by Amy Alamar, EdD
Our lives are chaotic, our calendars are filled to capacity and there are few moments left over for family time. But it’s vitally important that you find or make even a small time to be all together. Milkie, Nomaguchi, and Denny’s article, Does the Amount of Time Children or Adolescents Spend with their Children suggests that the actual amount of time a mother spends with her children is less important than the amount of engaged time she spends with her children. While sample of data was small, the key conclusions reiterate what we’ve seen in earlier research. And, I’d like to add that engaged time, is of the greatest important with both parents and siblings as well – not just mothers.
In 2006, Fulkerson, Story, Mellin, Leffert, Neumark-Sztainer, and French published Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors which suggests something as simple as regular family dinners contribute to healthier kids and provide benefits that last through adulthood. Specifically, 25 minutes, five times a week makes a huge difference. It’s often hard to find the time for sit-down family dinner, let alone a few minutes here or there for family. But it’s important to make the time, and make it regularly. It doesn’t have to just be dinner, enjoy one another throughout the day, week, month and year!
The time you have with your kids as members of your immediate household is limited and you will never have these moments again. Each day they grow and you do your job, they are on their way to a more independent life.
Here are some concrete ways to start making family time.
You gotta eat. Don’t have time to cook and sit down together? Prepare meals ahead of time on the weekend or in the mornings (crock pots are perfect for early risers who like stew). Go out, have dinner delivered, or eat frozen prepared foods (There are actually lots of healthy options for prepared foods available these days).). Is the prospect of family dinner just too hectic with carpools and late hockey practices? Make Saturday and Sunday brunch a regular thing, cook up a hot breakfast once a week, or do a divine snack every evening just before bedtime.
I know, you’re too busy. Nights are filled with homework, catching up on your own work, cleaning, bedtime routines. Substitute paper plates every now and then. Make the game part of a bedtime routine. Let your kid choose between playing or finishing homework first. Games bring out the smiles and can teach collaboration and positive sportsmanship. Choose a quick one if you don’t have much time. Night’s just too hard? Play a quick game before school in the morning – it will really change how you start your day.
You can exercise, go out and play, or even stay in these days for a vigorous game of tennis on the Wi (or whatever device is now popular). No time for extra exercise? Make your kids part of it and have them join you for a run, a game of squash, or a yoga class. If it’s good for you, it’s likely gonna be good for them.
Now this might sound like I’m making a stretch (and I might be), but including your children in the day-to-day mundane errands in life offers opportunity for bonding and learning about time management and budgeting. Include your children in your outings to the grocery store or getting supplies for an event. It takes too long to schlep your kids along? Make them part of the process.If you take a few extra moments to teach them the routines of the errands they will end up helping you out – like running for that extra can of tomatoes when you’re already in line at the grocery store.
It may be hard to believe, but cleaning and caring for your home and family is a valuable part of raising a family. Allow your children to be a part of this aspect of family life. Cleaning up after meals, tidying a bathroom, making a bed, and general household maintenance can be more fun when you do it together. Additionally, it will be easier on you if you have help.
Try spending some time together in your local hood. Enjoy pancakes at that great restaurant you never have time for. Go on that bike ride you bought that bike rack for the car for.
While it’s ideal to spend time engaging with each other during family time, it’s ok to kick back and veg a little. Maybe watch an old family favorite at home and make a gourmet snack to enjoy. Make an adventure and go to the movie theatre to see a brand new release.. Maybe you can incorporate a special dinner out during which you can all catch up.
I know it doesn’t sound engaging, but even being nearby when your child is doing homework can spark conversation around the topics. You can take care of some bills or do some pleasure reading. It’s good company and supports a strong work ethic.
Consider working on a project together – either around the house, a special craft or art project, making a gift for someone, or maybe a puzzle. This type of ongoing exercise provides something to look forward to and creates a bond of pride in the end result or product.
Amy combines academic research, educational practice, and real-world experience in her writing and workshops to help parents find perspective and develop confidence in raising their families and to help teachers better understand their own practice. She gains invaluable insights from her own personal research subjects (AKA her children and husband) whom she learns from and enjoys every day.
Amy Alamar, EdD, has worked in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, parent educator, and education reformer for over fifteen years. In late 2014, Amy published her first book entitled: Parenting for the Genius: Developing Confidence in Your Parenting through Reflective Practice (For the Genius Press, 2014). The book is a comprehensive guide to becoming the most thoughtful and confident parent possible, with anecdotes and details relating to the guidance and support of children in specific age ranges throughout their formative years. Amy is also a contributing author to the Disney parenting website, Babble.com.
As a frequent speaker to parent and faculty groups, Amy focuses on a wide range of parenting topics including student stress and wellbeing, raising digital natives in the information age, and parenting kids with character. She also conducts faculty development workshops that focus on engagement with learning, professional communication, and curriculum design. She was an invited guest of Michelle Obama at the White House for a conversation about kids’ health in 2016.