Culture Challenge of the Week: No Time for the Family?

Rebecca Hagelin

7/24/2014 12:01:00 AM - Rebecca Hagelin

Do you know your family?

You may think that’s a silly question. “Of course we know each other,” many parents would reply. “We live under the same roof. We see each other daily. We go on vacations together. How could we not know each other?”

Yet, in an important sense, many parents and their children are almost strangers.

The time many families spend together is crammed with wall-to-wall activities. Mothers and fathers ferry their kids feverishly about—a play date here, a practice there, not a moment to spare—tethered by cell phones and sustained by meals on the run. You can’t really know your children if all of your time with them is spent running to and fro in a frenetic whirlwind. Genuine intimacy is impossible under such conditions.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with activities per se. Nobody’s saying kids should just sit at home. Involvement in sports, for example, is incredibly beneficial for children—especially for teens.

But it’s critical to stop and reflect on what might be missing in their lives—the most important physical “thing” to their development: you. Family time makes a huge difference.

Take something as simple as the family dinner. Sure, it’s nice, but who on Earth has time? The bottom line is, if you believe it is important (which it is), you need to make time.

How to Save Your Family: Schedule Time With Them

Back "in the day" when our now grown children were living at home, we designated nights when we would eat together and told our kids, “Your friends are welcome to join us.” This firm but inclusive directive made for many now-treasured evenings when we bonded with our children and their friends. I know in my mother’s heart that the time, laughs, and discussions had a powerful impact on all of them. And they certainly did on me. And now that they are gone.....I am so very grateful for every minute we were together.

Just your “being there” also helps your children. A comprehensive study, drawing on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, notes that “teenagers were less likely to experience emotional distress if their parents were in the home when they awoke, when they came home from school, at dinnertime, and when they went to bed, if they engaged in activities with their parents, and if their parents had high expectations regarding their academic performance.”

It makes sense when you think about it. After all, if you are available for and nearby your children, even if you don’t “do” anything in the conventional sense of the word your presence sends the undeniable message: “I care about you enough to be here.”

We know the importance of maintaining a balanced diet for good physical health. It’s truly just as crucial, for the sake of our and our children's mental and emotional health, to lead a balanced life.

And how do we restore balance to our frantic family lives? Make a point of injecting some downtime into it—but actually scheduling it. Go for a walk—not a power walk, but a slow one. Play a game together, preferably a board or card game, with everyone sitting around the table and interacting.

Realize, too, that not every activity must involve the whole group. Take that walk or play that game with one son or one daughter. Give everybody a turn. In time, you’ll find yourself having real conversations with the people who matter most. And don’t neglect your spouse! A regular date can really help strengthen your marriage.

It’s nearly impossible to overemphasize the importance of having dinner together—sitting down, away from the television, as a group—as often as possible. The potential it affords to impart lessons in courtesy, hash out problems, or just have a good laugh is unmatched.

Reviving this balance is also crucial to one’s spiritual health. It’s all too easy when every minute of our day is jam-packed, to neglect church and daily prayer. Big mistake. Only by slowing down can we hope to really hear the voice of God. Taking a formal retreat occasionally is a fine idea, but we also need the “mini-retreats” that God uses to recharge our batteries when we take time to talk to and visit with Him.

If you’re feeling over-scheduled, look at your family’s time and how it’s spent. Get together and discuss ways to cut back on outside activities and make more time for each other. One fair way to take more control of family time is to set the number of activities each child can do in a school year. Instead of track, drama, tennis, football, soccer, and horseback riding for each child—leaving you the frazzled chauffeur struggling to fit everything in—let each child choose two or three activities for the year when school starts. And stick to it when the new seasons begin. In addition to lightening up your schedule, this method will also help teach your children about priorities and time management.

It’s crucial that we make time for what is truly important—not merely so we can fashion some pleasant memories, but so we can raise our kids to soar above the toxic culture and to become the men and women God intends for them to be.

Mom and Dad, you are vital. The culture won’t tell you that, but the facts, your gut, and your kids’ lives testify to your power. Your opportunity to enjoy them when they are small and to shape them when they become teens will disappear before your eyes. Take it from a mom who knows.

Don’t just give your family things. Give yourself. Their lives - and yours - will be far richer than you can possibly imagine.