In Spend Special Time with Your Child, you learned about the importance of special time—one-on-one sessions with each of your kids. It's also vital to spend time together as an entire family to cement your family identity.
There's no two ways about it, watching TV together does not count as family time. Turn it off, stop focusing on the screen, and look at each other!
Tales from the Parent Zone
The Pierce family members floated past each other like ships in the night, their house was like a dispatch station, with nobody staying put for more than the eight hours each day it took to sleep. Something had to change, and when they decided to focus more on family time, the Pierces were smart to take it slowly. Intimacy, when forced, can feel confining. All relationships need time to breathe. The Pierces began with weekly family time activities where they were all involved in something together, but weren't forced into only getting stimulation from each other. A coastal clean-up, a bike ride, an art class—this was the beginning of the Pierce family time tradition.
Shared experiences build connections. Discipline is best taught by a parent who truly knows her child's interests and reactions. This knowledge is based on shared experience. I know a family where the parents were so afraid that their kids would compete with each other that the kids were never allowed to do anything together. The family rarely spent time together—they were little more than a bunch of people who shared a house. I don't know about you, but I had more than my share of roommates in my 20s. I certainly don't want that level of unconcerned detachment from my family.
Share time together as a family. Family time—as well as family meetings and special time —prevents problems as well as solves them.
Family time is an ensemble group activity—yep, you're all invited, whether it's for a game of Uno, an afternoon in the garden, or a trip to the mountains. Not only are you all invited, it's important that you all attend. Schedule it, and make it a family rule (if necessary). “We spend the last week in August at Grandma Ruthie's ranch.” “We have waffles Saturday morning.” “On Tuesday evenings, we walk the dog around Lake Temescal.”
Family time can be fun time. Family time can also be mealtimes shared, or community service time (and we'll talk about those in a moment). The important thing is that it's time spent all together.
Family time builds family identity, and it also enhances communication. The more attention you pay to each other, the more opportunities you have to talk. Kids talk best with their parents when they're relaxed, hanging, and comfortable. You're hiking in the forest, for example, silently admiring the grandeur of the redwoods, and Junior suddenly breaks free with something that's been bothering him all week. Since (for once in your life) you're not multitasking yourself to death, you can really listen. And even if nothing significant comes up during family time, your shared experiences are the building blocks of a strong family unit.
It's a Good Idea!
Get your priorities in order! It's far more important to carve out that extra hour from your busy life to read to your kids or go out for ice cream than it is to get the old newspapers up off the floor, sweep the porch, or defrost the freezer. Life is short. Family is sweet.
What should you do during your family time? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Eat together (there's more on this in Build Family Ties Through Family Meals).
- Participate in the community together (there's more on this, below, too!).
- Go to the zoo or to a natural history museum. They're fun plus they're educational—for you too!
- Ah, go fly a kite. Take a hike (but take the kids along).
- “Take me out to the ball game,” and use the time between the hits, runs, errors, and screaming (“Throw the bum out!”) as an opportunity to bond.