A Family who [eats, plays, travels] together lives happily together…
Sounds familiar, right?!
Lately, I have been reflecting on what makes our family life fulfilling, rich, balanced and enjoyable and have come to the realization that in our case, family balance stands on five pillars.
In the first place, there’s THE child. When our child is well and healthy ( and by healthy I mean free of extremely annoying but insignificant cold, flu, ear infection or any of the zillion ailments children catch in a year) and when her needs are fulfilled life seems easy and peaceful. Tuning into her own schedule, listening to her needs and making our decisions with her well-being in mind, always…well, almost.
Spending time with and for ‘Her’ is our main duty as parents and for the most part we do it with abundant pleasure. ‘Her’ still being a toddler, most of our awake time is spent fulfilling her physiological and emotional needs. My husband and I share that duty; sometimes we take turns and sometimes we do it as a team.
Which brings us to:
Us as in “us 3”. Papa, maman, baby girl. The nuclear family. The time we spend together is split between the time doing nothing special but prepping meals, eating, driving places, getting dressed, etc. As well there is all that time we purposefully spend together playing outside, going to the pool, the library, camping, visiting friends, traveling. This certainly comes high on our list as what makes us feel happy and satisfied with our lives and also high in the level of priorities when trying to fit everything into our modern days schedules.
We firmly believe that exposing our child to the outdoors and to the things we are passionate about and making her part of (some) of our adventures has more benefits than detriments.
However, I sometimes find that the quality of this ‘us’ time and the satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) it provides depends a lot on the quality of the ‘him’ time…and also, to a certain extent, to the ‘I’ time.
My husband and I made a deal. He never wanted to have children whereas I really did. It was always very clear between us and even imprinted in my wedding vows that I would never stop him from doing what he loves. Since I have known him, what has been so critical to his realization and happiness is spending time in the mountains and I doubt this will ever change. This part of who he is made me attracted to him in the first place and I need to remind myself that I cannot nor do not want to change that.
“He” is the kindest, most thoughtful and caring father to his family and I feel so grateful for that. However, being mountain-deprived suddenly turns him into an impatient, grumpy person, which makes everyone miserable, including our daughter and myself.
That is why a healthy dose of adventure for him is essential to a healthy, happy family life for all of us.
Now that I can no longer be his main partner in crime, “he” had to build his network and find people he likes to share time with. Having one or several motivated and available friends to share adventures is certainly the key to keep doing things for yourself when you have children too young to belay you or be your rope gun or break trail.
Fortunately, we each have a few friends to do that, thank goodness! Most of our loyal adventure partners also have families and some don’t. Scheduling and planning can sometimes be challenging but it usually all work out.
Because historically moms often will only allow themselves time and attention after everybody else has been cared for (ha!), in #4. comes the “I”.
Again, I largely benefit here from having a husband who understands how important it is to have some alone time to train, go outside to climb, ski, run, bike or even just have coffee with a friend and clear the brain from every day stress and the responsibility of the family.
From the moment our daughter was born, he was always very supportive of me taking time for myself and do what I love. Moreover, he has always been the one pushing me to do so when fatigue is peaking and motivation is at its lowest.
“I” time is something I make a point to take once or more per week, even if it’s just for an hour. Because when I return, I feel calmer, more patient, energized and happier and I see the positive impact it has on my family….and on my relationship with my husband.
Which brings me to the first and last component of our family: “US”
Us as in “him & I”. The family core. Where it all started. That desire of two human beings to merge their lives and found a family.
For ten years, it had been just him and I doing everything together; partners in the everyday just as in the boldest adventures. From multi-day ski traverses, to epic 24 hours alpine climbs, from academic achievements to oversea and transcontinental moves, from dirtbag living to granite countertops and retirement savings.
The birth of our daughter has obviously shaken our lives more than we could ever have imagined it would and brought a different dimension to our team.
Without any family around and with all the attention a new-born requires, it took us a while to start doing things as a couple again.
It’s only quite recently that we’ve started planning evening dates and day trips in the mountains together more regularly again, thanks to great babysitters and generous friends. The key here has been the good old kids swap with friends who also have kids and also like the concept of ditching them once in a while to spark the romantic fire again while getting some vertical in.
In conclusion, all I can say is we do our best to keep those 5 “pillars” described above as strong as possible and that like every family, we do our best to keep each of us content, happy, loved and cared for.
All of this depends on our success in organizing the other aspects of our life ( aka earning an income, doing chores) so that we maximize the time together and the time to ourselves.
It’s not always easy to keep every member of a family absolutely content and family life perfectly balanced, but with a good dose of communication and lots of love, everything is possible.