Time Flies When You’re (Not) Having Fun

18 States Down

Justin and I were talking today about an interesting phenomenon we experienced over the last year: Time flies when you’re NOT having fun.

In 2010, our family of three spent a total of seven months on the road. We explored 18 states and countless locations, met innumerable and amazing people, discovered new passions and new careers, played endlessly, learned relentlessly and grew constantly.

It was fun and breathless and we were amazed when only a month had gone by!

We just left Las Vegas yesterday after six months of hard work, sorting, unpacking, repacking, selling, buying, more selling, creating and non-stop movement. We were working hard, with our eyes set on the goal and not enjoying anything we had intended to enjoy (like time spent with family or locales).

And it feels as though that time flew right by us.

Nearly the same amount of time. Two totally different experiences.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun? Um, No.

Our conversation hung over me for awhile as I tried to understand what differed between one moment to the next. Weren’t stressful things suppose to drag on?

I can unequivocally say that we had way more fun on the road than we did off the road. But our experience in relation to the perception of time was so vastly different….fun seeming to last forever, while times of stress rushed past.

But when I compared our emotions and our state of being in both times, the answer became totally clear:

The one thing that affected our sense of time was not the amount of fun we had, but how present in the moment we actually were.

The more we were mindful and aware of where we were, what we were doing and why – the more we were in the moment – the more the clock seemed to slow and we could relish the present moment we were in.

On the other hand, the more we barreled through our tasks, with one eye on the end goal and the other on next week, the more we missed each day.

Time doesn’t fly when you’re having fun. Time flies when you’re flying by it.

And I can think of one other realm were this is commonly felt:

Mainstream Parenting (Lacks Mindfulness)

In mainstream parenting the theme seems to be about “getting through.”

Parents talk about getting through the colicky stage, the sleepless-nights stage, the into-everything-whenever-we-turn-our-heads stage, the self-asserting stage, the beyond-messy-bordering-on-slovenly stage, the rebellious stage.

Our focus is on survival, usually because its the only tool we have.

We’ve lost mindfulness. We’ve lost the ability to get down on the floor and play. We’ve lost the patience to look for monsters under the bed or read a story “one more time”. We’ve lost the wonder that allows us to listen to their wild tales of dinosaurs and princesses and revel in their wide eyes and excited bouncing as they tell it again and again.

We’ve lost our ability to be in the moment, because we think the moments last too long, take too much of our time or energy and quite frankly, don’t matter as much as they do.

But these moments, and our fully being in them – aware, conscious and engaged – is all that will matter in a few years.

The cliche phrase “Enjoy them while you can; they grow up fast” is only cliche because it’s so freaking true and so damn surprising that no one who’s experienced it can stop repeating it.

Nearly every single parent, as their child moves away (or pulls away) laments on how fast the time went, how quickly they grew up, how they miss this age or that, how they wish they had more time.

Because the time really does fly when you’re not having fun as a parent.

I’ve experienced it, and not just in relation to our traveling. I’ve spent many years with Zeb, unconsciously rushing through the moments I ache to experience again.

It wasn’t any fun. And I paid dearly with sacred time and trust lost between us.

But the magical thing about time is that it really doesn’t exist. Human beings create time measurement and perceive the time based on our experiences.

By changing those experiences and our choices, we can also change how we perceive the time we spend.

It all comes down to mindfulness: Being in this moment vs. constantly moving toward the next.

Join the conversation: Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

35 Replies to “Time Flies When You’re (Not) Having Fun”

  1. we won an ipad. it is awesome. in searching for a dragon app (my son loves dragons) I found a talking dinosaur that I thought was a dragon…it was free, we downloaded it. and it repeats everything you say. which is hysterical. until you’re a tired cranky stressed out mother and hear your crabby voice being repeated in a chimpmunk sounding tone…but still tired cranky and stressed out.

    its made me focus MUCH MORE on how I sound. when he was born and I was learning how to breastfeed the specialist kept saying “pay attention to your face, you look very frustrated” um yeah cause I am but if that’s all he’s seeing…

    seems like I learn a new lesson all the time being a parent. and, hopefully, am becoming better at it and helping him know how much I love him. takes less energy, it feels, to make it fun than it does to get angry tonight I was looking for something over and over…and could.not.find.it. I had a mesh bag in my hand from cleaning up and suddenly said “i’m going to put my magic bag on my head and it will help me find this” and he laughed and laughed and I did…right then I found it. and we both laughed.

    I like laughing with my son.

    1. This is so true. Often we can’t understand how our words sound outside of our intentions.

      And yes, I think ultimately it does take less energy to make things fun. But sometimes we (meaning I) forget that and think a quick word is somehow going to work this time. πŸ˜‰

  2. Thank you for the reminder to be in the moment, to choose to experience my children rather than focus on all the time and energy they take. My second is three weeks old right now, and I am realizing that this baby time is not going to last forever!

    This strengthens my belief in my decision to be home with my kids, and gives me strength to not question this decision when others around me might do so.

    Again, thanks!

  3. Great post.
    I confess to not being great at living in the moment. Always looking to be somewhere else, to be doing something else. A good reminder for me to take a moment to see where I am and not just ‘get through’ the day/week/month.

    And yes, they do grow up fast. But now mine are the perfect age (I think) of 7, 9 and 12, I want them to stay like that forever! Next time I blink they’ll be 18+!

  4. I really needed to read this. I spend so much of my time feeling frazzled and overwhelmed by all the demands my littlies bring that I constantly forget to be present with them. To find the joy in the little things that normally drive me crazy. They grow so quickly and change so much – it’s so easy to be distracted and miss it all. This is a lovely reminder to breathe and to appreciate my babies for who they are and the stage they are in. Even when it’s hard to.

  5. This is so so true isn’t it!! I haven’t looked at it this way before, but the mindfulness does stretch moments for sure. What about goal setting though? Does goal setting takes us out of our mindfulness of the present? Sometimes I think goal setting can make moments fly by too. My friends and I have been doing a Big Five for Life group (john strelecky) and I am having a hard time with creating bigger goals vs. being happy with the now. Maybe i’m just not ready yet. Maybe the now is where I am suppose to be at this moment and the goals will come…

    1. Hmm, good question. I’ve wondered about this too (especially when we had our “five year plan”). I don’t really think goal setting is a bad thing, but that perhaps it’s a delicate balance between heading in the direction you want to head and staying in the moment while you head there (because no matter how mindful we are, time is still going to fly, right?).

      1. I think I find it easier to actually work toward my goals when I am in the moment, whereas when I am just getting by and trying to let the stressful times roll past as fast as possible it’s much harder for me to keep my goals in focus. I also find I even tend toward self-sabotage when I am in frantic stress mode. Is this like this for anyone else?

        1. Ooh, powerful thought (self-sabotage). I think I need to let that one sink in before I can say if it resonates with me…but it obviously strikes a chord!

          I certainly agree that mindfulness with goals makes a difference. I think I’m more “in tune” with what I’m doing or should do when I can slow things down and really feel my way through it rather than quickly react or go-go-go.

      2. You put it exactly how I feel. I feel like I am heading in the right direction and am trying to appreciate the moments it taking to get there. I am a much better friend, person, parent, when I am where I am, rather than always thinking of where I need to get to next. Maybe there is a time and a place for it all. When I am alone or feeling introspective and want to think about goals, that is the moment to be in. When I am with others, or with the kids, that is the moment to be in… similar to what Robin said, i think…

  6. Looking forward to rereading this one when i have more time (insert irony…i’m at work)…I’m working toward a move in October, and the time span from now to then could easily reach grueling if I don’t shift my thinking. Thanks for this one!

  7. Thanks for this.

    We’ve only been unschoolers since October 2010, and the period of adjustment has been tough a lot of the time. I need to remember these things. I need to be mindful. I need to love unconditionally.

  8. Thanks for that – I needed to read and remember again that time is what we make of it. You are so right about being present in the moment. Almost every night my son asks for “one more book” and although many times we do pick out one more, there are as many nights that I say no. Reading your posts always helps me to be more thoughtful about how I react and the decisions I make as a parent. Thank you!

  9. That makes so much sense!
    My daughter just turned a year old and everyone asks constantly “didn’t the time just fly by!?!?!” I say yes because I don’t know what else to say but really I’m thinking “Actually, I’m astonished that it’s only been one year, I’ve loved 95% of it but it feels like it’s been a lot longer than 12 months.”
    Being right here right now is such an important thing, I had never put the two together. Thanks for the insight.

  10. I as well need to always remember this. When I am focused on other things, when im not feeling well, I tend to try and just get through on to the next thing, and my child is constantly wanting attention. Its not fair to her, or to me really. I need to stop and breathe and enjoy the time we have together.

  11. Love this reminder – since I’ve spent the morning getting all flustered with my girl. Knowing that each and every moment is precious.
    Love Candida’s approach and know that I need to use that kind of silliness more in my house…………it’s far better than the red faced monster being me! πŸ™‚

  12. I loved this!!!

    My daughter Autumn had a preschooler version of this epiphany not too long ago! At the wrap up of a day, in which she had much freedom but obviously did not spend it to her liking, she looked at me with a huge broken hearted face and said , “What!? What? The day CAN’T be over! I thought time flies when you are having fun! I didn’t have FUN today, so the time can’t be up yet!” It was so cute.

    I am really being healed by the things you are writing. Not because they are all new to me, but because they are really me, and somehow I lost touch with the best part of that slowly over the years! THANK YOU!!! Much love!

  13. Yes, yes, yes!
    I have decided to make my default answer ‘YES” with my children and it makes my days so much more enjoyable and memorable. YES, I can read another book. YES, we can make blueberry muffins. YES, we can stay outside longer (even though Mommy wants to make dinner!)

    And how much more I enjoy my children when I am in the moment with them, instead of just focussing on the NEXT task I have to perform.

    What a wonderful post.

  14. I love your post and its reminder of being mindful, but I’m going to respectfully take exception to one sentence:

    “Because the time really does fly when you’re not having fun as a parent.”

    As one who has been home with my children for nearly 18 years, unschooled all of it, and truly enjoyed most of it, I believe that time flies because…time flies. Our children go through incredibly huge transformations before our eyes, moving from tiny babies to young adults in a relatively few years. It is amazing to see and when one looks back on it, the only words that come to mind are: “it went so quickly.”

    The older one gets, the more apparent it is that life is short, and that–even when one has loved and enjoyed it, perhaps especially when one has loved and enjoyed it–it never feels like there was enough time.

    1. Yes, of course, time will still fly by. No amount of mindfulness can stop the world for moving around the sun. πŸ™‚ But the feeling will be much more acute when we’ve failed to experience it as it passes. And that’s the whole point…that time does fly by and that we need to be enjoying these moments while they are here.

  15. thank you again and again tara for your reminders to turn back to ourselves and where we are NOW, i LOVE you for these precious blog posts

  16. Lovely post and a wonderful reminder. So often we forget that parenting isn’t about struggle and survival, it’s about play, exploration and connection. I think as parents we suffer as much from this as our children do. Enjoy the path, because we come to the end of it very quickly when we don’t take notice.

  17. Another great reminder of mindfulness! I (presently) feel like I am more mindful on the road than I have been off. There is nowhere to run. I can’t use my usual methods of escape. And I am actually enjoying it.

  18. While it may be true that time does “not” fly when you are having fun. It can still also truthfully be said that there are never enough “Fun” or “Good” times in life. Always room for more, lol, the whole obsession with time thing and the human ego almost always blocks us from reaching that point where bliss can be extended for longer periods.
    Sat Nam, **(-_-)**

    1. Hmm, not sure I totally understand.

      Right now I don’t feel like we could fit any more fun into our days. Of course, we’re at Disneyland this week. πŸ˜‰ But I also think that, although life is full of contrast and opportunity for challenges, many of those challenges are ones we’ve created and are totally our choice to experience.

      “Conventional wisdom” says that life is hard. I say that life is good, even the messier parts. πŸ™‚

  19. Before I had kids I vowed I’d never say, “You’re trying to grow up too fast,” or any sentiment like that. My parents occasionally said that and I felt like they didn’t want me to become an independent, thinking adult. It felt like they wanted to hinder my growth. And I raged against that idea, oh I raged! πŸ™‚

    Because of this vow, I try to soak up the small moments as much as possible. Yes, I miss my daughter as a baby, but I know that I enjoyed the moments as best as I could at the time and there’s no going back. The day she went from crawling to walking, I was a little sad, but then I though to myself, “Do I really want her to still be crawling in 15 years?!” I laughed at that thought and decided to welcome each new development as much as possible. I don’t want my children to think that the person they are growing into is someone I don’t like.

    Did any of that make sense?

    1. All of it makes SO much sense!

      (And I totally laughed at the image of a 15yo still crawling. πŸ™‚ )

      I love how you totally shifted this to the kid’s perspective. Getting in the way of where they are and what they are needing right now with our own thoughts or feelings about their growth (or desires for growth) can feel – and many times be – enormously hindering to their actual growth.

  20. Such a lovely, poignant post! As I read I felt such a range of emotions—-and, I will admit, sadly, that I felt a sense of loss mingled with some guilt. Although I enjoyed the various “stages” with my three boys (now ages 22, 19, and 12), I look back and see that I spent FAR too much time wishing the days, months, and even years away. Mostly it was because we were struggling as a family…either financially, emotionally, or spiritually…and I just couldn’t bring myself to live in the now. Hardship is so….HARD!!! Not only did I miss out on beautiful experiences with my boys, they missed out on beautiful experiences with me.

    As two of my children have grown up, what I wouldn’t give to have some of those years back. But, then again, that wouldn’t be living in the now, would it? I guess the trick is to learn from our mistakes, from the days we gave away unknowingly, and then forgive ourselves completely for wasting precious time, and then move on—-slowly, with purpose, savoring each and every minute we have with those we love.

    Thank you for reminding me of what is important and what we loose when we hurry through the moments of our life.

  21. I’m new to this conversation, but your post reminded me of a quote from my favorite from John Steinbeck novel, “East of Eden.”

    “Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy – that’s the time that seems long in the memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.”

  22. Fantastic post! As an adoptive mother of three older children, and one infant I’ve struggled with missing out on my three older ones childhood, while somehow getting caught up in complaining about the “messy” stages of toddlerhood. Always wanting and striving for the next best thing. Or saying the “I just wish . . . yada yada yada!”

    What an excellent reminder to enjoy each moment to the fullest. I don’t have to “struggled to survive” I have the incredible privilege of LIVING a vibrant, fun-filled, exciting life with the precious children I have the honor of parenting.

  23. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    For your beautiful words.
    For your depth and intentionality.
    Thank you!

  24. It’s so weird to read this right now, because just about an hour ago, I was thinking that my daughter seemed to be four forever, whereas five flew by. How can she be six already? I was home and focused on her a lot more when she was four than when she was five. And, I came to the same conclusion you have come to here. So, based on my own experience, I completely agree.

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