I hear it a lot. Not saying that I hear it all the time, just a lot. And not saying that I hear it about all aspects of my life (nobody says it in reference to my housekeeping), mainly in the area of "how are you so active with young kids?!"
I find great joy in taking my kids places. I am usually up for getting out of the house and running to old favorites or trying new places. If you don't want to get out of the house with your kids, then this post isn't for you. If you are wanting to try something new, but want some tips, here is what I have to offer. It's not solid, but it works for us.
First- Be prepared. We rarely go anywhere without three changes of clothes (one for each kid), extra diapers, snacks, and drinks for everyone. Many day trips and adventures have been ruined or seriously derailed when I haven't had these items with us. If you have an extra pair of clothes, it isn't a big deal if, like today, your two year old gets soaked playing at a water table at The Children's Museum. I didn't even have to go to the car for his clothes because he has a change of clothes in the car and backpack! For extra clothes, I just pull hand me downs that the kids probably wouldn't wear as much and throw them, a plastic bag, and extra diaper for Johnny in the back of the car. My girls are very potty trained, but sometimes accidents, spills, puddles, and rain happen. Especially in Houston. As far as drinks and snacks go, if my kids start melting down at something fun, it's probably because they are hungry or tired. Either of those things can be fixed with a litte bit of water, milk, or juice and a quick snack. It can at least buy us 30 more minutes while we decide the best course of action.
Sometimes, special activities need extra preparedness. During warm months, the zoo needs extra water, swimsuits, and extra sunblock. Bright events outside mean sunglasses for Mac. Longer activities mean making a lunch plan. Think about what you would do before you get up and go.
Second- Find a friend. If you are nervous about a new activity or aren't sure if you or your kid(s) will like it, take someone with you. It works really well to find one or more friends that are similarly minded as you when it comes to getting out of the house. It's even better when kids get along well together too. It makes social time an aspect of taking the kids out, as long as you are patient with having to run after or correct children. And in some ways it makes life way easier. You can tag team potty breaks, meltdowns, and kids can play together which often times means less work for both Mommies (or Daddies involved).
Third- Don't be afraid to go at it alone. Yes, this contradicts the above paragraph, but it is crucial for your enjoyment of outings with your kids. For starters, you need to spend time doing things with your kids one on "one" (or two or three). You need to talk to them, experience things with them, and in general, enjoy their company. Additionally, sometimes you cannot rely on others. Play dates fall through, kids get sick, schedules get jammed. If we invite others, our policy is always, "This is what we are doing, join us or not, we will be having fun regardless". It's not to be pompous, it's just to continue with our adventures and to encourage others to venture out as well.
Fourth- Find systems that work for your family and practice them all the time. I have three kids five and under, systems are how we function in public. Mac helps her sister get unbuckled, they don't open the car door unless I say so, when they are by the car their hands are either on the car or they are standing on the yellow or white line, when we walk through the parking lot we all have hands, the list goes on and on. Because these systems or procedures are commonplace for my kids, they aren't out of sorts when we are doing something fun or trying a new place. Whether we are at the grocery store or at the zoo, these hold true.
Fifth- Find places that work for you. We loved The Children's Museum downtown. It was fun, informative, and has some awesome activities for kids. However, my kids' ages aren't ideal for that particular museum right now. Johnny is way too young, has to be held or in a stroller, and many of the exhibits need a lot of assistance from parents for Mac and Keegan's ages. While I love explaining and teaching my kids, it can be a challenge when all three are headed in different directions. So we switched to the museum in The Woodlands. It is a smaller facility, it is more interactive and explorative for younger kids, and is usually less busy so Johnny can explore some too. It works better for us. The same goes for you and your kids. If you hate animals, the zoo isn't the best place to go, try a bounce place or library story time instead. If your budget doesn't allow for extra spending, look for free nights and events at places around town. Find what works for you.
Sixth- Temper your expectations. It's good to have a general plan in place, but be realistic and flexible. My kids have some stamina, but if they walk most of the zoo, even with stopping for a picnic lunch, they are exhausted after 3 hours there. That is a lot of walking for a kid. Be sensitive to that. Kids have to pee, often, ask frequently, ask every time you see a restroom, and don't be surprised when they have to go again. I kid you not, we made three restroom stops on the way to the zoo this week. And at least that many inside. Just because something is fun and exciting for you, doesn't mean it will be for them, and vice versa. Take it all in and if you catch yourself getting frustrated, see my first rule, specifically about packing a snack and a drink for mommy too!
Seventh- Back off. When places are slow or the setting allows, let your kid move at their own pace. Let them pick the route you take through the museum. Let them choose which art activity to do. Let them race to find the next animal. I'm not saying to be an absent parent, quite the opposite in fact. I am encouraging you to let your kids explore and have freedom as the outing allows. As they grow, those moments will help them continue to be strong and independent. I laughed today at the parents at the museum who were shocked that I was allowing my kids to explore much of the place independently (politely and respectfully, with about 10 other moms, and parameters set) while they say near their kid, buried in their phone. Trust me, I need my phone time too, but my kid is no less unprotected as theirs was and they loved feeling like big kids as they took their time at each station as they wished. I loved looking for them and seeing what they were doing.
Lastly, take pictures but also enjoy the moment. It's nice to snap a few quick pictures here and there with the phone, to get a random video of kids playing, or to even pull out a real camera for a couple of set shots, but not at the expense of living in the moment and experiencing what is happening. I think our generation of parents will have more than enough pictures to remember our kids with, don't be so wrapped up in getting the perfect shot that you forget the details that make it all so nice.
(it's not a perfect picture, but I could
not capture on film her little voice
calling for her brother to sit with her
and her "driving" them to the movies)
Again, this is what works for us. It's not for everyone. But I encourage you to get out of the house with your kids, try some new places, and have fun. It's worth the extra work and becomes easier each time. I delight in the time my kids and I have with one another.