for a swim at the beach, hiking, watching the sunset, playing board games, and just being with one another.
When you get back to nature, children relax, they are grateful, and they are in awe of the environment. They create their own fun, they laugh, and they talk. Really talk. They also learn from our example, how to rejuvenate themselves.”
Tweens and teens are very good at giving you the impression that they don’t need connection with you the way they used to. They are at a stage in life where they are beginning to sculpt an identity. They look to their peers in this process for approval. However, they do not have the esteem to do this if they don’t have a solid connection with you first.
It is only when a child feels totally safe and connected at home that they can tread boldly in the world. Even then they need to constantly return to that parental connection to replenish their confidence and sense of self. Their relationship with you tells them whether or not they deserve love and respect from others.
Holidays are the time when we get to stop and turn towards our kids for extended periods of time. We can top up their stocks of esteem and connection throughout the year, but on holidays they get drenched. They get fat with love and connection and they take that sustenance into the world with them.
Give kids a chance to flex their muscles
Being on holidays is an opportunity to allow children and teenagers to flex their muscles. Literally, they get to run and climb and swim and play for hours at a time. But we can also give them the opportunity to discover new muscles.
We can give them the chance to take control and direct our days! They can use their creative and problem-solving muscles in real life. We have the opportunity to allow kids to make decisions about what we do and how we do it.
Nicole says, “Every year we go hiking. We let our children study the maps and plan the trips. They love it. They lead the way and get us to our destination…eventually. On the way they are sometimes quiet or tell stories, we have accidents and falls, but in the end, we get there together.
“Yes, we do sometimes hear, “I hate hiking’, and ‘I’m tired’, and that’s okay. When we finish our hike, or we see dolphins, whales, or turtles… they love it and it is these family stories that we tell over and over.”
The stories we gather with our kids on holiday become our glue. They become the mythology of our families. Their beauty is in the retelling and the feelings they evoke.
When we have years’ worth of holidays in our family memory vault, they sustain us even in the skinny, dry times. We can call them forth and they have the power to regenerate us. They help to keep us fat with connection and love…no matter what.