Many of us make New Year’s resolutions every year. We set goals for exercising, loosing weight, staying organized. But how many of us take the time to size up our family?
Are you conscious of how your time is spent together? How many meals are you eating together as a family? How much time do you spend alone with your spouse? Do your children’s activities flood your calendar?
In just a minute, I’m going to give you suggestions for five basic building blocks that help strengthen families, but first I’d like to suggest that you do a simple exercise. Take out your calendar from last month. Calculate how much time you spent with the following activities: time spent all together as a family; time spent alone with each child; time spent alone with your spouse; time for yourself; and work time. What did you find out? Review the suggestions below and see if you want to incorporate some of these ideas.
Strategy #1: Commit to eating four or more evening meals together as a family.
The family meal, once a common occurrence in American homes, has now been usurped by activity after activity. It’s estimated that only 30 percent of us eat meals together regularly. Yet, all research points to the fact that the family meal is a relic worth saving.
A University of Michigan study found that more meals at home was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems. Meal time was far more powerful than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports and art activities. (1)
Choose activities for your child that don’t commonly interrupt dinner time or be creative about how you can still eat together.
Strategy #2: Schedule a minimum of 2 hours a week together with your spouse.
Married couples spend, on average, just four minutes a day in meaningful conversation. (Source: American Demographics) The number one activity that spouses do together is watch TV. We seem to take for granted that our relationship with our spouse can go on auto-pilot, without care or nurturing. But yet without a strong marital foundation, the whole family system can fall apart.
One suggestion is to set aside 10 minutes a day to talk one-on-one with your spouse, uninterrupted. Wait until the children go to bed or set a boundary with them that Mom and Dad get 10 minutes alone after dinner each night to connect. You’ll gain an hour more of together time each week by this simple practice!
Consider having an in-house “date. ” Stay up late and have dinner together after the kids are in bed. Build a fire and share some appetizers. Play a game together.
And of course, try to have a “real” date that generates some excitement a few times a month. You need a break from your kids and you deserve time for fun, too!
Strategy #3: Schedule a minimum of one family activity together each week.
We make decisions every day about how to spend our time. Nothing can be more important than the time you spend connecting as a family. While dealing with the hectic pace of work and children’s activities, the promise of family time on the calendar can be very welcoming.
Try to schedule at least one hour-long family activity each week. Write it down in INK on the calendar.
The activities can be as simple as playing games together, doing a puzzle, playing tennis, or watching family videos. Come up with a list of fun activities with your family and get started!
Strategy #4: Schedule a minimum of 30 minutes per week of special one-on-one time together with each child.
This is the most concrete thing that you can do to deepen your attachment to your child.
A child is far more likely to reveal intimate feelings to you when you’re alone with them. It’s highly unlikely that a child, who may be feeling vulnerable already, will reveal perceived weaknesses in front of a sibling. But, given time to let down their guard with a parent, they may let you in on struggles they wouldn’t reveal at the dinner table.
By having your sole attention, the child will feel valued. You’re making a huge statement to the child that nothing else is more important to you.
If you’re lucky enough to have two parents in the home, you can always try rotating the special time so that each child gets time with each parent.
Strategy #5: Have your child involved in no more than one or two activities simultaneously.
If your child is in an activity, it means that you’re in the activity, driving the child and siblings around to get to practices and games. Activities are fine, and even beneficial, in small doses, but activities rob time from you as a family. No factor is more important in a child’s development than time spent with their family.
The number of hours that children spend in structured sports has doubled. The number of hours a week that children passively watch a sibling’s activities has increased five fold to over three hours per week. And the amount of free time that children have has decreased by 12 hours per week. (1)
Be conscious of whether your life feels out of balance and set some rules about the number of activities your child can be involved in.
(1. University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, Center Survey, January, 1999. Reported by Sandra L. Hofferth, “Changes in American Children’s Time, 1981-1997. ”)
Byline: Toni Schutta, Parent Coach, M. A. , L. P. , has 11 years experience helping parents find solutions that work. For a FREE e-course on “How to Win the Chore Wars” and a FREE monthly parenting newsletter go http://www.familiesfirstcoaching.com .