Our house is a prison and the kids the jailors

Kids Jailors Rothenburg ob der Tauber Mediaeval Crime Museum
Written by Kirstie Pelling
Lighthouse Mykines Faroe Islands

This kind of togetherness is hard to get at home

Just one week back from the intoxicating freedom of our summer of adventure and I’m starting to feel trapped by the everyday routines of family life. Is it wrong to feel like this? Others don’t seem to complain but then they’ve probably been at home most of the summer. I feel a bit like I’m in prison. And the kids are my jailors… 

What shall we do this sunny Saturday?

It’s a sunny Saturday day in Cumbria. You probably have to live here to understand the local climate and know how rarely those words are uttered in the same sentence. So understandably I want to get out of the house. It happens quicker than I thought when Cameron rushes into the kitchen with a timetable in his hand; his Saturday morning brass lesson started ten miles away nearly 15 minutes ago. Bacon butties are abandoned and once I’ve delivered my son and a tenor horn, the rest of my morning is spent ferrying the others around their various activities. I’m in Morecambe. At the seaside. In the sunshine. In the car. While all around me others are enjoying a holiday on the beach.

“Hey shall we do something fun this afternoon? Get some fresh air?” I blurt out, before kicking myself.  Fresh air is good for you. There’s no way that’s going to entice them out of the house. I should have bribed them with ice cream. I try again when we get home.

“Shall we go out for ice cream today?”

Stuart is up for it, but the suggestion is met with a round of shrugs from the kids. I know those disinterested shrugs.  The power has shifted in our family. Shrugs rule. Meanwhile Matthew is busy texting a friend and announces he’ll be out for the rest of the day and can he have a packed lunch and money for chips?

“I don’t want to go out today. I need down time,” says Cameron.

Stuart shakes his head in despair. He doesn’t understand down time. Doesn’t know what it’s for. As the kids are too young to leave on their own, one of us must stay in with them. So he takes his frustration out by clearing out the attic. But I can’t stay in. Not on a day like this. I wander around the house in a mood and then take Hannah swimming, getting annoyed with her because she won’t leave the side of the pool without the arms bands that we threw away ages ago when she learnt to swim.

Freedom to play, travel, explore…. I want it back!

Still Sunday’s for family time, isn’t it?

Sunday used to be a family day, a chance to get out and do something together. At least before the kids got so involved with mini-rugby. I even encouraged it, thought it would channel their aggression. But six years later and now it’s not just the kids who are committed. Somehow ‘Dad Helper’ Stuart has got roped in. I don’t know if he loves or hates his Sunday mornings standing on the pitch shouting rules he isn’t quite sure of at kids who can’t hear him because they are busy battering the life out of each other, but it’s what we do. And I can’t see a way out of it. So Hannah and I hang around waiting for it all to end.

“Shall we go out for an ice cream this afternoon?” I ask as the boys pull off sweaty rugby shirts.

“Where?” one of them asks suspiciously.

“The Lakes? It’s a lovely day. We could get some fresh air….” Damn.

“We’ve had some fresh air. I just want to go home.”

“Me too. I need some down time.”

We get home and Stuart retreats to the attic. The others scatter. I wander around the house in a mood. I don’t feel like going swimming today.

It feels like the house has becomes a jail and the kids and their routines our jailors. And as Stuart and I sit down trying to plot an escape the reality dawns on us; we’ve got a long sentence ahead of us – years of non-committal shrugging from one or another of them, of demands for down-time and respite after the whirl of the school timetable, after-school sports, clubs, parties and play dates. Is this our new world order? Is weekend ‘down time’ going to extinguish our adventures together?

It’s so different to how we are when we travel. Throughout the last seven weeks in Iceland and The Faroes, we have been permanently in the ‘fresh air,’ making decisions together, operating as a team. A tight unit, the five of us sharing a tent, crashing out at the same time and grumpily rising together. Now the only way we will be together is if we all agree to join Stuart in the attic. I want to scream. I can’t see a way out. I feel like jumping online and booking a cheap package holiday, just to get us all out of here, back together again, one family, one unit. But that’s just a sticking plaster. And besides Stuart wouldn’t come.


Kids Jailors Rothenburg ob der Tauber Mediaeval Crime Museum

Sometimes I feel like kids and their routines are my jailors

What’s the solution? To ‘pre-schedule’ weekend family outings a week in advance, getting everyone’s permission to do something together? Or to give up any hope of doing things as a family and all have our own ‘down time’ all weekend? Could someone advise? And while you’re there can you explain the concept of down time to Stuart? Please comment below!


About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • Oh Kirstie, I completely understand. There are 2 things there is an actual process we go through mentally when we come back from such a big “adventure” – it is almost similar to depression. Sometimes it takes an immediate short trip locally to overcome it – to help with adjusting back into regular daily life. Second – well – some of us enjoy down time and some never will haha. I think sometimes you do have to take charge and plan a weekend activity (it is to easy for them to say “nah – I am good hanging out here at home). Plus I am sure much like our family the time together as a team on adventures works so well because of the normal daily life and breaks from each other that happen in between. Good Luck to you – I really hope we can make it up there soon.
    Cheyenne xo
    PS – maybe take these moments to do something solo that only you enjoy!!!!!

    • Hi Cheyenne. You’re right – it is a void and I’m probably not alone in feeling it…it’s a bit like Christmas being over I guess.
      Funny you should mention the solo thing. Tomorrow we’re all going to the county show. Separately. The kids with school and me to work and Stuart to do some photography. But I hope that’s not the way forward!

  • Another great blog Kirst. Even without having had the sort of adventures you’ve had this summer, I find the routine thing is such a bummer after weeks of fields and beaches. As is realising you’ve lost half the family each weekend to activities which you never really wanted them to do in the first place. Does my daughter really need 3 hours of coaching to be more theatrical? I think not. Where is the rugby going to take Ed, (other than A&E obviously). Strangely though, it’s somehow reassuring for me that you guys with your amazing outlook end up live with the same day to day family issues as us in urban land. C’est la vie and regrettably, no answers here.

    • Hi Jen, I woke up one day and realised that weekends of the future will always be spent driving boys to matches or brass band concerts in dark northern towns. Sounds like you have the Southern version, but with added traffic lights.
      We’ll miss it when its over, but it’s a long haul.
      PS, I don’t think your daughter could get any more theatrical…have you thought about French lessons instead?

  • Oh yes, I guess your compaints are understood and shared around the world. Here we’ve had a midsection between our actual vacation and the end of the holidays for all of us to gradually get accustomed to that ol’ life, but now it just slurs on and on like the chain gang you are describing.

    And worse, are our kids our jailors, ore aren’t we theirs, at the same time? Those activitiese we drive them around to, who wanted them to take them? If you asked them – at least at that very moment – whether they rather wanted to go to play mini-rugby or have some down time, rather play the English horn or play with friends down the street, what answer would you get? Yet we helped them choose such activities, as we thought it was better for them to have them! No, we’re in this together, even if we feel apart.

    • You are so right Thomas. I was the one who signed the forms and paid the money over for them to play contact rugby when they were hardly old enough to hold the ball. That’ll teach me to be a tiger mum. Thanks for your moral support and letting me know we’re all in this together. And I might think twice before I sign Hannah up for a lifetime of ballet lessons…she might be just as happy pirouetting round the living room..

  • This sounds like my house! My husband and son love ‘down time’ and I end up pacing the house like a caged tiger! I am now a Brownie and Guide leader and run a girls football team. If the boys want to sit at home and ‘chill’ let them. I’m off with the girls to get some fresh air. This weekend I am taking my Brownies to a local scout camp for a ‘camp day’ where we will put up tents and build fires and eat eggy bread and my girls team have their first home game of the season on Sunday morning. A couple of hours left on Sunday afternoon and that’s all the down time I need thank you very much!

    I miss them and would rather be doing something together but like you, have found that only seems to work when we are away from home so I have given up and found my own amusement that stops me climbing the walls every Sunday.

    When I am at a loose end I torture myself by reading of your adventures and wishing I was there!



  • it seems fair that the kids have enough of socializing/exercising/etc. with school and sports and activities and just want to relax at home.

    can you get a babysitter in to stay with the kids so you and your husband can go out and do what you want to do? if you make outings optional, maybe some of your kids might go along — taking turns, so that they get more individual attention. another win.

    • That’s a great idea, in fact so great that we tried it last weekend, roping in the mother in law to teach them some card games while we got some air. Now all I need is for her to sign up as a taxi driver on a Saturday morning and I can relax with a bacon butty and The Guardian. Thanks for your suggestion.

  • I also often find that family time is of higher quality when we travel…fewer distractions, no commitments, no laundry/cleaning/chores…just simple family fun time.

    Love the site!

  • Yep, know exactly what you mean.
    With the sun shining (at last) this September, we get to the weekends, and the kids are off elsewhere with Guides and Brownies. We can’t get outside and do what we want to with the kids, because we’re paying someone else to…..madness!
    Still, I think at least that’s just one day of the weekend lost, only to be told that one of the gang has been arranged to spend the day at a friends house, and I have been promised car duty for my other kid and her friends…. Then before you know it is back to long days at work, and the kids at school, clubs, and homework.
    It can get difficult when all the activities are in full flow. They can end up ruling your life and you just live between the ‘breaks’. Before you know it, they’re grown up and independent, and you’re wondering where there childhood went.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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