Working as Families
Thinking about how to claim time as a family value, when we're feeling like we are barely keeping up with what we're supposed to do, may feel overwhelming. But the process of thinking is actually the first step. Small, intentional steps, made with faith and hope, can make change.
Talk About Time: A Starting Point for Families
Some families will be drawn to analysis. If so, you might make two lists. One will list how family members spend their time in a typical weekday. The other will list how family members most enjoy or value spending their time in a typical weekday. Compare lists and discuss how to bring them into closer harmony. Other families may prefer a different starting point. Start by thinking about moments during a weekday that feel particularly good or in sync with family values or what is enjoyable to do. Dwell deeply on those moments and figure out what makes them happen. Use that as the starting point for discerning how to align how we spend time with what we value. Either approach will work. (See Let's Talk About Time/Money Balance for more ideas.)
Recognize That We Can't Do It All
We are a part of the very culture that oppresses us with speed, complexity, doing more, multi-tasking and all else that makes family life frenetic. We absorb messages from our culture, media, and peer groups about what our values should be. We need to sort out what makes us happy—both as individuals and as a family. And we need to know that we can't do it all. Making time for family meals may mean forgoing the after-practice pizza with friends on the fly. There is loss and gain in the choices we make. But as families we can decide how to strive for balance. We can have faith and deep belief that families matter. And we can claim time as a family value without eschewing all that makes our fast-paced lives attractive.
Take a Stand
Decide on some changes, and take a stand. What is one change your family can make that will cut down the constant intrusions into family time from the outside world? Here are some ideas:
- Try a limited technology break. Maybe it's limiting time for "instant messaging" on the computer or turning off the phone, the computer, or the TV for one hour each evening. Take a stand on small changes, give them time, and reflect as a family.
- Claim time together, even time traveling in the car, as important. Limit the use of iPods, headphones, and hand-held games that can make time together feel like time apart. Recognize that time together is a gift; try to receive it accordingly. There can be real discoveries in your relationships that unfold when the only media offered is either shared (like shared music) or created together (conversation). At the same time, it's important to recognize that with every change, there is loss. Give children room to express their loss and have faith that there will be new gains.
- Plan unstructured time. The Massachusetts Council of Churches suggests that this isn't as crazy as it seems. There is a major decline in free time for adults and for children. What would an hour without plans look like? Make unstructured time into a break—a spiritual practice. Reflect on what that time feels like, as individuals and as a family. Encourage children and youth to consider their yearnings for unstructured time as healthy. Work with them to figure out how they can make such free time a part of their lives that is in balance with other demands.
- Eat meals together. Family meals have been correlated with everything from higher test scores to healthy psychological adjustment and decreased risk of early sexual behavior in children and youth. When we want to be together family meals are our most basic and authentic family ritual. Lighting candles or a chalice can make it feel sacred. But it is that time of connection, of sharing of food and moments of rest, that make it matter most. A family meal says, "We belong together." If family life makes daily family meals impossible, start small. Be forgiving: small steps in claiming family time are important. They represent commitment, they reflect values, and they are often a prelude to additional steps that can bring you together.
Cherish Our Families
The best way to cherish our families is to build strong families. The well known psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers suggests that families who live by the following ten principles grow to be strong:
- "Our family comes first."
Strong families support each other's dreams and develop a 'family first' attitude.
- "We belong together—and apart."
Strong families understand that part of being a family is supporting each other as individuals as well as supporting each other as family members.
- "We are a democracy."
Strong families strive to share decision-making, even if adults take a natural leadership role.
- "We treat each other well."
Strong families express appreciation of and care for each other.
- "We roll with the punches."
Strong families are adaptable, often not 'sweating the small stuff.'
- "We pay attention."
Strong families listen to each other with their hearts.
- "We cherish family time."
Strong families make some time for family togetherness and fun a priority.
- "We branch out."
Strong families value extended family, and welcome others as "family" members.
- "We want to improve the world."
Strong families work together for a better community and world.
- "We have faith."
Strong families develop a sense of trust and spiritual connection.