The Brave Work of Protecting Free Play and Family Time In Our Over-Scheduled Culture


I struggle with wanting my kids to be the best. I want them to be outstanding students, accomplished in their strengths and be good citizens.

This is not about them or even about competition – it is about me. With their achievements comes praise for me, for I must be smart… and accomplished… and a nice, caring person in order to raise such exceptional children, right? Right!!!

This struggle is mine. And if I had to guess, could be yours as well.

I decided, for the good of my family and my boys, to fight this particular fight, silently. They never need know the internal struggle I undertake.

And so, I silently fight the urge to put my kids into every activity. I fight the urge to push them relentlessly in their studies when they are already doing well. I fight all my natural tendencies because more than I want them to have any accolade or accomplishment, I want them to be solid, well-rounded, joyful and whole-hearted kids and eventually solid, well-rounded, joyful and whole-hearted adults.

These are great intentions. Intentions I need not keep silent, but which must be expressed, spoken, known and lived out.

In our home, we believe well-rounded and whole-hearted is best accomplished with two things: free play time and family time.

Free play time is important for all of us. It gives our minds time to wander and time to be creative. This thinking time works the imagination and makes everything more possible. With time to think and be creative there is no limit to what our brain can conjure. However, when every moment is full of planned, structured lessons and activities there is no time to cultivate the skill of wonder.

Family time is equally, if not more, important to children becoming the best versions of themselves. This time spent with them is priceless. It is where they learn to speak their minds and what it feels like to be heard. It is where they learn it is okay to feel emotions and how to deal with them. It is where we, as parents, learn about our kids and what is happening in their lives. If we don’t take this time, and guard it with a vengeance, we may not get to experience what it is to truly connect with our family. What a tragedy that would be.

Don’t mistake me. It truly takes BRAVERY to say “No” to some good stuff.

We sometimes have to say “No” to an activity that our children want to do because there is another activity they are already committed to. We sometimes have to say “No” to something that is just too much of a time commitment and sometimes have to say “No” to ourselves and the pleasure and approval we might get from watching our child compete and be the best.

Saying “No” to some good things gives us the power to say “Yes” to the most important things.

There is no shame in giving voice to where you struggle as a parent. Having the courage to own it and make positive declarations of change will forever impact your family. It is, quite possibly, the truest definition of BRAVE PARENTING.

Prioritize a list for your family. What will be held as utmost importance in your home? Commit to protecting free play time and family time and how that will be done. Then write it out, post it on the fridge, speak it, teach it, practice it, and most importantly, LIVE IT!


References for cognitive, emotional, physical, and psychological benefits of free play:

Psychology Today
American Academy of Pediatrics
Parenting Science
Psych Central

Picture of Samantha Hornberger

Samantha Hornberger

Hi. I am a full-time, working, mom of two great little boys. I am a small-town eye doctor and own a rural Indiana optometry practice. I am passionate about finding, and helping others find, balance in their home and work lives. I believe that what we spend our time on matters and that we should spend our time on what matters most. Our children are our most precious gift from God and they deserve our time, guidance and our most BRAVE selves to help them navigate through this life.

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