Television shows are a great measurement of society. Those of us who can recall shows like Leave It To Beaver, The Cosby Show or Lassie, remember a culture when everyone sat down for dinner. There were no beepers or cell phones. There didn’t seem to be the constant frenzy to be everywhere. Everyone was home for dinner.
Today’s advertisers still show that family, smiling and conversing around a table. The homemade mashed potatoes and biscuits have been replaced with some instant meal helper concoction. But the family has managed to sit down together.
But these days, the pace of current society is revealed in shows like Modern Family or Big Bang Theory, where no one ever seems to sit down. No one ever seems to stop. There’s just too much to do.
It’s not just the kids
Parents are busier than ever in the current hyper-connected world of business and social media. With cellphones and email, there is no down time.
A Wall Street Journal article by Jennifer Breheny Wallace, “The Right Way to Do Family Time,” reveals that today’s busy parents feel guilty about spending too little time with their children. Yet compared to the mid-1970s, fathers are spending three times the amount of time they did then. Mothers are spending 57% more time, despite the majority now working outside the home.
So why all the concern? An why does it seem like family time isn’t what it used to be?
The article says that quality, rather than quantity, counts most when it comes to spending time with your children. When kids get “quality” time with their parents, it shows in things like better academic performance and higher self-esteem. But in their attempt to create a high-achieving child, parents often forget about the power of one-on-one time.
Gail Fernandez, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, says that when parents get one-on-one, they signal to the children that they matter. That gives them the confidence needed to make better life choices.
Whether its sitting down together to do homework, doing chores together, listening to and talking about music, or taking a weekend vacation, there are many ways parents can spend quality time with their kids.
In her article, “Making the Most of Your Family Time,” writer Tanya Glover says no matter how busy life becomes, there are many things a family can do to keep the bond strong.
▪ Family nights: Set aside at least one night per week dedicated entirely to family time. Whether it’s a movie night, a game night, or a going out for dinner night, keep the ritual going. Let everyone have a chance to choose so that things don’t get boring and so that each person feels they play a role.
▪ Meal time: Whether it is dinner or breakfast, make it a point for all members to come together to keep in touch with each other’s lives.
Kelly Musick, associate professor at Cornell University coauthored two large studies on how family dinner affects adolescents. Parents know families who eat together have children with better eating habits, better grades, fewer mental health problems, and more happiness. Today, many parents rush home to organize a fast dinner, but with sports and activities and increasing homework demands, group dinners don’t happen consistently.
Although mealtime creates warmth and rituals, if it becomes stressful to pull off a family dinner, it might make sense to look for another way to share family time.
Sara Nassaur, in her Wall Street Journal article, “No Time for Family Dinner? Try Breakfast,” she says for those families who find it hard to “do dinner”, having breakfast together is becoming the new alternative. Breakfast is hailed as helping children focus at school and adults maintain better eating habits throughout the day. Getting out a few minutes early to catch breakfast together allows the day to get off to a good start.
▪ One hour a night: If you find it hard to pin down a meal time that everyone can share or a specific night that can be dubbed just for family, maybe you can set aside just one hour per night to share some quality time. During this hour you can all have a chance to talk about anything that is on your mind, whether it is a fun story from work or a problem at school.
Family time is not just about having fun but also for reaching out for help, ideas or suggestions for any of life’s problems. Family is there for the good times and the bad. By reaching out or help or advice, you are strengthening the bond you each have with each other.
▪ Join a team together: A great way to bring families together is joining a team or club. Like bowling? Many towns have a bowling alley that has family leagues. Book lovers? You may want to join a family oriented book club. If there are none in your area then make your family night a night at the library. You can either choose a book that all of you can read or go on a night that a storyteller is there. A good story can make for a lively family discussion. Though it is a bit old hat, square dancing does still exist in many areas — you can become part of a circuit that competes. How much fun would it be to compete on a team with your biggest fans doing something fun and active?
There are so many other things you and your family can join, so put your heads together and come up with the perfect activity.
▪ Go on a staycation: In today’s rough economy, it may be hard to go on a traditional vacation. While going to Disney or New York City may be on your mind, your wallet may have other ideas. However, do not let lack of funds stop you from having at least one family vacation per year. Family vacations are great bonding experiences and serve to make a lifetime of wonderful memories.
You do not have to be rich to have a fun family vacation. Staycations are becoming a popular alternative to traditional vacations since money is so tight these days. The lodging is free and the attractions are as close as your own back yard. The main rule of staycations is that you act as if you are on a real vacation. This means no work, no computers and no errands. If you have a pool then lounge by it as much as possible. Put up a net and play some badminton or volleyball. If your budget allows, go out to eat or fire up the backyard grill and chow down at the picnic table. For families who enjoy camping, pitch a tent in the yard and start a small campfire. Roast hot dogs and make S’mores under your own stars.
Nothing is more important than family
Today’s family is a very busy unit. In most homes, both parents work to make ends meet. The kids have become more and more active in extracurricular activities to keep themselves busy and to prepare for college. With so much going on with each individual family member, it can be difficult to find time for quality family experiences.
But “family” may be the single-most important word in the dictionary. This one word holds so much meaning and feeling and cannot be taken for granted. We are all busy in our modern society. However, making time for our families is the most important thing we can do in our lives. After all, what are we really working for? We are working for the comfort and support of our families. So why not take the time to enjoy the fruits of our labor?
Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.