Milkie, Nomaguchi, and Denny’s article, Does the Amount of Time Mother’s Spend with their Adolescents or Children Matter suggests that the time a mother spends with her children is less important than the amount of engaged time she spends with her children. While there have been questions raised about the conclusions of this article based on the amount of data used, the idea that quality time is important is not new. And one thing I’d like to add is the importance of engaged time with parents and siblings, 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 that the effects last through adulthood. Specifically, 25 minutes, five times a week, makes a huge difference. It’s often hard to find the time for family dinner but you must 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 weekends or in the mornings (crock pots are perfect for early risers who like stew). Go out, hire a meal delivery service, or eat frozen prepared foods (often these offer healthier options than canned, but so long as you’re with your family you can justify just about anything). Is 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. Instead of washing the dinner dishes, try using paper plates every now and then. Make playing a 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 Wii (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 an 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? 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.
Cleaning and caring for your home 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 car bike rack for.
While it’s ideal to spend time engaging 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 it an adventure and go to the movie theatre to catch something just released. 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.