Family Friendly Nights
Carolyn, 33, glanced at her kids in the rear view mirror as she pulled into the parking lot for their gymnastics lessons. For the next hour and a half, the children would be tumbling and balancing while she scampered off to do the grocery shopping in relative peace. She was glad for the respite, but worried about another disturbing trend. Her two children, aged 5 ½ and 7, were now in school and home only in the evenings. Yet the children’s lessons, her husband’s work schedule and her own committee work all conspired to rob them of the family time they once enjoyed. She longed to find time so that they could all be together regularly.
Carolyn’s yearnings are not unique. In a recent survey of Washington state parents, 74% reported that spending a large amount of time with their kids greatly improved the quality of their lives. We feel immense satisfaction watching our kids laugh and learn as we revel in their blossoming personalities. Yet despite how much we love being with our kids, we simply don’t "do the time". The American Family Research Council found that the average parent spends only 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with his or her children.
While outside commitments can eat up our time, too often we don’t redeem the time we do have. Rarely do we do things together; usually we watch things together. And sometimes we don’t even do that! After dinner, kids scatter to play, or to watch TV in their bedroom, while we relax alone.
Jeff Kemp, Executive Director of Washington’s Families Northwest, feels that this is a big mistake. "From toddlers to teens," Kemp believes, "children spell love T - I - M – E." If we do the time, they’ll feel secure, and come to us when they need help.
Time, however, isn’t something you can just find. If we want it, we have to plan for it. Here’s an arsenal of easy, low-stress ideas you can use to build family memories.
Children simply love games, so gather around the table and pull out those old copies of Monopoly or Clue. If you have young children, try playing in teams so they have a chance to win, too. To avoid the pitfalls of overcompetition, stress that having fun is what counts. Praise kids when they make a smart move, and try not to keep score all the time. Occasionally choose some board games for younger kids, like Candyland or Sorry, where the winner is determined by chance, and not by skill.
Puzzles are another family builder that kids of different ages can do together. Have the smallest children set aside all the edge pieces, or have them hunt for pieces of all one color or design. What a sense of accomplishment and teamwork you’ll feel when you’ve finished!
Many children derive their greatest pleasure from creative hobbies, whether it’s knitting, woodworking, or simple crafts. When you participate with kids, you help them develop skills as you share something very important to them. My daughter Rebecca’s face lights up when I help her make dolls out of our scrap box. She has difficulty with some of the sewing, so when we do it together, she’s thrilled.
You can also create something as a family, like a birdhouse, that some build and others paint. One family I know quilted a family "coat of arms". They included a music staff, a Bible, and a tent in the wilderness to represent different aspects of their family. When they see their creation hanging in their living room, they are reminded of the teamwork that went into it, and they reaffirm what makes them unique. As children grow, you can do your hobbies separately but in the same room, sharing with each other the pride in a job well done!
Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, is so disappointed that many parents stop reading to their children once they can read themselves. To Trelease, sharing books means sharing all the emotional roller coasters of anger, fear, sadness, joy and tenderness, while developing a lifelong love of reading. He sees no reason not to read together as a family, and plenty of compelling benefits from doing so. Often children are able to listen to a book they are too young to read themselves, and older children still appreciate the physical closeness that comes from piling on the couch together. As you travel together to Narnia, Rivendell, or Green Gables, you will do much more than share a story. You will build family character.
Children love watching old movies of what they were like as babies. Don’t let that excitement end! Get out the video camera and ask your child to sing a favorite song, do a dance, play a piano piece, or even read a story. If you don’t have a video camera, use a tape recorder to tape their voices. I still have a tape of my oldest daughter reading "Brown Bear" when she was two, and it’s one of my most treasured possessions!
If children are older, ask them to help you create a scrapbook of a recent vacation or of their school year. It may not be the prettiest scrapbook you have, especially if they get control of the glue, but it will help build memories as you remember the fun you have already enjoyed together.
Get Moving Together
Perhaps one of the most beneficial things you can do altogether is to get outside and get moving! Most of us are sadly in need of opportunities to burn some calories and build some muscle, and our kids need to gain skills and coordination. This can also be the perfect opportunity for your children to do those things you’re uncomfortable letting them do on their own, like taking long bike rides or going roller blading. Go for a scenic bike ride, or ride to a park and play frisbee. Take smaller children in bike trailers and carriers (now there’s a chance to build some muscle!). For a longer outing, go hiking and bring a picnic with you. You can also try swimming, skiing, or some other sport that you all love to do together. When you’re active, you feel more energetic, more upbeat, and less stressed, while you grow fit at the same time!