As another year comes to a close, many of us often feel that our families are just about running on empty.
We've done the yearly grind of daily routines for work, home and school. We've met deadlines and committed to work colleagues, friends, hobbies and extended family.
And most energy sapping of all, as parents and carers we've managed the merry-go-round of our children's extracurricular activities, as have our kids.
By the time the extended holiday period comes around, the possibility of family time together is something to look forward to.....or is it?
How often do we hear that holidays are recipes for boredom? How often do we read that unless children are entertained, parents will most likely suffer from a severe case of pester power?
A quick scan of the Internet reveals dozens of articles and links to holiday events and activities to occupy children. It's tempting to believe that holidays need to be busy, entertaining, interesting and productive.
But isn't getting away from busyness and daily routines one of the main reasons we have a holiday? Seeing new places and doing new things is always fun, but so is winding down, relaxing, sleeping in, doing nothing in particular, and not having to be anywhere by a certain time.
Most importantly for many families, holidays are also about not overspending on adventure, discovery or fantasy.
Stress caused by overbooking, over-scheduling, hyper-scheduling and hyper-parenting is a recognised issue in many children.
Increasingly young children are 'hot-housed' and overscheduled by well-meaning but eager parents, who are keen for their children to benefit from the broadest possible education. As parents and carers it's natural for us to want the best for our kids and want them to have lives that are full of opportunities and enriching, age-appropriate activities and experiences.
But it's also natural (and hugely important) for children to enjoy unstructured time-relaxing, playing, hanging out with friends, occupying themselves and expressing their creativity.
A survey* of more than 400 Australian parents of children aged between five –12 reveals that 47 per cent of families reported some form of family fatigue. Barriers to parents encouraging more unstructured, freeform play for children were identified as an overall lack of time, homework and school, TV and computer games, extracurricular activities, and parent's work.
Research reveals that what children need most are relationships, not activities. Physically spending time taking our children to extracurricular activities, movies, theme parks and big days out, doesn't always mean this time will necessarily be quality time.
Distraction and entertainment is not the same as the one-on-one experience of constructing a model together, making pancakes, or kicking a footy in the park.
Family fatigue can affect everyone, particularly children. Children involved in too many extracurricular activities can become tired and irritable and in some cases exhibit symptoms of stress, including loss of concentration, headaches, loss of appetite, aggressive behaviour, sleep disturbances, bedwetting, and stomach upsets.
As a simple rule of thumb, we need to ask ourselves if our child actually wants to be involved in extracurricular activities. Or do we as parents and carers involve them because we feel guilty or we're overcompensating for one-on-one time we don't spend due to work or other commitments?
Underbooked holidays are the ones where the pressure is well and truly off. After a hectic year, an underbooked holiday can be just what the doctor ordered.
An 'underbooked' holiday doesn't have to be 'undercooked' as far as excitement goes, but enjoying down time together as a family provides opportunities to build on relationships and re-discover simple pleasures.
Recharging the batteries ready for the new school year, gives everyone a head start.
Kids will be kids so why not let them
Signs symptomatic of stress
Recognising when your children are stressed or under pressure