Staying Connected as a Family

Overbooked children and overworked parents lead to underconnected families. According to a recent University of Michigan Time Use Study, only 33% of families eat dinner together, down from 66% in 1970. Family vacations have decreased by 28% since 1981, and household conversation (where talking with the family is the primary activity) has dropped by 100%. Children spend only 45 minutes a week in conversation with any member of the family.Stephen F. Duncan and Patti Freeman, professors at Brigham Young University, offer the following ideas for family connection:

Restrict television viewing and use it to strengthen your family. Recognize the impact of the TV on your perception of free time for family leisure. Maybe consider turning the TV off during designated days or times and choose an activity that the family can do together. During a Summer Olympics, one family took a break from watching the events together and held their own mini-Summer Olympics in their back yard, running races, doing long jumps, and other events.

Instead of watching television alone, schedule TV or video/DVD time together. Talk about what you watch. One son and father watched a TV episode where a teen girl was pressured by friends to steal donuts from the faculty lounge at school and smoke in the girl’s bathroom. The young girl successfully resisted and won friends at the same time. The program provided a context for father and son to talk about standing up for the right even when it’s not popular.

Serve in the community as a family. Volunteering together as a family at a community facility or event are some excellent service possibilities (e.g., food bank, library, adopt-a-highway, prison, fundraisers, road races). Other ideas include planning a vacation that is not only fun but incorporates volunteering to help others in need or making lunches to donate to a homeless shelter. During a holiday break, one family volunteered to stock shelves at the community food pantry. Another family visited a humanitarian aid center and packaged hygiene kits.

Unite and recreate, keeping the whole family together. Consider opting seeing movies together as a whole family rather than dividing up to see different shows. Try making a train on a water slide rather than merely having the individualized experience. Maybe take a vacation in the car so family members can balance opportunities to interact, play games, and share stories. Spending time together using your library and visiting local museums, city and state parks, and recreation centers are other valuable experiences that can become central to your families’ core leisure activities.

Hold a family night. Consider reclaiming at least one weeknight a week to be together as a family. Families can deciding that such an evening is nonnegotiable family time. A school district in Montana designated Wednesday as family night, when no school activities would be scheduled. In another community, schools were regularly holding rehearsals and various so-called “family” activities on the night one family designated as its family night. This family told the teachers in charge that their young people would not be available for rehearsals or activities on that evening. The rehearsals and activities went on without them without reprisal. Another family established a particular weekday evening, all evening, as a time when everyone in the family is expected to be at home. During this time, they all participate in a formal planned family discussion, making sure to allow time for studies, treats, and informal family activities.

Eat dinner together regularly. Eating dinner together is a great time to connect with family members, to ask about one another’s day, to share stories and jokes. Not only are family dinners great connection opportunities, but recent research has also shown that the more young people eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to abuse drugs.

For Further Reading:

Take Back Your Time
edited by John de Graf

Putting Family First
by William J. Doherty and Barbara Z. Carlson

The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties
by William J. Doherty

Additional Websites

The Simple Living Network – A site helping people to do more with less, including with less time.

Take Back Your Time – a major U.S./Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment.

Putting Family First – An organization dedicated to raising awareness about the crucial connections between parents and children, and helps families find balance in their lives.

Family Day – A national initiative to remind parents that what their children really want at the dinner table is YOU!