When 1,500 school children in a national study were asked what they thought made a happy family, they didn't list things like money or cars-their number-one answer was doing things together. Children want parents to show interest in their activities, do things with them, and talk with them.
Giving time is an important way of showing love and appreciation. A strong family finds that opportunities for quality time emerge from quantity time: the more time you spend together, the better chance you have of sharing quality experiences. Eating meals together, talking about the events of the day, sharing joys and defeats, doing household chores together, and spending some evenings popping corn and watching movies are examples of shared activities. Some families even schedule one evening every week for special family activities.
Doing things a family member wants to do also sends a strong message of love. It's a good idea to identify the things family members want to do together. For example, one father thought his son would be excited about an extended hunting trip, but what the son really wanted was far less elaborate: he wished his dad would take him to a nearby pond and watch the ducks take off from the water.
How much time should families spend together? That varies from family to family. Families with young children usually spend the most time together because young children need a great deal of physical care and guidance. Families with teenagers may spend less time together because teens naturally want to spend more time with their friends. Single parents need a break from their children and may need more opportunity to enjoy the company of other adults.
Healthy families keep a good balance between "too much" and "not enough" time together. They spend enough time to satisfy all family members. Children learn to bring balance to their lives when they see their parents setting aside time for what they value.
Here are some ideas to foster "time together" strength at home:
* "Just the Two of Us." Make a point to spend special one-on-one time with each child each month. Brainstorm the kinds of activities you'd like to do together, how much time each activity will take, and how much money, if any, the activity will cost. At the beginning of the month, mark the date and activity on the calendar. Children learn how much they are valued and loved when their parents give them what counts most: their time.
* The _________Family Restaurant. Create a restaurant atmosphere at home and post a sign on the front door: "The (the name of your family) Family Restaurant." Then have a dinner party for youth in the family and invite their friends as guests. Parents might act as the "chefs" while other children or parents act as "servers."
* "Are You Gonna' Eat That Fry?" Spend special one-on-one time with each child. For example, take each child out for a milkshake and conversation at a local fountain.