Our boys are very close to one another and to us, their parents. That goes against conventional wisdom as they are teenage boys and teens in general aren’t supposed to be so close to their family. Two points about that idea: first, don’t always go along with the conventional wisdom! And second, teens and children of all ages want to be an integral part of the family and want to be surrounded by fun, humor, security, and a caring family. So how do you build a family that chooses to spend time together and enjoy it? How do you build solid relationships within your family? The first requirement is that you have to spend quality time together. Common sense, right?! “Relationships don’t fall from the sky!” I say to my boys.
You have to spend time listening, sharing and doing with someone to build and maintain a relationship. Texting and online group video games and Snapchat don’t build relationships, they isolate people from one another. Simple activities like playing board games, doing yard work and cooking together build relationships. As a mom, I have made many decisions through the years to develop that together time. First, encouraging activities that bring the family together and second, discouraging activities that isolate.
Here are a very few examples about how we encourage family time:
· Keep the same schedule. We parents are always up with the kids in the morning. Due to our school schedule, our HS senior wakes up at 5:45 to leave for school at 6:30am. We get up, we read the paper together and do the jumble puzzle and talk about the day while eating breakfast before he goes to school. Our child is perfectly capable of getting out the door without us, and many of his peers are on their own every morning, but we choose to spend that time together. I wouldn’t want to miss the morning puzzles! We are around for the next two children as they read the comics, share stories, and head off to school at a more reasonable 7:30am bus time. Morning routines together make your children feel secure and loved.
· Do chores together. You can’t beat chores for bringing people together! Indoor chores can get knocked out quickly and if we’re all working at the same time, no one feels like they are “doing all the work.” Whenever the house is looking rough, we call for 15 minutes of cleanup and everyone gets to work. 15 minutes is nothing and yet with 5-6 people working, you can get a lot accomplished. The boys know the work it takes to keep up the house/yard. Chores build camaraderie and gratitude.
· Take neighborhood walks. After dinner we often take a “popsicle walk.” We call it that because when the kids were younger, the dessert of choice on hot TN days was a popsicle. When the dinner is over and the kitchen is all cleaned up, we all head off for a short leisurely walk. Kids usually bring a Frisbee or football and throw while we walk and sometimes we do still have popsicles or ice cream cones, but mostly it’s just the time together relaxing. I imagine that in many homes after dinner the kids head for their bedrooms and their electronics and the parents head to the TV. Electronics (and especially electronics in bedrooms and other quiet corner locations) isolate family members. Family walks bring us together and keep us part of our neighborhood. Walks build relationships.
· Play games. Board games are a great place to build family fun. We are loud and we are competitive and we laugh a lot. We play board games nearly every night, even if it’s just a short game of Racko or Rummy. Whoever has the time joins in. When the boys have friends over there is almost always a game involved (current favorites are Resistance and Spoons). All ages and abilities play and it is amazing how quickly the youngest becomes an equal! Outdoor games are just as important. Though I’m no basketball player, the kids cheer when I join them to shoot hoops. There’s always time to throw the Frisbee or baseball if even for a few minutes. Games and sports are naturally fun and encourage physical fitness. Keep the end goal in mind; children learn how to be in a relationship from you, their parents. Playing together builds memories and deepens family relationships.
· Bond in the car. We travel a lot and actually enjoy long car rides. Early on, we decided that we were not interested in any personal game systems, or a DVD player for the car. We wanted our kids to know they were in the car and appreciate the experience, and not feel the need to be entertained while we are all “stuck” together. We read maps, read books, do mental math problems, snack, play cards, nap, do puzzles, play music (one family iPod that is crammed with a wide variety of music), talk at length, laugh riotously, and daydream while looking out the window. We travel a lot and usually long distance with very few stops. Our car rides have lasted as long as 41 hours with only gas stops and still the kids get out of the car and say “That didn’t even feel like a long drive!” Car rides can build patience, communication, imagination and family fun.
This essay is going a little long and yet I’ve only scratched the surface. I feel so passionate about this topic. It feels like this is the crux of everything when it comes to parenting. Our best family times – the times when we are having fun and challenging ourselves come when we are working and playing together. As parents, we interact with our kids in meaningful ways every day. It is an opportunity! Every child has their own sports, homework, and friend time, but we always make room for quality family activities because that is what makes our family a fun group of people that care for each other.
Family relationships don’t fall from the sky, they have to be nurtured.