In today’s fast-paced world it is hard to find time to relax and connect with those who mean the most to us. Family members are pulled in a multitude of directions and by the time everyone is home from work or school it is time to run to either soccer practice or cub scouts, which leaves little time for a family to bond on a daily basis. When the small amount of time left over for family is neglected it can result in feelings of guilt, under appreciation, and resentment. So, how do you make family a priority when your time is limited?
Focusing on the quality of your interactions rather than the quantity of interaction is a great place to start. By quality time, I mean the special moments that are important even though the actual amount of time spent together is limited. For example, a father spending 10 minutes listening to a child discuss their day can be more valuable than an entire hour spent watching television together. Additionally, spouses laughing while cooking dinner together can be beneficial not only for the couple, but also the entire family as their decision to work as a unit serves as an excellent model for teamwork. When we make a conscious decision to focus our attention on our loved ones (even if only for two minutes) we are making a statement that we support and care for each other, which has lasting, positive effects on all family relations, including parent-child, sibling, and spousal relationships.
Actions that strengthen bonds among family members can be planned or spontaneous. Many families like to schedule “family time” because it helps them remember to keep family a priority. Any activity that is interactive, enjoyable and aimed at strengthening attachments between family members can serve as a family time activity. Some useful examples of quality family time might include: playing games, eating meals together, bedtime stories/rituals, exercising, or simply talking about the day’s events. For those who travel frequently or work atypical hours, you can still work in quality family activities by scheduling time to talk on the phone, emailing, or leaving notes for loved ones.
Spontaneous quality time, such as stopping what we are doing to answer a child’s question or telling a spouse thank you for remembering to take out the trash, is often the most effective at strengthening bonds; however, unplanned moments can be easily overlooked. The good news is that when we simply make the decision to be more aware of how our actions affect others we often make changes without much effort. In this instance, making a point to recognize the potential for connection in moments that arise throughout each day can serve as reminders to make family a priority.
At the end of the day, it is up to you and your family to decide what activities and moments define your “family time.” For some families, spending time in the car talking while running from one activity to the next serves as quality family time while for other families they prefer to have scheduled family game nights. Each family is different, as are the needs of each family member, so it might be helpful to sit down together and discuss each individual’s perception of what constitutes a family activity and quality family time. You might be surprised that something you do everyday, such as tucking in your daughter, means much more than you even realized.
Mary Kathleen Hill, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist