When mom and dad suddenly realize that they are largely chauffeuring children to copious outings and activities, reality sets in: the family is too busy. In fact, if junior requires a whole separate calendar for all of his sports meets, school activities and social commitments, it is time to re-evaluate and shift priorities! Add to this parental busyness with work, play and friends, and it is not surprising that the only time the family meets up (at home) is to fall into bed and change clothes. Over time, it feels as though the family is spinning its wheels. So how can you get into the driver’s seat and help the family out of its rut?
Determine the types of activities that are important to everyone. Soccer is great, kids ballet dancing is a hoot and watching the Broncos win is super, but are these activities important to the family as a whole? While it is significant for individual family members to maintain their personal interests and hobbies, doing so should not overshadow the family’s activities as a whole. Pick something – even if it is only the Sunday afternoon family dinner and game time – that everyone can look forward to. Better yet, pick two or three days and find activities that the entire family enjoys!
Schedule it. You put the ballet recital on the calendar and also the company Christmas party. You go to great pains to make it to the important events that are on the calendar. The same is true for family activities. Place them on the calendar and expect individual family members to do so as well.
Fun trumps stress. Do not allow the anticipation of the family activity and the pressing needs of the schedule to choke the fun right out of it. Instead, look for ways to make participation less stressful. For example, if a meal is involved, consider making it a crock pot meal or using paper plates. This cuts down on the prep time, cleanup time and stress associated with the two.
Do it together. It is too easy to turn a family activity into another performance. Mom prepares the meal and dad packs the car; the kids argue about who goes first. Even though this division of labor works for the chores that are on the calendar, it should not bleed over into the fun aspects of the day. Let the kids help out in the kitchen and allow junior to spend endless time packing up the car. The goal is not to churn out a perfect meal or ergonomically packed vehicle but to spend time together as a family. In so doing, even the prep time becomes a valuable portion of the activity.
Expect participation. Even MTV goes unplugged once in a while. Anticipate that some family members may have a hard time letting go of the consumer electronics and simply verbalize your expectation. During family activities the family unplugs and the phone goes unanswered, dad’s Blackberry stays in the drawer, the laptop remains closed and there will be no texting. Compliance may be tenuous at first but when mom sets the tone that takes no prisoners, the rest of the family soon follows suit. If you are worried about setting this tone, consider that the experts urge parents to set aside family time as a priority: role modeling directly affects children’s (and adolescents’) well-being!
Starting a new tradition of family activities is a bit like an avalanche. It starts with a meal time; next on the agenda is playing together and before long, the activities for a family that is ready to reconnect are virtually irresistible. The only thing that can stand in the way of making this a daily or weekly occurrence is the gradual creeping in of busyness – don’t let work and other commitments once again put you into the chauffeur’s seat!
National Adolescent Health Information Center: “The Family Environment and Adolescent Well-being”