by Shannon Serpette, mother of two and award-winning journalist
I love my children with all my heart, and I truly do enjoy spending time with them. But I wish I could space that time out a little, and not have too much togetherness all at once. That’s right, winter break, I’m talking about you.
It’s the time of year children love and parents fear. My children are 9 and 11, and they are the best of friends. Except when they aren’t. And when they aren’t, my fear of winter break is upgraded to terror.
If I’m making my children sound like monsters, let me clear up that misconception. They really aren’t. I always hear from their teachers about how well-behaved they are. But I’ve learned that being well-behaved doesn’t matter during winter break – it’s like the Bermuda Triangle is for compasses. It takes everything that is in working order and disrupts it.
It doesn’t matter how good your children are, winter breaks are a recipe for disaster. If you live in a place where the weather turns brutally cold during winter, like I do, you can’t just send your kids outside every time you get annoyed with them or every time they get irritated with each other.
When the temperature is nearing 0 degrees, no amount of screaming can tip the scales of my annoyance meter enough to send them outside. And if they can’t go outside, they don’t know what to do with themselves, and I completely understand why.
They feel cooped up. They’re experiencing a massive case of cabin fever. There’s nothing for children to do but aggravate each other when it’s just them stuck in the house, and they don’t have a lot of outlets for their aggression. I mean there’s only so many hostile NERF battles I can tolerate. I’ve had enough orange darts whiz past my body that I feel like diving to the ground and covering my head every time I hear a loud click.
If I created a drinking game out of how many times my kids said the word “mom” during winter break, I would be passed out in the first hour. They have so many questions for me and my eyes start glazing over after the first few. My kids ask me more questions in 30 minutes than Alex Trebek does on an episode of Jeopardy.
So what’s a parent to do to protect the sanity of everyone in the house during winter break? How can you make it through those two weeks and still have a great relationship with your kids? Here’s a plan to save yourself from them, and save them from your irritation.
Take them somewhere they can run around like crazy
Let them burn off that hyped-up holiday energy while you sit and enjoy the fact that your house isn’t being torn up. It doesn’t matter where you go as long as they are allowed to run free and be as loud as they want. Take them to an indoor pool, the rock wall at the gym, or the nearest Chuck E. Cheese.
Then you should huddle in the corner, enjoying the peace and quiet along with all the other shell-shocked parents.
Arrange a playdate
This one is tricky because you don’t want other parents to think you’re playing hot potato with your own child. You must get them to think there’s a compelling reason they need another child messing up their house, eating their food, and driving them crazy.
I’ve found honesty is the best policy. Tell your friend how crazy you are becoming and how desperate you are for two hours of silence. She’ll get it, believe me. We’re all in the same boat. So make a deal to get what you want. Tell her you’ll watch her kid at some point over winter break. It’s like making a deal with the devil – this is all about instant gratification and trying to pretend you won’t have to pay your dues in a few days.
You may kick yourself for playing that parental game of “Let’s Make a Deal,” but those golden hours of silence will go a long way toward calming your frazzled nerves.
Go somewhere where they have to be quiet
You only have two good options here – a movie theater or a library. If you’re really coming unglued, do both. Kids know they have to behave in both these places. They’ve likely met some terrifying librarians at school or in the community, so they know better than to mess with someone who even tells adults to be quiet. And at the movie theater, they won’t risk being thrown out and missing the movie, so they’ll zip their lips in record time.
Be prepared for the rebound though. All that quiet isn’t easy on them. All their thoughts and words build up and blow like a volcano the second they are away from any enforced silence.
Go somewhere completely new
This throws them off balance, and they don’t know how they should act. Whether it’s a museum they’ve never been to or it’s a nursing home where they can brighten the days of people who would love nothing more than a long conversation with an eager child, variety is good for them.
As they’re checking out their new surroundings, you can enjoy the fact that you won’t hear someone say “mom” every few seconds for the next hour or two.
Enlist help from the reinforcements
It’s time to be part of a tag team. Sometimes husbands and wives have to support each other, even if it means playing a fierce game of rock-paper-scissors to see who deserves a night out.
If you’re really lucky and you have the extra funds so close to Christmas, you can find a trusted babysitter to watch your little angels so you can have a much-needed date night.
Best case scenario, your children have grandparents who live nearby and love to watch them. They can have fun spoiling their grandchildren, while you try to forget how many days of winter break are left.