The Space Between: The Luxury of Discovering Your Own Happiness
How did you get here, where you are right now?
Have you ever stopped for a minute to think about how you discovered your true passions?
Can you travel back in time and see the moments that shaped who you would later become?
Can you see yourself, at 6- or 7- or 8-years-old, engaged in something that is somehow related to what you love to do today?
How did you learn what makes you happy- truly, deeply happy?
Since becoming a mother, I think of this often with regard to raising my children. When I think of my life’s true passions, I can trace them back to my childhood, to what I refer to as the space between. I believe that the space between is necessary for the healthy development and future happiness of our children.
The space between is free, unstructured time; those gaps between the scheduled events and obligations in your life. You know those thirty blessed, quiet minutes during which you enjoy your coffee before the kids wake up? That’s the space between. Those forty-five minutes after your daughter gets off the bus, before she needs to head to her afternoon practice? That’s the space between. And who can forget those lazy Sunday afternoons? That’s some glorious space between right there, folks.
What has happened to the space between?
I don’t think anyone can deny the fact that our lives are lived at a much faster pace now than they were years ago. Studies have shown that kids today have significantly less free time than we did when we were children. In our current culture, there is a drive to fill the space between. School days are longer than they were when I was a child, and there is less room for play. When school is out, parents rush to shuttle their children from activity to activity. There is a quest to fill any available hour with activities that will extend upon academics: language and math lessons on weekends, music practice, art courses, sports. There is a rush to keep up, to make sure your child is having at least the experience of his or her peers. Parents are worrying about college applications when their children are still in kindergarten.
Our society is EXHAUSTED. Parents joke about needing a caffeine IV drip; they laugh about living in their car, shuttling from place to place to place. But is it funny, really? Is anyone truly enjoying this rat race? If it’s stressing out the parents, what is it doing to our children?
Parents are rushing to fill this space for their children, to ensure that their children are “well-rounded”, but I ask you: At what cost? Are children truly learning about themselves? Are they discovering their own unique interests and passions, or are they merely going through the motions, doing what their parents and coaches and teachers have set up for them? What is going to happen to all these kids who are shuttled from place to place to place when that shuttling stops? Are they going to be overscheduled, frazzled adults? Will they be looking for external validation all the time? Are they going to know how to relax? Are they going to be able to just be by themselves?
Will they know what to do with the space between, should they ever stumble upon it?
Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with music lessons, or art lessons, or sports, or foreign language, or math, or science. I’m an educator- I love all those things! My children have enjoyed many of those things at different points in time over the years. I’m just wondering, do our children need to do all the things right now?
Finding your happiness in the space between
I believe that free, unstructured time is essential for everyone, but most especially for our children. I feel strongly that unstructured time is wholly educational and necessary, not only for a child’s sense of well-being but also for his or her healthy development and happiness.
When I reflect upon my passions, and the person who I have become, I can thank the space between. Things were much different when I was young. My parents had one car and there was no rat race, no expectation. We had ample free time. Were we bored? Did we complain? Of course we did! That’s what kids do… that is, until they find something to do. Children who have the luxury (and these days I would argue that it is, sadly, a luxury) of unstructured time learn to fill the space between.
I credit the space between with making me who I am today for it taught me:
- The space between taught me to love books. I read indoors, outdoors, in the car, and in my room. I spent many a day curled up with the latest series. This was time very well “wasted”, as these books provided me with knowledge and a deeper understanding of my interests.
- My childhood property bordered conservation land and I developed a deep appreciation of nature in my early years. I’d climb trees and build multiple forts with my brothers. I’d hike, catch frogs, play games, sketch, clean up litter in the woods, and just hang out with my neighborhood friends, deep in the forest.
- When my brothers elected to play catch rather than do what I wanted to do, I would create my own fun. I’d use my imagination and create imaginary friends, creatures, and games. I’d while away the hours with my elaborate fantasies.
- I wrote book after book for my parents and teachers to read, either holed up in my room or hidden away in some filthy outdoor nook. In my books, I documented the stories I’d imagined while roaming the forest in our backyard just like my favorite character, Anne of Green Gables.
- I discovered a love of exercise in those early years. Hiking, swimming in the neighborhood pond, running with my friends- these were activities that I loved.
- I learned that I loved children, while still a child myself, playing with my neighbors’ babies and toddlers. I’d entertain and create activities for the younger ones and before I knew it, I was a highly sought after mother’s helper at the ripe ol’ age of ten.
- Helping other parents in the neighborhood led to other opportunities to help and serve. I learned, early on, that I loved volunteering- long before I would need to enter it on a college application.
- I treasure quiet time. I am able to be still, by myself. I’ve never needed to fill the space with noise and conversations. Why? Because I spent many unstructured hours of my childhood, alone, with myself.
Parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches are so important in the lives of our children. I was blessed with many early supporters of my passions and for that I am forever grateful. Yet, these early interests and passions of mine were discovered in the space between, long before my parents shuttled me anywhere. I didn’t rely on my parents or teachers or coaches to tell me what I was good at because I had an idea already; I had learned about myself during the space between. As I grew, I pursued these early interests and passions, and I connected with those teachers and coaches who helped these skills and abilities blossom. Later, I found a career that incorporated these passions. Put simply, the space between allowed me to discover my own happiness.
Benefits of the space between
The space between has many benefits, folks. I am thankful that I had plenty of it as a child and I’m already seeing the benefits of the space between with my own children.
Yes, I just listed boredom as a benefit. Why? Boredom fuels creativity. My children think of the coolest ideas, games, artwork, and inventions soon after whining, “Muuuuum, I’m boooored!!” Boredom teaches you to be alone with yourself, and to seek out pursuits that you enjoy.
Play is the science of childhood. In our current culture, work is valued over play. Play is the work of childhood. It is during play that children perform their first experiments, and they learn to interpret the world. They create, invent, and learn. Children learn to solve problems and navigate social situations through early play.
Nowadays, children are better able to identify zoo animals than they are the very animals residing in their own backyards. Why? Because they aren’t outside enough! Studies show that children are happier and healthier when they are provided with ample time in nature.
4. QUIET, ALONE TIME
So many adults today are unable to just be.They cannot sit with themselves, in silence. Instead, they must fill the space with words and actions. When children are provided with quiet time, they learn to fill it. And, what do they fill it with? They fill it with the things they love. They learn about themselves, and they don’t need a coach or a teacher to tell them that they are passionate about something – they already know it because they’ve discovered it on their own. They are not searching for external validation, they are self-motivated.
How to encourage the space between
I make space for the space between because I am fully aware of how it has helped me. That said, it can be tough to go against the grain and to do something completely different than the Joneses. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Opt out
This isn’t a race, folks. You don’t have to sign up for basketball, or Kumon, or gymnastics because everyone else is doing it. Opt out of the race. I can guarantee you will feel lighter, happier.
2. Schedule it
For the overscheduled, it can be tough to adjust to more free time. If that is the case, schedule it in. Saturday afternoon: do nothing.
3. Follow your child’s lead
In our home, I sign our children up for activities that they themselves express interest in. Early on, Leo expressed interest in art so while his peers were playing t-ball, he was taking an art class. I honestly did not feel that he was missing out because that twinkle in his eyes told me that this was a passion. Miss T is enjoying ballet. She tried soccer and didn’t like it, so we won’t do it again even if everyone else in town is doing it.
4. Ignore the whining
Just ignore the whining. You are your child’s parent, not a constant source of entertainment. Allow your children the luxury of boredom. Yes, the luxury. They will learn to fill the space between and I’m willing to bet you’ll be surprised by the results.
Our culture is overworked, overstressed, and overtired. If you simplify, sleep will restore to a more natural state. Catch up on those elusive zzz’s, folks!
Many of my best childhood memories were outdoor memories. Now, my children are their happiest when they are outside. Get out there- explore! There is a beauty and a simplicity in nature that we can all benefit from.
If you provide your child with free, unstructured time, your child will learn to fill the space between. He will fill them with the things he loves and is passionate about. By doing so, he will be creating his own happiness.
As I sit here, at almost 37 years of age, I am thankful for the space between, for it allowed me to learn about myself- at my own pace. Left to my own devices, I learned about my own unique likes and dislikes, my true passions. I learned to create my own happiness. I am who I am today because of the space between.
Tell me, folks… do you see the value of the space between? Do you make time for it? Share here.
When I heard that the topic of this month’s Hoagies’ Blog Hop was Free Time, I drew a complete blank. Free time? What do you mean? Like, what do we do during our free time?
This post has been part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page June 2015 Blog Hop: The Gift of Free Time. Please click the image below to keep on hoppin’!
Love and trust, in the space between what’s said and what’s heard in our life, can make all the difference in the world.
~ Fred Rogers
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and GeekMom. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram