This is an issue that’s been plaguing me for a while. Maybe it’s not an issue so much as a question.
How do you define quality family time?
Here’s why it’s on my mind. Every once in a while, I like to get together with friends. It might be with moms for a playdate, or women for a girls’ night out, or other couples for some wine drinking, I mean, socializing. Sometimes I’ll even organize something formal, like a Mardi Gras party, or more recently a Thai dinner party.
My most recent foray into socializing came when I sent out an invitation to a pretty wide group of friends here locally for a Nintendo sponsored event. In partnership with the American Heart Association, they were offering a 3 hour event with lots of food and hands-on game playing, with some fun and education and, of course, free stuff to go along with it.
(Note: I totally loved this event and will tell you all about it tomorrow!)
As with this event and my own parties, all the food and drink is provided. You simply show up and enjoy yourself. Whenever possible, I make it kid friendly so that the whole family can come and enjoy.
So why is it so hard to get people to come?
Let’s just assume that it’s not because I’m an awful cook or people really don’t like me. I mean, I guess those things could be true but I figure my husband would clue me in if that was really the case. Here are some of the reasons I typically hear why people can’t come:
- My son/daughter/baby/husband is sick
- We’re going out of town
- We’re at a basketball tournament
- My son has a soccer game
- My daughter has a dance recital
- We have a birthday party to go to
- We’re really busy because we’re getting ready to…
Let me start by saying this. Those are all COMPLETELY VALID reasons not to attend. And so is this one: “I just don’t really feel like going.” I know I have plenty of times where I just want to have some down time to do whatever I feel like in that moment.
But it occurs to me from the many responses I get that people have full schedules. Very full. In fact, it’s exhausting to hear all of the things they have planned on a weekend.
I just wonder if this is how people really want to spend their time. My thoughts here have nothing to do with whether or not they come to my party. It’s really more about the choices we are making as families. I can’t imagine having to “check my calendar” every time someone asked me if I wanted to grab a coffee.Even if I want to have lunch with a friend, I often have to book it weeks in advance, only to find that they are having an unusually busy day and have to cancel.
I think about this as it relates to family time.
I once worked with a woman whose son was very actively involved in Pop Warner football. It turned out that his team was actually very good and they almost always ended up going to a football tournament every year. Over Thanksgiving.
One year, they all drove to Florida for Thanksgiving. The next year, they piled into a mini-van for Alabama. I guess if they don’t mind spending the holiday on the road and they are still enjoying the family time together, who am I to say anything? But I guess for me, I have the fondest family memories of cooking Thanksgiving together at home, smelling the turkey, waiting for relatives to arrive. These are memories I want to create for my son.
I notice that as kids get older, their activities become more and more time-consuming for the family. Often, Dad is off at the soccer game with Jimmy while Mom is off at cheerleading practice with Janey. Mealtimes together are a rarity. Times at home to just be are a rarity.
Supporting your kids and their interests and hobbies is absolutely a good thing in my book. In fact, I wish my parents had done more of it. But is it ever too much? Are we scheduling our lives away and forgetting the joy of spontaneous play?
I’ll admit that I tend to be pretty easygoing with my schedule. A little too easygoing. But I like that we can wake up on a Saturday morning and decide to go to the beach for one last Indian Summer day. I like that we can come home after a long day and decide to all go get Mexican for dinner. And I like that we can decide to take a full blown family vacation in less than 3 weeks if we get the whim.
I know we don’t have the constraints of school right now. And my husband and I do have flexibility with our professional schedules. But as we were sharing that spontaneous Mexican meal as a family, my husband and I really started to think about our family time and the choices we make.
Making pizza in the kitchen can become special family time for us.
I’m happy with those choices and I hope we stay this way. Balance is something I’m always working towards in my life. I’m not sure I’ll ever get there but we can dream, right?
I’d love to know how you spend your family time and how you keep the right balance in your life.
I enjoyed this post! It so easy to feel compelled in our society to schedule our time because we, often, feel as those we have so little time of our own to parcel out.I cherish unscheduled time spent with my family because it is in those moments that I feel as though I am truly living. It is those moments that I will remember, that my daughter will remember, about our lives “back then.”
Jessica – I’m so glad you feel the same way. I know my son is young and I don’t have as many time crunches yet but I always hope to have time to enjoy together as a family.
It’s harder to maintain balance as the kids have gotten older. Saying “yes” to dance classes has meant saying “no” to soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics, and other things. I draw the line on weekends. Those are MINE. I also draw the line on birthday parties if they cut into some family activity I have for us. Sometimes we don’t even go because we need a cozy Saturday in our pjs. I believe many of my friends are over scheduled because they aren’t telling their kids no. I don’t believe my 6 year old has the understanding necessary to deal with making her own schedule. It’s my job as a parent to help them figure out if it’s worth our time to do or not do things. I see kids having meltdowns all the time because they are exhausted. I don’t want our family time to be available just because we don’t have something better to do. I want family time because it’s important for us to spend time together. Sorry… Rant over. 😉
I loved your rant. I wish you’d rant more. In fact, I wish you’d blog about it because I know I’d read it. Yes, there is something to be said for just saying no because you just don’t want an obligation. I can totally buy that. In fact, it’s probably something I personally need to practice more in my adult life.
You really sing the song that I’ve been struggling to put words to, my friend. I feel the same as you. I deliberately try to keep a clear schedule. I purposely do NOT schedule things, so that we can be available for last minute lovlies with friends or family. Nothing bothers me more than a completely full weekend of parties. I relish my downtime with my children, and I love being able to drop everything and go have coffee playdates with girlfriends. Perhaps I have more time because I’m a SAHM, and I’m not trying to squeeze in so much after work?
Okay. So clearly we need to live close to each other so we can spontaneously have coffee and playdates. But I drink tea. We can probably work that out.
I think in households where both parents work, family time becomes running to games, events, etc. Maybe out of guilt? I cherish the time we get to spend being lazy or attempting dinner out (you’ve met the Boy, you know what I mean).
Someone mentioned not being able to say no to their kids…and I agree. I know people that all they do is run from one after school activity to another and both the parents and children are frazzled. Heck, my own mother is like this when we come to visit! Drives me crazy and makes me feel like our visit isn’t worth a moment to slow down and just enjoy.
I think you made a very good point. Yes, working parents do suffer a lot of guilt. And maybe living daily life in a structured way makes it harder to just relax as a family together in the evening. Although when I visit my family? I have to admit we do spend a little *too* much time doing nothing. I do like to get out once in a while 😉
There’s really nothing more important than having a good relationship with your children. Their friends will come and go throughout life, but family is the constant relationship through life. Letting “life” get in the way is not a good thing.
Let your kids choose ONE extracurricular activity. And they have to want it. Really really want it. If your kid doesn’t take the rules of their sport seriously, for example, pull them out. They don’t really care. What they really want is to socialize with other kids outside of a school setting. Make sure they have adequate play time instead.
Most everything else kids can learn at home or in their neighborhood. Just make sure you have a working computer and an internet connection. They need to develop the drive to be independent and create experiences for themselves. And they need that in the safety of a home where a parent is present. (Otherwise, they’ll experiment with some bad company.) If they’re simply schlepped around by their parents all the time, they won’t learn how to solve too many problems on their own, and you won’t be a parent – you’ll be a concierge and a chauffeur.
Love that last comment. I think many parents do end up as a concierge and a chauffeur. I had a friend who let each of his 3 kids pick 1 activity to be involved in at a time. Either scouts or basketball, for example, but not both. It was a rule that was accepted and worked for his family.
SO hard to find “family time” and especially family time that the whole family enjoys. I love family time and being at home is when I find we have the most fun. So nice to see you writing about your family!
Having a family of 3 where 2 of us are grown-ups makes it a little easier to decide where we go and what we do. We always can count on everyone loving some Mexican food!!
The older my kids get the harder it is to get that relaxed family time. Even if you have your kids in only one activity each besides school, you still end up being gone every weekday evening as these one activities’ practice time seems to expand exponentially the older the kids get. And weekends…well those are game times if your kids do sports. By the time your kids are my kids ages (3rd and 5th grade), you also have to add homework obligations (spent all weekend and the past week and 1/2 of evenings on a big project with Da Boy). Then if you try to cram in, god forbid, something for yourself like all of these blogging social events or trivia night with friends and a spouse who works 70 hours a week…well good luck. It’s really difficult. I always find myself by the summers wanting zero activities, so I insist that the kids have being bored time in the summer. It’s good for them. It’s good for me. It’s good for our family. They’ll get over it. 🙂
Oh and I have to add, I have no idea how the families with more than two kids do it. Seems overwhelming to me.
Wow, it’s worse than I thought. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a rural area and we really didn’t have much to do. We had football, baseball, and softball. No hockey, no soccer, no cheerleading. We were happy to just go roller skating on a Saturday afternoon. I kept myself booked when I was in high school but I could drive myself around by that point. Earlier than that would have been impossible in my family of 6.
I think there is something missing here… maybe a tandem post… how about “The Art of Saying No.”
You know why?
Because I really don’t think kids need to be enrolled in 5 after-school activities at one time.
I think it’s okay to say “no” to another kids birthday party…. simply because you want to enjoy a weekend of nothing but hanging out with your family.
And it’s perfectly fine to reserve time especially for belly kissing.
Ahh, so true. While my post started out with me thinking why people can’t say yes sometimes, it really comes down to people saying no. Do they want to be that busy? I know I have said no thanks to many playdates because it would be too much for me or for Evan on a particular day. I’m afraid Mommy enjoys her quiet time to 🙂
Even as a stay-at-home dad with a 5 month old boy. I try to make sure that I don’t overbook things. Yes, I want some structure in my week, whether it is a couple of classes or a play date but I want to have lots of time to be spontaneous with my son. And on the weekends I try not to make too many plans for our family so we can just hangout together.
I think at 5 months, most activities you plan are for YOU. It can be maddening to stay at home with a baby. I took my son to Little Gym when he was 6 months old and he LOVED it. And so did I! We did it for 2 semesters. When he got a little older, I thought he would really enjoy it. He HATED it so we don’t go anymore. I’m not going to force him!!
I feel like I have kind of come full circle on this issue. Or half circle maybe. Regardless…
For a long time, quality family time meant we had to be doing something. Trying something. Going somewhere.
And then my husband opened up his business and we had to seriously, significantly tighten up our budget. Quality time really became sitting home. Playing a game. Running in the yard. Going to a park.
And you know? It’s been just fine. Better than fine, perhaps.
Molly – I love that. I’m kind of like you. I’m a planner. Let’s go to the zoo. Let’s take a train ride. Let’s plan “family time.” But then I realize that things like cooking together in the kitchen can be more memorable than a train ride (and no whining for souvenirs!!)
I was *just* talking about this same issue w/ a couple of friends. The conclusion we came to is that we’re usually busy with dumb stuff, but sort of unavoidable stuff. I am big on not overscheduling, but by the time you add up a couple of activities/sports for 2 kids, a birthday party here & there, family visits, doctors’ appts., plus all the school-related activities, not to mention day-to-day household… you are pretty darn busy! I like to think that I will make time for fun stuff, but sometimes like you said, it’s just another obligation and I’d rather just stay home. Sad, but true.
Lovely post. Is it crazy that we eat together at the dinner table nearly every night of the week? I cherish that time when Joe gets off work.. even if it is just frozen pizza or something from Trader Joes.