It happened. You blinked and the month of January was over. Before you could process what happened, two days of February were forever gone from the calendar. While we cannot stop time in 2012, we can stop to evaluate how we want to spend time the New Year. So, here’s the million-dollar question: How do you want to spend the remaining 332 days of 2012 with your family?
A recent article from about.com revealed that over 50% of Americans vowed to appreciate loved ones and spend more time family and friends in 2012. If the truth is told, many of us are included in this number but have no clue how to realistically make this happen in our daily lives. Below are a few strategies for creating quality family time with your family this year.
When life is too busy for quality family time, maybe it’s too busy? A great first step to spending quality time with your family is to evaluate your life as it is. What commitments and activities are consuming your family’s time? Make a list of all of your family’s activities/commitments (e.g. Work, School, Home, Family/Kids, Hobbies, Recreation, Civic, Religious, Online/Social Media) and the amount of time they consume daily and weekly. Examine each listed item one-by-one. Ask yourself: How necessary is this commitment? How much value does this commitment bring to my life/my family’s life? What does involvement with this activity help my family to achieve? Which commitments yield the greatest return investment for the well being of family members? Which yield the least return on the investment of your family’s time? Start with the commitments that yield the least return and select one that you are willing to temporarily remove. Set a trial period of 3-weeks and see how life is without that activity. After the 3-week-trial period, reevaluate to determine whether this activity can remain removed for the next 6 months. Revisit your list and see if there is another activity that you can remove and repeat the process—stop the activity for 3-weeks, reassess, continue without the activity, and see if you can edit more from your list. This will help you to prioritize your family’s commitments and let go of ones that are of least benefit.
Now that you’ve freed up some time on your family’s calendar, protect it! Often times we try to fit in family time around our other commitments like those listed above. We mark time on our calendars for work, school, civic, and other commitments first and then search for opportunities to squeeze in family time. For the next month, make scheduling family time a priority. Identify the times when all or most family members are available and block off that time on each member’s schedule as sacred time to spend together. Protect it like you would protect the time you’ve committed to work. This may mean turning down offers to do other activities in order to spend quality time with your family. While saying “no” to other commitments that interfere with family time may seem hard to do in the moment, you may later find that the hours you protected for quality time with family were worth the effort. If saying “no” to other commitments feels really challenging, remind yourself of how you answered the million-dollar question: How do I want to spend the remaining days of 2012 with my family?
Many of us value spontaneity. When we get the opportunity to be spontaneous, we revel it. However, when it comes to establishing the regular practice of spending quality family time together, a little planning can go a long way. Here’s where it gets fun. Have each family member make a list of the things they would like to do as a family. I suggest your list include “in-house” activities and “on-the-town” activities. The “in-house” activities are things you can do in the convenience of your home! If possible, try to make sure these are activities where family members can be together in the same room and interact with each other. Remember, the goal is to share quality time with one another. Get everyone on board and involved with planning. Allow children who are old enough to offer assistance to help coordinate “in-house” activities. If possible, have adults in the family take turns planning so that arranging this cherished time does not become a burden to any one person. The “on-the-town” activities are special activities that your family can do locally but might also include family trips. As a starting goal, try to select one “in-house” and one “on-the-town” activity for your family to do each month. If resources do not permit a monthly “on-the-town” activity, no worries! Enjoy another “in-house” activity with your family.
4) BE PRESENT & ENJOY
You’ve done all the hard work. You’ve edited your commitments, protected time on your family’s calendar, and planned “in-house” and “on-the-town” activities. Now, your job is simply to show up, be fully present, and ENJOY! Be sure that the days/times protected for family time are clearly communicated to all family members. As the time approaches, give reminders to excite family members and ensure they’re present. Once everyone is there, unplug! This is especially important for your “in-house” activities. With few exceptions, have all family members turn off cell phones, iPads, iTouches, laptops, and any other tech gadget that is not a purposeful part of the planned family activity. This will allow each family member to focus attention on one another. It will help family members feel appreciated, heard, and valued, and it will support the goal of spending more quantity time with your family and quality time with your family.
This approach is not a “one-size-fits-all” method for achieving the goal of spending family time together. Each family will have its unique strengths and challenges in establishing both quantity and quality time with one another. Some families will find editing, protecting, planning, and being present easier to accomplish than others. If your family gets stuck in achieving this goal, a trusted family therapist can offer encouragement and guidance in supporting your family’s efforts to connect in the New Year.