The importance of downtime: why taking a break matters.

sock knitting and coffee drinking = my idea of heaven on earth | SimpleKids.netThe following post originally appeared in July 2011.

The importance of downtime has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  I am currently having about four medical appointments a week (don’t worry, the baby and I are doing fine, this is just a precaution) and those busy days are making the “off” days a real treasure.

A recent conversation with a stressed-out friend, the emails in my in-box from exhausted parents wondering how to disconnect, and my own desire to turn inward during this third trimester of pregnancy have all served to remind me of the value of taking time to recharge – the genuine need for a mental and physical break.

As I’m entering my 38th week of pregnancy, I find myself experiencing bursts of energy.  My first instinct is to use this extra energy to take care of things around the house, but experience has taught me that this is not the time to re-arrange the closets, weed the garden, or strip and wax the kitchen floor. No, this is the time to rest and save my energy for the work that lies ahead of me – the work of birth and the early days of life with a newborn.

However, the late days of pregnancy are not the only season of life when rest is important and women in the third trimester aren’t the one people who need downtime.  Many of us need to give ourselves permission to “time out.”

Who Needs Downtime?

Parents need downtime. We need time away from the duties of parenting.  We need some time, and occasionally space, to just be still.  A few moments of peace and quiet at the beginning of the day.  Time alone, or with our spouse, after the kids have gone to bed.  I need those daily pockets of quiet anchoring the end and the beginning of my day to help me keep up with the “joyful noise” that happens during the middle of it.

Sometimes we need more than just moments of down time in a day.  I have a friend who takes a weekend retreat once a  year, all by herself.  She says she needs one weekend a year when no one calls her “Mommy” and she isn’t expected to pick up after anyone but herself.  I can understand that.  I have visions of a weekend getaway to a knitting retreat someday, myself.

This past Spring, my husband and I took our first vacation alone in over a decade.  Having a few days together, knowing our kids were in good hands with my parents, was a gift for our marriage, yes, but it was also good for both of us as parents.  We missed our kids, but he and I agree that we each needed that time “off.”  I think it will have proven to be a great help to us once the new baby arrives that we took the time while we had the opportunity to rest and recharge ourselves.

Kids need downtime.

Kids need moments of peace and quiet, too.  They don’t need every moment of the day to be filled.  In fact, some parenting experts argue that we do our kids a disservice by not giving them the  “gift of boredom.”

From one of my favorite books, Simplicity Parenting:

“Think of boredom as a ‘gift.’ … boredom is often the precursor to creativity.  Think of a bridge between ‘doing nothing’ and the sort of deep creative play … The bridge is almost always paved with (the frustration of) boredom. ‘I’m bored.’ Now that is when something interesting usually happens.”

We need to give our kids the gift of down time and yes, even boredom.  When we give our kids those seemingly “empty” spaces of time, creativity and imagination have room to grow and flourish.

Families need downtime.

It is tempting, especially in the summer to try and attend every fair, extended family gathering, amusement park, and local sporting event.  However, every weekend doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be,  fully scheduled.  Families need some lazy weekends and time off.

I know that right now, what my family seems to need the most is simply time spent together, at home,  living these remaining days as a family of five before we become six Flecks.

So, I’m taking my own advice and fighting the urge to re-arrange or take on major pregnancy “nesting” projects, and I’m resting.  The baby doesn’t need re-organized closets and alphabetized cans in the kitchen pantry (not that I’ve thought about doing that or anything.  Ahem.)

This baby needs the essentials:  food, shelter, clothing, and love.  And that last one especially I know we’ve got in bulk.

If it isn’t essential, it can wait, while we take some down time.

Are you finding room in your life and schedule for downtime? Do your kids have downtime? If you struggle with this, as I sometimes do myself, how do you shift things so that down time can happen?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. Down time is so important for everyone at every age. I purposefully unschedule our family. Our children aren’t over-scheduled with activities. They don’t need to be in all kinds of activities to learn and thrive. In their “down” time they are reading, creating, exploring, playing and engineering with ideas and creativity that would have been set aside for a scheduled activity. Yay for down (i.e. creative) time!

  2. I have been reading Simplicity Parenting this week and I loved the part about boredom. My 6 year old says that the only thing she finds interesting is the computer. Not cool! I have been trying to get her to try other things but all I hear all day is how bored she is and that she just wants to play on the computer.
    The other day I found myself repeating some of the lines from this book to her. Something about how boredom is the beginning of great invention. That she has to use her brain and find something to do.
    Melissa´s latest post: BBQ Summer – Photo Friday

  3. I totally agree. Some of our best family moments this summer have come during intentionally unscheduled time – when we skipped an event to just stay home. The rush gets to all of us, and thanks to advice from people like you, I’ve learned to be mindful of our time. Thanks for a great post!
    Courtney´s latest post: Highest Priority

  4. Thank you so much for this. I too, am in my 3rd trimester, although a few weeks behind (33 weeks today). I’m more tired than I can remember being before, and it’s time to slow down. It’s hard. There are many things that call to be to get done before baby arrives, but I’m also just tired. And I have a little girl, already here, who needs me to slow down and just hang with her.

    I so appreciate your words, just exactly right for me right now.
    Diana´s latest post: a thought for a summer Sunday afternoon

  5. My daughter was born in February and I spent the month before her birth in the hospital on bed rest. As difficult as that time was emotionally – the hardest part was being away from my two sons and my husband – I found the time after her birth to be so much easier than either of my other two post-partum periods because I had experienced that imposed downtime. I didn’t realize at the time how valuable it was to have rested my body and my mind.

    Downtime in general doesn’t come naturally to me so I appreciate your reminder today, especially as it invited me to remember this recent lesson from my own life.

    All the best wishes to you and your family as you get ready to meet your new baby!
    Kristen @ Motherese´s latest post: Tour de Parenting

  6. I am always so encouraged by your perspective. Thank you for the valuable input into my life!

  7. Oh I so agree!
    I recently had a moment where I worried that my kids weren’t doing as many extra curriculum activities as other kids we know… I worried that they’d ‘miss out’ (I even blogged about it! LOL) but then I got over myself and realised that what my kids, my family and myself need is time! Time to just muck around and play…
    katepickle´s latest post: Activities for Kids – 30 Minute Challenge

  8. i’m a teacher, so life naturally slows down in the summer, but i do have to resist planning out every moment. sometimes i feel pressure to fill my child’s every moment with teaching as well. thanks for the post. it reminded me to just “be.”

  9. My husband and I realized quite awhile ago that our family needs a lot of downtown. We need those weekends with no plans and those quiet evening after the kids are in bed. The girls inherited that need to, they get cranky, tired and just plain miserable if they are constantly on the go. I love that people are embracing this idea now. Constantly being on the go and constantly being entertained is not good for anyone!
    Terri´s latest post: Hawaii Basket…

  10. I found that pregnancy and babies afforded me a good excuse for downtime – for my first baby, I would turn off the phone, snuggle in for a nap with her in the late afternoon during my maternity leave and on weekends. For my subsequent children, it got harder, but I still carved out time – again I think I had a good “excuse” and those boundaries were easier to stay firm on. Without a napping child, I find it harder to enforce downtime. The school year its particularly hard, but I need to heed my husband’s advice – when we don’t have an activity, I need to hunker down at home vs running that errand or going to the library. And this summer, while I’m working, my kids are getting plenty of downtime, but its so tempting to fill it up since its easier for me when they are occupied, so I have broken up some of their long stretches with activities. I do find it more difficult to handle the downtime the busier we are – I think its because the kids are so unaccustomed to it, that they have a harder time adjusting and that is frankly very sad. I need to put the boundaries around them so they can flourish in the downtime – its important. I also don’t want them to grow up thinking they have to go go go or be with other people to be content, happy. A good book, a nap, some quiet time outside or on a hike are all great things for the soul.

    This summer I was given a wonderful gift of 2 1/2 days straight alone at home – no kids, no husband, no plans. I got a lot done, but I also enjoyed just reading and relaxing. Friends were astonished I didn’t make plans (could stay out late! could eat wherever!) but I just craved the peace and quiet and stillness in my own home, just me (well and the animals). The weeks since, I’ve summoned back that peace I discovered. I love my kids and husband, the noise, the chaos, but each of us needs a little stillness, whether its a good period of time or just a few moments.

  11. I so agree with this, but I’d take it a step further… families need UNPLUGGED time. Time to be away from all of the immediately-gratifying, incessant digital noise that inhabits far too much of our lives already.

    It is for this reason, that we don’t have any kind of DVD or video game stuff in the car. When we’re on road trips, we pass the time singing songs, playing games, or just quietly watching the surroundings.

    Boredom fosters imagination and reflection. Don’t drown out those priceless opportunities with digital distractions.
    Rob O.´s latest post: The Tooth Fairy is Headed Our Way

  12. Absolutely very important! Not just for pregnant women, but all women. Especially women who are responsible for others. It is imperative. How can you take care of others if you are falling apart?
    Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: Taking care of me

  13. YES, it is sometimes so hard for me to stop and be still and relax. I am always DOING. Luckily my boys like downtime, so they help encourage me to do these things. Just yesterday my 5 yo wanted to watch one of our family videos of when he was a baby. I said I would watch while working on my computer. He said, “Mom, you never just sit and be with me!” So I left the computer on the desk and enjoyed snuggling on the couch watching him as a baby. It was heavenly!
    Sheridan´s latest post: The Benefits of Being Media Free

  14. Our oldest starts kinder next month, we’re all going to be super busy once school starts. We’ve thought about putting him in karate after school, to give him something to do. I was never in any after school sports growing up, only a week of ranch camp in the summer – I wish I had more activities during the school year. And if we can swing it, our little guy will have a choice to go something physical during the school year.
    Mamabear´s latest post: Breads: Caraway Rustic Loaf

  15. My son loves nothing more than to stay home and not have anything that’s planned to do. I have learned from him that it is completely okay to just stay home and not have something planned to go out and do. It can be easy to fall into thinking that we have to fill our kids and family time with fun and adventures, but down time is often more needed than we ever really expect.
    Kimberly´s latest post: How Rigid Should Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule Be?


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