Getting More Family Time
A lot of people ask me how my family does it: "How do you get family time in such a hectic world?"
First, I want to say that we are not a "superfamily" or anything like that. My wife Lisa works incredibly hard and I spend a lot of time away making money for us. I can say that we do things quite a bit differently than others around us, which is why I am writing this. Perhaps you can find a few things here that your family is willing and able to do to create more time.
Barriers to Family Time
In general, I want to say that most people actually do want more time with their kids. I think the foolishness about "Quality Time vs. Quantity Time" is about dead and, in case you didn't hear about the ending, families need a great Quantity of Time together so that you can find those golden nuggets of Quality Time together. If you want to go looking for time, it helps to know where time is hiding in your life:
Paid and Unpaid Work
I would have to say that the top spot for missing family time is found at the place or places you work for money. A close second is at the kitchen sink, the laundry room, and the garage: places where the work of living in a home happen. We often do these things without including our families, so that time is lost to them.
Just for fun, I will put this next, though it can easily overtake work. We often think of absent parents as the problem, but absent children, occupied by school and after-school athletics and homework can destroy any chance for unobstructed family time.
Everyone decries the fact that we spend too much time watching TV. Even if our family is watching with us, we rarely interact with each other while the "boob tube" is occupying our thoughts. This just proves that knowing what the problem is doesn't mean that we choose to solve it.
Society tells us that having our kids in soccer, ballet, piano lessons, church youth night, and other "enrichment" activities are worth the sacrifice. I am here to say that it often isn't. Unless parents are actively engaged in these activities with their children, it takes away from family time and must be taken into consideration.
There might be others, but I am doing this on the fly, so bear with me.
I am going to say some painful things that will guilt all of us parents. It has almost become a hard and fast rule that we starve our children by giving them very little family time. Schools are quick to blame us for never-before-seen problems in our kids, and they are right to a degree. Though society can be blamed a bit for providing us with rotten role models for healthy family life, we are just as guilty for actually letting our families become as bad as those of the celebrities we see on the TV.
Typically, our biggest problem is bad priorities: we often put a lot of things before spending time with our children. You might not mean to, but many of us do take care of hobbies or "buddy-time" rather than spending that time with those who are truly depending on having our ears and our attention and love. We often do a lousy job with our kids and we must do better.
The Laundry List
Like I said before, our family is quite different from others, so you probably won't be willing or able to do some of these suggestions. Take what you can use.
- Reduce your need for money and work less. Now, this is definately not socially acceptable in a world where money is supposed to buy happiness, but it is a fast way to get family time back. If you actually write out the things you spend money on, you can likely rid yourself of some money-holes. Satellite or cable TV immediately come to mind, along with unlimited Internet access. Seldom-used vehicles with payments and insurance cost money even when they are unused. The trick is in getting rid of these extra costs, then reducing how much time you need to work for money proportionately. You would be surprised that employers will agree to cut back your hours if it will save them some money on payroll. I know some people who quit their full-time salary jobs and do hourly contract work just to get some more time for their families (like I did). If you are careful, it can work.
- Reduce or eliminate your child's homework load. This is a battle with the schools, but homework is typically not a district requirement. Sometimes you must help teachers understand that if school can't accomplish its goals in six hours a day, they might need to rethink things. School should not dictate what will be done with your evening hours, so don't let it happen. If assignments can't reasonably be done during classtime, perhaps assignments should be changed. Don't be afraid to tell a school board that studies show that your kids will be better students if they have good relationships with their parents, which demand family time that homework is now taking up. If that doesn't help, getting together with other families of "good" students to boycott homework should do the trick.
- Consider homeschooling. As mentioned above, schools can be very demanding of your child's time. One way to solve this is to divorce them from school by homeschooling. This will certainly give you lots of time with that child as you take charge of their learning. Don't be afraid that you will do a poor job: studies indicate that homeschooled children usually out-perform schooled children across the board, even kids taught by "uneducated" parents. You will need to know the laws in your state about it, but homeschooling can be a wonderful way to get kids and parents back into family life.
- Be choosy in activities outside of the family. I am not saying that these activities are bad, but often we get caught up by the idea that our kids are missing out on something if they don't participate in many of the sports and youth groups available. If you replace some of those activities (especially the ones your child doesn't really like) with family time, the things your child gains will far outweigh what might be lost.
- Keep one parent at home. This is a tough one for today's working poor, but it is probably the most powerful way to help your children. We made a committment years ago to keep my wife at home and stuck to it, even through very scary financial times. This may require a change of housing, eating habits, what you do for entertainment, or even your use of utilities. If you choose to do this, please share the reason for it with your kids. It means a lot to them if their parents are sacrificing just for them.
- Eliminate television. I put TV right up there with cocaine and heroin as addictive drugs. Though you might not want to go "cold-turkey" as we have since 1995, you can certainly institute "no-TV" nights and play games or read together. We have video nights once or twice a week and often read on other nights instead. I know from personal experience that there is such a thing as TV withdrawal.
It is a beautiful, beautiful world where good ideas go sour. I must say that I still agree with everything I wrote above, even from the standpoint of ten years in the future. What I can say is that I am an incredible hypocrite and I have done better in the past in the implementation of these ideas than I do now.
Happily, people, even little people, are a pretty hardy bunch and can withstand quite a bit of garbage. I am certainly not advocating a regular diet of neglect and excessive "screen time", but it seems that many, many decent adults are produced from less than stellar home-lives. I am trying not to beat myself up about the fact that, for instance, we put the younger kids back in school and I don't want you beating yourself up either over ideals that you can't seem to pull off. We should certainly try to make some improvements here and there and even our sad efforts will be paid back in spades.