What Family Time?
Reclaim Your Family Time
By William J. Doherty
It is the rare family that takes the bold step of making lots of changes all at once. Most start by subtracting one outside activity, or reducing the time devoted to it, then perhaps adding one family activity or ritual. Every family is different, so there is no cookie-cutter approach that will work for everyone, but here are some strategies that can help:
Reduce outside activities. Pick one that consumes a lot of time or interferes with an important family activity such as dinner, bedtime, or church. In one family, the parents decided that one sport had to go and they let their son decide which one. Another family told their twelve-year-old that he could stay in soccer but not be on the traveling team.
Add family activities. Family meals are a good place to start, if you are not having many of them. You might add just one dinner a week, say, on Sunday night when there are usually no outside activities. Make it special. You might also add to two or more areas of family time simultaneously, such as regular bedtime rituals and a weekly game night. Put a family vacation on your calendar and inform the world that nothing will keep you from it this year, even if your kid reaches the Little League World Series. The point is to look for what you can add positively to your family activities, whether or not you reduce your outside schedule.
Eliminate television and other media from activities where you want family conversation. Move the television from the area where you eat, or at least make sure it is turned off before you eat. Move a television and computer out of a child’s bedroom in order to promote more family interaction.
Seize opportunities. Moving to a new home can provide a choice moment for rebalancing the family, but if you are staying put you might consider creating a summer sabbatical from outside activities. This can be a time to relax and regroup as your family takes part in meaningful activities, then make decisions about priorities for the next year. Unexpected or even negative events can also open the door. In one family it was the mother’s illness. In another, it was the soccer-star daughter’s broken ankle that got the family to circle the wagons for a time and experience what it had been missing.
No weak links. In two-parent families, the parents have to be together. Both have to agree first on the values at stake and then on how to implement these values. If you don’t agree, then spend your energy talking with your co-parent before you try to steer the family in a different direction.
Persevere. You have to be committed to the change. If your children let you know they think having regular dinners is inconvenient and boring, resist the temptation to cave in before the payoff. Just as with good bedtime rituals that children will love once they adjust to having a bedtime, many other changes require perseverance in the parents.
Children have a way of getting on board when we make changes based on our values about family life, so when you discuss changes with a child make sure you stress the family reasons as well as any benefits the child will gain (such as more free time).
Stress that this is not a punishment, but a rebalancing, and acknowledge the child’s feelings of loss or anger, if these are present.