You hear it said over and over while you are raising kids. People tell you they will grow up too fast. They say that in a blink of an eye you are hugging them outside their dorm building and feeling like it was just yesterday you held them for the first time in a hospital room with floral wallpaper, the day they changed your whole life. That is the day your fight begins.
Fighting for Family Time
I have a lot of friends who are moms, all of them are wonderful in their very own ways. We mom-talk a lot. You know, the practice of sharing the most recent stories of what our kids have put us through and how we handled it, or didn’t handle it, depending on the day and the amount of patience we had left. Mine range from the struggle to limit my teenagers iphone time, to when my toddler pooped in the bathtub and my daughter totally freaked out. Hilarity at its best.
Sometimes though, someone will speak words of parenting wisdom that hit me right in my heart and lock in my memory. Their advice will stay there, in the back of my mind, hovering, reminding me of its importance. I carry it with me and although I may not always think of it, there are times when it surfaces and continues to be a profound influence on who I am as a mother.
I had one of those particular moments after reading a social media post from a friend of mine. The post was accompanied by a picture of her family around a bonfire in their backyard. I don’t remember the exact wording she used but the sentiment was regarding her gratitude for having had the endurance over the years to continue to fight for time. By time, she meant the moments she has spent, and continues to spend with her husband and children. She expressed the importance of gathering your family together, no matter what is going on, no matter if your color coded calendar requires an 18 pack of rainbow shaded sharpies. Your family time and hours all together are numbered, so get as many of them in as you can.
The Break Away
Family time is easy when they are young. Your kids are too little to go anywhere without you, and they depend on you for so much. But then, something happens and you begin to see signs of independence. It starts the first time your child wiggles their fingers to free their little hand from yours. As they get older they break away, tying their own shoes laces, picking their own clothes, walking up to school by themselves, leaving you in the car feeling as if you are watching a piece of yourself walking away. In a sense, I suppose you are.
Soon they have friends and freedoms to explore. There’s the first bike ride that takes them out of your neighborhood and down two blocks to meet with friends. The first high school football game they attend. Or, the first time you watch them pulling out of the driveway behind the steering wheel of your old car that you have passed down. You stand there wondering how you got to this point already.
One minute they can hardly get off the ground and the next they are spreading their wings to take flight and you couldn’t hold them down even if you allowed yourself to do so. There is no slowing down time. However, there is something to be said for making the most of it.
My friend’s post was not painting a picture of a perfect family. She was not bragging or flaunting her unearthly supermom capabilities. On the contrary, although there were smiles all around in the picture, she explained that it wasn’t always easy getting everyone to commit to time together as a family. More often it was a struggle. Between schedules, teenage social-butterfly tendencies, and obligations to sports, organizations, or jobs, laying down the request for a few hours could be an outright battle at times.
But mom are warriors, and this is the battle we will all courageously combat. Despite the eye rolls and protests, continue to fight for time, you won’t be sorry. It’s ok for your child to miss a night out with friends, or even a high school football game. Unless perhaps if they are playing in it, then it might be best to pick another night. It’s ok for you to miss your favorite TV show, or even a moms night out. If it’s anything like the movie Bad Moms it ends disastrously anyways. What is important is taking action for the things that come first in your life, because before you know it, you’ve blinked.
Those times together are more than just memories, they are the formation of an unbreakable bond, and the creation of a place your kids will come back to time and time again, and long after they have walked out your door to a life of their own. It’s not the house that matters or even their childhood bedroom, those things may change. What they will know is that the place to return to is you. Whatever they face in life, good or bad, they will know whose hand they can hold to get through it.
Eventually and years from now, they will understand why you made them sit around that bonfire. They will realize that helping you make dinner in the kitchen wasn’t just so you had less work to do.
Years from now they will get why you fought for time. They will know why you went to all the trouble. And why you spent so much of your energy on bringing everyone together.
Because one day they will hold someone for the first time, in a hospital room with floral wallpaper, and their whole life will change. That’s the day their own fight will begin.
Practical ways to make the fight for family time a little easier.
If you don’t already have a good family time routine in place it can be overwhelming to think about adding in one more thing. Or perhaps, as your kids have gotten older and busier the routine you did have has gone out the window and you don’t know how to rein it back in.
My advice? Start small. You don’t have to blow your family out of the water with amazement over your family time planning skills. It doesn’t even have to be a huge deal. It can be, but it is not necessary. Just pick something to do that is simple, easy, and low stress.
As far as trying to add another something to your calendar….well, you’re not. In this case you, your spouse, and your kids may even have to say “no” to other things in order to clear your schedules to be together. So you may be eliminating a whole lot of other things, to do the one thing that matters most.
Get it on the calendar.
This is when you make your proclamation. You have to, so that no member of your family can say “well I didn’t know we were doing this.” First, get it into your own planner or calendar. Then, make everyone aware that this is an event that requires their presence, no exceptions.
Heck, call a family meeting. You may have to in order to compare schedules and find a day and time that works. If you have a family calendar on your wall, write it down. Put it in Google, on a chalkboard, dry erase board, or get one of those cute little letter boards and spell out “family time FRIDAY 5pm”.
The point is to write it down and get it on your family’s radar. Even if there is the occasional time that something comes up and you have to reschedule, you are more likely to make it happen if you are intentional about scheduling it in, than if you are not.
Have regularly scheduled time together.
One way to make sure you get your family time is to do it on a regular basis. As in, have a set day and time each week or month that you come together to do something. It doesn’t have to be the same something, but the occurrence would be.
For example, if every Sunday night at 5pm you want to have everyone home for dinner and a board game, then make it an expectation each week. If every third Saturday afternoon of the month works best, then do that. It’s totally for you to decide.
Start a family hobby.
Last year for my son’s 13th birthday he requested sushi for dinner. I usually let them pick what they want for each of their meals on their day. Sometimes we go out, sometimes I cook. At the time our budget was a little tight and bringing 5 kids to a restaurant, one of them being a toddler, was not exactly what I would call a good time. So we decided to make sushi at home. I found a fish market nearby, bought the supplies, searched Pinterest for their best tips, and we gave it a whirl.
It turned out to be the greatest thing! Now, it is something we do together that puts us all in the kitchen making dinner and all at the table eating it. Plus, not too many families around us make their own sushi so the kids think its pretty special.
Having a hobby that your family can enjoy and have fun doing together makes family time exciting and something to look forward to. You are also creating memories that they will have forever and possibly even things they will carry on into their own families when they are older.
Bring food into the mix.
Food has a way of bringing people together. I mean we all have to eat right?? Try making food the center of your family time on occasion. Other than eating dinner together at the table, have everyone help to make it. Give each child a job to do in the kitchen to contribute to the efforts.
Other ideas are have a baking day, go on a picnic, find a food truck, or visit a new restaurant. Everyone loves food and along with it are conversations and laughs that will bring you all closer.
Work in small daily habits together.
My husband and I often say that it’s the little things that matter most. Even with just a few minutes each day, you can leave an impression on your children that will last a lifetime.
One of the things I remember most from growing up was my mom reading to me and my sisters. My favorite book was Lassie Come Home. I think that’s when I really fell in love with literature. Now, as an adult, I’ve carried that habit into my own parenting routine. It may not happen every night, but many nights I spend reading books to my kids. They are some of my favorite minutes of the day.
Other daily habits can be prayers at bedtime, a special handshake before you drop them off at school, playing their favorite song in the morning while they get ready, or going on an afternoon walk. Be creative, it doesn’t take much to form everyday connections between you all.
Do chores together.
Ugh, I can hear the groans already. But yes, chore time can be family time too, and it pays off in a big way. Here’s why.
Usually, someone in your household does the majority of the housework, cleaning, laundry, etc. Right? Chances are it’s you, mama. It’s time consuming, especially that laundry. Therefore, every so often assemble the troops, put a broom, or vacuum, or dusting cloth in their hand and set them to work.
Not only does this get you a clean house and clean laundry, but it frees up that much more time for you to all spend together doing something fun. You can even use that as a reward for their hard work around the house.
If you are someone who has family time totally under control, congratulations. That is certainly a feat to be proud of. But, if you are like me and between schedules and social lives your family time is a constant work in progress, then hopefully some of these tips will help and encourage you to keep fighting for those moments that matter so very much and are gone far too soon. As they say, the days are long but the years are short, here’s to making the most of them.