Alone time. As parents, we need, crave and must protect our alone time. Engineering alone-time opportunities is one of those must-have developmental parenting survival skills — which hopefully every one of us acquires after only a few “mommy/daddy totally loses it” episodes, which can take the form of Locked in the Bathroom Hysterical for mom or its masculine variant, the DIY Temper Tantrum at Hardware Store for dad. You know what I’m talking about; it happens to everyone in the parent tribe.
When bored children get up in your grill and the haven of the bathroom beckons, here’s a go-to idea that you can pull out to create a little personal space without calling in your childcare cavalry. I call it: Family Spa & Organic Restaurant.
Family spa is a make-believe enterprise that involves some parental involvement and instruction — but you can get hours of alone time out of it, if you get it going habitually. The basic premise: Children build an environment and then wait on you hand-and-foot with a series of edible treats and treatments — which they prepare with minimum assistance from you. While your children enjoy themselves pampering you, they are also learning that leaving you alone to relax can actually be a fun and gratifying experience.
How kids can create the home spa environment
At bare minimum children need towels, a comfortable chair, a basin large enough for a good foot soaking, a kettle or cooking pot, a cup or two and hot water. Bonus factors include Epsom salts and a couple herbal tea bags. That’s it.
However, ambiance is everything, so for best results I’d encourage full-on fairy-fort building and comfy-chair accessorizing.
Building forts out of pillows and sheets — never gets old. An inspired trip to the thrift shop with your kids can yield colorfully printed flat sheets or sheer curtains that can be used to build fairy tents for your play spa. If you prefer to play family spa outside, a tepee or a sun umbrella can be fun alternatives.
Child activity: Family spa beautification. Kids can decorate the spa with flowers from the garden, special rocks or shells. They can arrange pillows, sculpt blankets around the spa’s “throne.” They can glam up this temporary play space with necklaces and scarves and festoons of recycled tissue paper flowers, if they are very motivated. They can put a stuffed animal on the salon throne and play pretend-spa for a while.
Sometimes kids have so much fun playing by themselves in the family spa, you can save the actual treatments for another day.
Plan-ahead ingredients for the home
Take a minute to do a kitchen inventory for the necessary things like child-friendly pot holders and a hot-water kettle and a basin for the foot soak — and a few unnecessary things like bud vases and small serving trays.
Also, make sure that you have a few good organic beauty ingredients on hand. Think sliced lemons and cucumbers. Rose water (a Middle Eastern ingredient you can often find in Asian markets), almond oil, olive oil or coconut oil. Epsom salt (fun fact: did you know that Epsom salt is a sedative for the nervous system?).
Family home spa menu of services
I suggest that you start with a very limited menu of services at first. Our family spa started with water and lemon, salty foot-soaks and cucumber–slice eye compresses — and pretty much immediately expanded into herbal tea, neck massage and natural pedicures. I think that’s a good way to go — but you might prefer facials with kitchen ingredients or homemade hair-conditioners — that’s up to you and your team of child beauticians.
Child activity: menu making. Although planning the list of spa services has to be somewhat parent-led (do you really want to put mashed avocado in your hair?), once the plan is agreed upon the kids can do all the marketing. They can hand-write signs and create illustrated menus.This is a good assignment for a bored child who likes to draw, one that could potentially fill an hour with creative activity.
Sample menu of Home Spa services
Beverage service: water, ice water, water with lemon, water with cucumber slices, sparkling water, hot water, hot water with lemon, chamomile tea
Foot soak: hot water, hot water with marbles, hot water with Epsom salts, hot water with Epsom salts and dried roses and lavender
Soother: Cucumber-slice eye compresses
Heating water for the home spa experience
You are the best judge as to whether your children are old enough to operate the hot water tap or to use the stove to boil water. With guidance, very young children can learn how to use the hot water tap safely. Older children who can master boiling water without scalding themselves are very useful indeed as they can make tea and decoctions all by themselves.
Depending on your comfort level you may have to boil and pour your own hot water, but whenever possible empower your children to serve you.
Child activity: setting up the foot soak. Instruct children very carefully the first time you set up the Family Spa foot soak, so that the next time you play Family Spa they can set up the foot soak all by themselves. Place a thick towel under a large basin. If your child is willing to loan his or her marble collection, put marbles into the basin. (foot soaks are fun with or without marbles — but you may want to stick with hot water only if you use them.) Give your child an appropriate-size lidded pitcher or kettle filled with hot tap water (or better yet let them fill it themselves) and allow them to carry water to the foot bath. You can also give them Epsom salts and home-dried herbs like lavender to pour into the basin. Make them clean up after spills as that’s part of the job.
You are the first customer at the Family Spa
Family Spa is only really fun if it is relaxing, so you have to let go. Don’t try to run family spa from your salon throne. You must not care if the foot soak sloshes or tea gets spilled on a pillow. Once you sit in the chair you must act like a customer and allow your children to serve you. And that means reading your magazine and letting the kids sort it out when they make little mistakes — and yes, there is a life lesson lurking in there somewhere.
Child activity: spa beverage service. Once you are set up on your spa throne, allow your children to bring you a succession of beverages. Start with water and work up to herbal tea. I’ve found that most young children enjoy concocting beverages, so set them up with lemon slices, cucumber slices, rose water, lime juice, sprigs of fresh mint and an assortment of herbal tea bags before you sit down.
Remember to tip your server(s) well!