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Forced Family Fun?

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The first time one of my teenage daughters said the words “forced family fun,” I will admit that I was offended. I did not like hearing the Sunday family hikes and picnics that our family takes characterized as “forced.” I did not like the sarcastic use of the word “fun. “ But there the words were, fresh and ugly, on a beautiful Sunday morning. Sometimes it’s not easy to be perceived as an uncool parent. The disparity in the fact that I look forward to this time with my family made the sting worse.

I had to think about the perception of our Sundays together. What was my position on forced family fun? What was I looking to get out of it? The answer was easy: exercise, unplugged teenagers, shared adventures (however small) and togetherness. My thinking made me look back on my own teenage years. Forced family fun is a tradition I have inherited. As a teenager, I remember having mixed feelings about some of our family outings. Then I realized something else.

The forced family fun outings are the things I remember most. Do I remember sitting around the house doing nothing special (it was reading magazines in my day.) Yes, vaguely. Do I remember an early morning drive up the coast with my parents and siblings to see enormous elephant seals on a stunning stretch of California beach for the first time? Yes, vividly. Do I remember the museum outings and picnics in the hills that my parents forced me into? Yes, vividly.

I asked myself another question. Are my teens going to be any less irritated with me if we just hang out at the house today? That answer was clear: no. They will be just as irritated. So that I will not sound like an extreme character, I believe in the importance of having lazy days. PJs until noon? Sometimes it’s exactly what is needed. But lazy days are just one thing on the à la carte menu of what to do with our all-too-scarce family time. I decided that just like I would not want my child to eat a hamburger and fries for every meal, I do not want to spend every Sunday afternoon in a teenage haze of sloth. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for me as a parent. Forced family fun and broccoli have more in common than I ever realized.

Even though it takes more effort to battle teenage inertia, even though I will be seen as woefully uncool, and even though I have learned that it can take several hours for teenage grumpiness to fade, the tradition of forced family fun remains intact in our household. Maybe my daughters, like me, will appreciate the effort we make when they are older and have children themselves. At the very least, I hope they will have a collection of memories that show our enthusiasm for spending time together. I also hope that they will understand the deeper message behind forced family fun: that we love them enough to fight for that time together.

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

January 9, 2015

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