My Kids Don't Want to Do Anything This Summer

Public Domain. MaxPixel

They've requested no day camps, just two empty months.

My children staged a rebellion earlier this spring. They informed me that they were uninterested in attending any day camps during their summer vacation. I looked at them in disbelief. "Not even basketball camp? Baseball camp? Art camp? Museum camp? STEM camp?" I rattled off the names of the (numerous) day camps in which I'd enrolled them the previous summer, but they stood firm. "No. We just want to be at home."

We then had a discussion about how I'll still have to work from home, how they'll have to entertain themselves and likely feel bored at times, and how there's no turning back because enrolment fills up fast. Still they insisted.

So I agreed, not just because it's what they want, but because I think deep down it's the right decision. As parents, there's a tendency to get caught up in fretting about our children's entertainment when, really, they're not much different from us adults in needing unscheduled downtime. After a busy school year with extra-curricular activities bookending the days, it's important to create space for nothingness. That's where the magic happens, after all.

Writing for the New York Times, Olga Mecking talks about the Danish concept of niksen, or doing nothing. (I've written about this before.) Her context is a professional one, but I'm sure the benefits would be felt similarly by children freed from a daily schedule.

"The benefits of idleness can be wide-ranging... Daydreaming — an inevitable effect of idleness — literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas."

Mecking cites psychologist Sandi Mann, who says that total idleness is required: "Let the mind search for its own stimulation. That’s when you get the daydreaming and mind wandering, and that’s when you’re more likely to get the creativity."

Having an unscheduled summer gives exactly this to children. It also forces me to embrace free-range parenting more than I already do. If I have to work, I am unable to watch them directly and they'll be free to wander further afield – which is precisely what they want and are capable of, even if it's hard for me to accept at times. My role will be to provide backup support at the home base, offering Band-Aids, meals, and mediation as needed.

I do intend to implement some of wisdom from this article on working from home when school's out. Adjusting my schedule to start earlier in the morning when they're sleeping and finish so we still have time to hang out, making sure my expectations of their self-entertainment are clear, and arranging occasional play dates and outings with friends will help the days to pass more smoothly.

Most of all, I hope it will slow down time a little bit. As my kids grow, time speeds up, making me realize how precious these fleeting years are. I don't want the summers to disappear in a frenzy of activities, but rather have beautiful memories of lazy days spent hanging around the house. And if they're the ones instigating it, all the better.