Few activities are fun for the whole family

In one of my books, Off the Clock, I talk about the realization that few activities are ever fun for the entire family. During one whine-filled hike, I ran the numbers, and found that if each of my four children are happy 75 percent of the time, and happiness is an independent event, the odds of all four children being happy simultaneously are only 31.6 percent. In other words, even with four fairly contented kids, two out of three moments will feature someone being glum.

Accepting this can make family adventures far more tolerable, as long as you keep certain caveats in mind.

I was thinking of this on Sunday when we went to Cape May for the day. While such a trip did not make my Official Summer Fun List, we often go eat at The Lobster House, walk through the Nature Conservancy’s preserve to see the birds, and then watch dolphins from the sand.

We did all those things. There were some good moments. For instance, though all my children ordered chicken tenders at a sit-on-the-docks seafood restaurant (why??) the three older children tried bites of my lobster and liked it. Getting them to eat new foods is always a challenge, but they seemed open to my explanation that lots of people consider lobster to be a treat.

Walking through the nature preserve was quite warm, however. They were also being more stringent about their beach, so we complied with the rules and walked down to the official Cape May one. During this whole time, the 9-year-old whined incessantly. He was hot. He didn’t want his feet to get sandy. He didn’t want to go to the beach. It was too far to drive. Couldn’t we do one weekend day at home? (We had gone for a bike ride the previous day.) Did we remember that we spent a week at the beach previously? Why were we going to the beach again? Could we go home?

The other children played in the waves and built sandcastles. The 9-year-old proceeded to sit on the towel the entire time we were at the beach, never leaving it, and never going in the water. He took off his shoes, but not his socks, thus guaranteeing he would be able to put his shoes back on with no sand touching his skin. I walked back to the towel to check on him every few minutes, but this meant I was subjected to the same questions each time (“Can we go now? Why are we at the beach?”)

We did indeed leave earlier than we probably would have to compromise, and on the long (hot) walk back to the car I pondered the nature of larger families. We all wind up doing some things we’re not thrilled about but that our family members enjoy in order to do some things all together. I know I have my own things I don’t like, and as an adult I get to steer us away from these things in a way a kid really can’t. Whining stems from a lack of control. That doesn’t mean we should do anything differently, but we do need to make sure it’s not always the same family member who’s being forced to do things he or she doesn’t like. We can make sure that person does stuff he or she does want — and we do. The 9-year-old enjoys team sports, which is why I spend my fall weekends at flag football, winter weekends at wrestling meets, and spring weekends at Little League games. The other kids definitely get dragged to some of these events. And they whine about it!

Few activities are fun for the whole family.

In other news: With so much walking, the 4-year-old fell asleep at 5:30 p.m. in the car on the way home. I woke him up to eat dinner at 7, but then he meandered back over to the couch and fell back asleep. So I put him in bed, thinking there was bound to be a 2 a.m. wake up, and possibly sheet-changing involved too but nope. He slept until 6:30 a.m. Guess he was tired!


11 thoughts on “Few activities are fun for the whole family

  1. Even with adult “children” it’s very difficult to please everyone. My my three kids (currently 26, 26, and 21) and I take a long weekend vacation trip every summer and we set up a planning document so everyone can make suggestions and give input about what places we want to go or things we want to do while we’re there. I always ask everyone to name at least one (or two) things that are a must for them and make sure that everyone gets to do something they want to do. I also always ask on the way home what their favorite and least favorite thing was. (Sometimes the answers are surprising.) It has gotten a lot easier now that they’re older because sometimes I just drop them off somewhere or we split up into groups of two. (On one trip my two daughters went to Colonial Williamsburg while my son and I went to see a production of “Jane Eyre the Musical”…..that was the only way to make everyone happy that day….lol.)

  2. Ah, I have a child who routinely complains about activities. He can find the fault in any fun. My struggle is to not let it ruin my fun. I hear him complain then I get angry about his lack of gratitude and just want him to be good natured, and then I react by kind of yelling at him. How do you get through these moments? I need tips!

    1. @Erica S – I’m not sure if there are any practical tips, but just reminding yourself that nothing is fun for everyone, and the fact that he’s not having fun doesn’t mean that you can’t. I sometimes try to reiterate when we are doing something fun for a particular kid that we are doing so, and that other people will want to have their fun at other points as well.

    2. See KJ Del’Antonio book, about how your kids’ misery is not yours, or something along that line. Well explained!

      1. @Marthe – I was thinking about this too. That was one of my huge takeaways from DellAntonia’s book. I think she phrased it like “you don’t have to go down there too”, and it’s something I often repeat to myself. It’s been quite helpful around here, as moodiness runs in this family 🙂 I have enough of my own complaints without having to be absorbed in someone else’s 🙂

  3. I’m so glad to hear about your challenges of “fun” family activities because it is similar for our family. One of my kids in particular complains prior to the activity, but often ends up liking it (but won’t admit it he really enjoyed it – he’ll say he “kind of liked it”).

    1. This is my 6yo EXACTLY. I’ve now reframed “kind of” from her as “OMG Mama, that was awesome!” 😉

  4. This post is just so true. I have kids that are spaced out in age too (three of them). We also go to a local beach frequently. Sometimes the big kids have a great time, other times they are bored.
    The fun thing about having kids all spaced out though is that the big kids can sometimes really enjoy little kid stuff too. Like I pay the 13-year-old to build blocks with her little brother, and then suddenly little brother is gone but she is still building and enjoying it.
    For myself I like that having the kids makes me do stuff I would otherwise totally avoid ( like waterslides ) and sometimes I end up having fun on that too! If everything were up to me all our weekend activities would be concerts, restaurants, and drinking wine… so it does broaden you.

  5. I’m one of 5 and am the 4th child so I got dragged around to a lot of events when I was young. I am sure I whined about that, but I whined more about having to accompany my mom on errand running/shopping trips. I hated shopping as a child and my mom still talks about how awful it was to take me school shopping with the older siblings. I still hate shopping so some things never change. Ha. Being in a big family definitely taught me that it’s not all about you and really never will be. We will not have a big family as at most we’ll have 2 kids but I’m hoping we can still teach our kids about compromise and everyone having their turn at fun.

    That’s an epic night of sleep for your 4 year old. He must have been so wiped out!!!

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