By Doni Joszef
It’s that in-between time. The kids are aimlessly floating betwixt camp memories and back-to-school frenzies. And we are left in that awkward position we secretly dread: full-time parenting.
Most of us prefer to call these weeks what they are: quality family time. The dread remains a secret because it reveals an uncomfortable reality that we’d rather avoid acknowledging: family time is stressful time. Not because we hate our families, but because we hate our inability to enjoy them in a way we feel proud of. I am much better at presenting workshops on parenting topics than I am at practicing the patience and presence I perpetually preach (don’t tell anyone). So the massive gap between ideal expectations and real-life situations creates a sense of guilt, which I robotically numb by checking my e‑mails under the false assumption that I am busier than I actually am. Anything to escape the demands and responsibilities of the here and now. Ancient anxieties, modern remedies.
These weeks can feel like an elongated Sunday. And with no plans to fill the void of empty schedules, families gradually unravel under the natural forces of restlessness and boredom. We expect full-day itineraries to fall from the sky, and when they don’t, we blame our spouse for spending too much time absorbed in his or her iPhone rather than being the proactive parent we feel guilty about not being.
The easy way out is to simply sit the kids in front of their screens so that we can go back to sitting in front of ours. Each member of the family can find synthetic stimulation from pixels in motion. But we know this option is unhealthy for them, for us, and for the family as a whole. So instead, we resort to venting, projecting, and silently counting down the days till school.
It’s usually during these weeks that we realize how camp and school tuition—costly and crippling as they may be—are worth every penny. We love our kids, but we don’t know how to turn that love into functional action. The best we can do is pose for Instagram pictures that seem to reflect an ideal we struggle to make real.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe everyone else knows how to naturally navigate these choppy waters with a sense of serenity and ease. Highly doubtful.
I presume myself to be in the majority (and if you’re an exceptional exception to this rule, I officially pronounce you “Parent of the Year”).
For most of us, family life is challenging. Always has been. Always will be.
As a society, we have made many tedious tasks easier for ourselves. We no longer need to draw water; it comes to us. We no longer need to get books; they come to us. We no longer need to get groceries; they come to us. But family life remains as emotionally draining and physically demanding as ever.
There is no app for keeping your cool when your toddler throws a tantrum—and a Slurpee all over you—because you gave him a yellow straw instead of a blue one. There is no app for practicing presence and humility when your spouse rightfully points out that you’re spending more time on your phone than you are on your children, and there is no app to restrain yourself from defensively pointing out how her claim can boomerang back in her direction with equal and opposite force. There are apps to distract us from this discomfort, but no apps to help us digest it.
Here’s where I insert some self-preserving platitudes. I love my family. I really, really do. And, for the most part, they seem to love me. But this is not a matter of love; it’s a matter of life. The greatest blessings often come preloaded with the greatest responsibilities. Facing and fulfilling responsibilities is challenging. Which is why we secretly dread these weeks. We don’t dread our families; we dread the challenge of being a positive part of them.
But—like it or not—this is our challenge. v
Doni Joszef, winner of the 2014 Cedarhurst “Best in Mental Health” award, works in private practice with individuals, couples, and families. Trained as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, he is completing his Ph.D. in media psychology. Doni presents innovative workshops at schools and organizations on a variety of psychosocial topics. For more information, visit DoniJoszef.com or e‑mail DJoszef@Gmail.com.