When 1,500 school children in a national study were asked what they thought made a happy family, they didn't list things like money or cars-their number-one answer was doing things together. Children want parents to show interest in their activities, do things with them, and talk with them.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World declares the importance of wholesome recreation as an important element of successful marriages and families. Two national studies back up this idea by linking family activities and outings with fewer problem behaviors in both children and young adults.
Giving time is an important way of showing love and appreciation. A strong family finds that opportunities for quality time emerge from quantity time: the more time you spend together, the better chance you have of sharing quality experiences. Eating meals together, talking about the events of the day, sharing joys and defeats, doing household chores together, and spending some evenings popping corn and watching movies are examples of shared activities. Some families even schedule one evening every week for special family activities.
Doing things a child or spouse wants to do also sends a strong message of love. It's a good idea to identify the things family members want to do together. For example, one father thought his son would be excited about an extended hunting trip in Montana, but what the son really wanted was far less elaborate: he wished his dad would take him to a nearby reservoir and watch the ducks take off from the water.
Children will not forget meaningful one-on-one time. A man named Charles Francis Adams kept a diary. One day he wrote, "Went fishing with my son today-day wasted!" On that same date, Charles's son, Brooks Adams, noted in his own diary, "Went fishing with my father today-the most wonderful day of my life."
How much time should families spend together? That varies from family to family. Families with young children usually spend the most time together because young children need a great deal of physical care and guidance. Families with teenagers may spend less time together because teens naturally want to spend more time with their friends. Single parents need a break from their children and may need more opportunity to enjoy the company of other adults.
Healthy families keep a good balance between "too much" and "not enough" time together. They spend enough time to satisfy all family members. Children learn to bring balance to their lives when they see their parents setting aside time for what they value.
Here are some ideas to foster "time together" strength at home:
- "The Family That Dines Together . . . " Nowadays, families spend less time eating together than in previous generations. Many family experts recommend families eat together at least once a day. Turn off the television and put all other cares aside. Invite family members to share the day's experiences, their interests, plans, and ideas. Tell jokes and share funny stories. Avoid talking about disciplinary matters-addressing them at mealtime creates more indigestion than solutions. Instead, reserve these things for private interviews and family councils.After the meal, instead of running off to other activities, try lingering a while around the table for relaxed and pleasant conversation. Let family members know that mealtime is a family occasion
- "The Magic Five Hours." Researcher John Gottman found that couples who continued to improve their relationship following his marriage workshops were devoting an extra five hours a week to their relationship. He calls this time "The Magic Five Hours." Each day, the couples learned one thing about each other's life that day, had a relaxing conversation, and did something specific to show affection and appreciation. Each week they went out on a date.
- "Just the Two of Us." Make a point to spend special one-on-one time with each youngster each month. Brainstorm the kinds of activities you'd like to do together, how much time each activity will take, and how much money, if any, the activity will cost. At the beginning of the month, such as during a family council, mark the date and activity on the calendar. Children learn how much they are valued and loved when their parents give them what counts most: their time.
- Keep the Courtship Flame Alive. The best gift parents can give their children is to love each other. One way to foster this love is for couples to schedule a weekly date night with their spouse. NO CHILDREN ALLOWED. Double dates usually don't count because they are primarily social occasions with friends. Reserve some time and do something fun. Nurture the feelings and friendship that first ignited your love for one another.
- "And Now, From Hollywood . . .". Have a backyard amateur hour with all family members participating. Write and produce skits. Play musical numbers. Lip sync your favorite songs. Invite neighbors and friends to attend. Make a video of the event for later review and laughs.
- The _________Family Restaurant. Create a restaurant atmosphere at home and post a sign on the front door: "The (the name of your family) Family Restaurant." Then have a dinner party for youth in the family and invite their friends as guests. Parents might act as the "chefs" while other children or parents act as "servers."
- "Are You Gonna Eat That Fry?" Spend special one-on-one time with each child. For example, take each child out for a milkshake and conversation at a local fountain.
- Roll Up the Communal Sleeves. Instead of assigning everyone separate household tasks, attack family chores together as a family. For instance, sort closets, fold laundry, or rake the yard together.
Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, and Kristi McLane, Research Assistant, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Duncan, S. F. (1999). Building family strengths (MT 9405). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
- Duncan, S. F. (1994). The activity book: Activities for building family strengths (EB 128). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
- Duncan, S. F. (2000). Practices for building marriage and family strengths. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 295-303). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.