Cultivating Family Togetherness

QUESTION

Is it really important for families to spend time together? Like everyone else, I constantly feel as if I don’t have enough hours in my day. Meanwhile, I’ve read lots of articles and been in on lots of conversations about what’s better – quality or quantity“family time.” Everyone in our house keeps a hectic schedule, and sometimes I find myself wondering: just how important is“family time” when you’re simply trying to make ends meet and get through the demands of the day? Can you shed any light on this problem for me?

ANSWER

If you’re asking us whether family time really matters, we’d have to say yes. In fact, family time is so important that it shouldn’t be reduced to an either-or proposition. It has to incorporate elements of both quality and quantity.

Quantity time creates a safe environment where youngsters can feel accepted and valued for who they are. It communicates availability and fosters a sense of security. It establishes a solidhome base from which children can launch out into the world with confidence and strength.

Quality time, on the other hand, is essential to the process of familybonding. It’s the stuff of which relationships are made. It’s the polished gem that caring parents fashion from the raw material of moments, hours, and days spent together. The thing to note is that it’s difficult to have one without the other. The more family time we create, the more opportunities we have to touch each other’s lives in profound ways. You can’t seize the if you’re not there to do the seizing. It isn’t always possible to cram meaningful memories and life-changing conversations into a few minutes of contrived qualitytime.

None of this happens automatically, of course. It’s entirely possible for a family to spend lots of time together and come away the worse for it. This is especially true if their interactions are marred by constant strife, anxiety, or abuse. The key to success isintentionality. That means making up your mind to be present in the moment and to make the most of every circumstance.

Contemporary marriages and families lack time-quality andquantity-for a number of reasons. An endless pursuit of material things requires increasing amounts of money. This translates into more hours at work. Busyness creates fatigue and deflects attention from pressing relational issues. Couples “grow apart” as their lives travel down separate but parallel tracks. Moms and dads model a task-oriented mentality that communicates an unmistakable message to their kids: take care of your duties and obligations first. Then feel free to retreat into your own (electronic) stimulation, recreation, or leisure-time activity (read: “isolation in your own room”).

If you want to escape this numbing pattern, you may need to revamp your schedule. We suggest you engage in some serious lifestyle planning. Go back to Square One. Revisit your basic values and priorities. Resolve to make some countercultural choices and decisions if necessary. Take steps to reduce your outside commitments and block out weekly family time on the calendar.

In particular, don’t worry about how it looks to “other people” if you limit yourselves to one or two selections from a long list of worthwhile church activities. Resist the temptation to sign your kids up for numerous sports teams, music and dance lessons, social clubs, and all kinds of community organizations. One activity per season per child maybe more than enough. Carve out spaces and create margins. Don’t be afraid of “voids.” Agree to turn off all communications devices at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week. Instead of watching TV, read together, play board games, take a walk to a local park, or sit and talk. Get into your kids’ space. Hang out with them and find out what excites them. This is all part of the process of turning quantity into qualitytime.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to take full advantage of simple everyday interactions. Drive time, mealtime, meal preparation, bath time, bedtime-all can become opportunities for shared discoveries and precious, unforeseen, and unique conversations between parent and child. It’s a matter of learning to savor life’s ordinary moments. Most children find just as much, or even more, joy in the little things as they do in life’s big events. Activities like eating a special breakfast of chocolate-chip pancakes, picking out the perfect backpack for the first day of school, or singing silly songs in the car could turn out to be some of the most memorable highlights of your kids’ childhood years.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas and suggestions at greater length with a member of the Focus team, our staff counselors would consider it a privilege to speak with you over the phone. They can also provide you with a list of referrals to trained therapists practicing in your area. You can contact our Counseling Department for a free consultation Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357). The Family Help Center staff member who answers the phone will arrange for a licensed counselor to call you back. One of them will be in touch just as soon as they’re able