Thursday, May 19, 2011

Un-planning a perfect time with my kids

I'm a planner. I can't help it: I like to plan ahead, I like to make to-do lists and check things off, and I like to know what I'm doing today and what's next, and when things have to be done by. I like to put things into my calendar so I don't forget.

Having kids taught me quite quickly that you can't plan for everything. However hard you try, kids just won't fit into to-do lists or calendars. I sometimes think my son decided to be born a month early, just so he could prove that point to me right away.

And what I've found with my kids is that often, un-planning something can be more enjoyable than planning it.

My Swedish, un-planning paradise.

One of the best places I know of for an un-planned day with my kids is the beach, which I've written about before on this blog. Another great place for an un-planning vacation is my parents' summer house in Sweden.

When I'm there, I try to avoid making to-do lists (though grocery shopping lists still have to be made, I just can't shop without one) and I try to un-plan our everyday life as much as I can. Most of the time there is no schedule, no pickup or dropoff times, no sights to see, no itinerary.


  • there's the house and the small cottage we sleep in. 
  • there's the small beach. 
  • there's the boat, the dock, the water (brackish Gulf of Botnia water, usually no more than 17-18 degrees Celsius), the fish in the water, the woods (full of mosquitoes and blueberry bushes), and the assorted toys my parents like to get for the kids. 
  • there's the boat and the fishing rods.
  • there's a place to dig for worms for fishing.
  • there are buckets and shovels and sand to dig in.
  • there's a hare that visits in the early mornings.
  • there's a garden hose and flowers, and tall grass.
  • there's a gravel road and some bikes.
  • there are birds and frogs and bugs.
Which is plenty for the kids, really, and in many ways a lot more exciting than any pre-planned outing or sightseeing trip for them.

So I don't plan. We just go outside and do. And I can sit there, on the lawn, in a sun-chair, and watch the kids all day, running in the grass, digging in the sand, chasing butterflies, trying to scoop some fish into a bucket. Doing nothing and everything. And it's perfect.

Don't get me wrong: I'm still a planner. And I still think planning ahead and preparing yourself is the best way to handle a lot of tasks in life, including traveling with kids. But so much of our lives are planned out and filled up ahead of time with all sorts of important stuff, like school, meetings, work, activities, bills, phone calls...

Even time off  and vacations and holidays often become planned: filled up with more itineraries, schedules, times to keep. Take air-travel for example: it's all about itineraries, schedules and times to keep!

For a planning-freak like me, it's nice to remind myself every now and then that I don't always have to plan out things for something to "happen". Life, in all its un-planned glory, happens anyway, if I just let it.


  1. I'm a huge planner too, sometimes too much. But when traveling, I just need to slow down and let my kids take me where they will.

    Even though I plan, it's normally one main activity a day and then if we get more in, it's a huge bonus.

  2. Yeah, that is an excellent strategy. Sometimes I just have to remember to let go of the to-do lists! The best moments with the kids usually happen totally "by accident", which is kind of awesome.


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