We are lucky to live in Gibraltar, and it’s fair to say that our standard of living has hugely improved compared to our life in the UK. Back in the UK my kids were very small and often I felt trapped in the house, especially on rainy days and over winter. Here it is the opposite problem – the kids are older and more able and we just don’t stop going out! So can you have too much of a good thing?
It is very easy here in Gibraltar for kids activities to creep up on you and before you know it they’re doing something every day after school. Swimming lessons, ballet, gymastics, drama, ice skating, Brownies, Cubs, football, tennis, rugby, musical instruments, extra language lessons – Gibraltar has an extensive list to choose from. Throw in homework, jobs that need to be done, and special occasions, and life gets very hectic. I wonder is this really the dream Mediterranean lifestyle we wanted? Quality of life advocates tell us that less is more, that we should declutter and only have that which we truly love in our lives. So I decided to do just that. Starting with my kids. No, I haven’t got rid of them – I’ve just decluttered their lives, more specifically their time. And so far we all really like it.
We had a very busy and fun summer. Lots of visitors and lots of long weekends away around Spain. Lots of late nights, quite a bit of alcohol (ok lots) and lots of food. By the end of it we were all exhausted, my husband and I were each half a stone heavier, and the kids were driving me mad. This is probably familiar to many of you. I struggled to get my kids to listen to me and continually repeated myself three or four times ending up grumpy and annoyed. This is not how I want to be. This is not how I want my kids to be. On top of that they didn’t appreciate what they were getting, they didn’t appreciate me and there was a palpable sense of entitlement brewing in the small people. You definitely can have too much of a good thing, which is ultimately not a good thing at all.
Now we are firmly in autumn and we’ve settled down into a new term, the clear out has begun. Last week I told my girls that all of their after school activities were cancelled and that if they wanted to get them back they had to earn them through good behaviour. This also went for all pads and consoles and bedtime had been brought forward to half past seven.
As you can imagine this did not go down very well. It was not easy for me either as I would like them to take advantage of opportunities to learn new skills. With this decision came the inevitable parent guilt that you’re not giving them those opportunities. But, for the greater good, it had to be done. I became strict about what behaviour would be tolerated and what was unacceptable. Consistency, that’s what good parenting guides always advocate. Now that we weren’t rushing around everywhere and being distracted by gadgets I had the opportunity to do this properly.
I am surprised to say that the results were remarkably quick and by the end of the week their behaviour improved by 70%. We were all much happier and relaxed. It really was quite amazing. Homework and reading were mainly done leisurely and there was no pressure. The kids played in or played out, or chilled out in front of the telly. So very 80s. These days it’s become quite socially unacceptable for kids to sit and watch TV but I like a good programme in the evening, so why shouldn’t they? I cooked and had volunteers to come and cook with me. The kids were keen to show just how able they are to do things well – especially getting ready in the mornings (hurray!). That’s not to say we didn’t have naughtiness and words, but by the end of the week there were far fewer incidences to deal with. ‘Less is more’ definitely seems to be working.
Inside I’m still feeling the pressure that I ‘should’ take them to an activity this coming week, but my gut instinct tells me that would be counterproductive. Fortunately Gibraltar is a small place with lots of opportunities and in a few years they will be old enough and responsible enough to go to activities of their choice on their own, or for us all to be able to enjoy the same activities together. No doubt some ‘organised’ activities will be part of our lives again in the not so distant future, but for now I’m going to embrace a slower pace of life and try harder to enjoy this extra time with my kids and aim to be a better mother instead of a better manager. Hopefully, we will all enjoy that easier Mediterranean lifestyle we moved here for. So today, all being well, we’re off to the beach after school to collect shells, fly a kite or maybe even do some paddle boarding. Now that’s what dreams are made of.