6 Rules For Family Night
If there were a parenting handbook that was given out when you gave birth to your child, there would be a section on having fun as family. You might think this would come easily, but trust me, what you think is fun and what your children think is fun are often worlds apart.
My children range in age from five to fifteen. During the week their various activities pull our family in ten different directions. Dinner ends up being served in shifts, the younger children frequently are in bed before the older ones are even home from their after school activities.
Spending time as a family was so much easier when they were younger. While I am still a huge proponent of the nightly family meal, as my children have grown older I have come to realize that it just isn’t going to happen most nights. I have learned to see the advantages of this arrangement for my particular family. Well, it was either look on the bright side or drive myself crazy with guilt.
I figure that I am the constant. I sit down with all of them at dinnertime. It is important for me to spend time with them and talk to them, not necessarily for them to spend time with each other. I am able to talk to the little kids about little kid things, without the older kids rolling their eyes. I am able to discuss things with the older kids that might not be appropriate for younger ears. I am able to give undivided attention because I am not being pulled in different directions. Of course this also means that dinner hour in my house stretches on and on, like labor.
Sunday night has become our Family Night. It is the only night that I can be guaranteed there will not be any school or sports activities, no parties, no sleepovers, no one extra, just our family. It is a time for all of us to reconnect and just enjoy each others company. I guard this slice of time with a protective ferocity. All the kids know 5:30pm Sunday night, they must be home.
Rules for family night:
1. There will be dessert
Even if dinner is not eaten. Even if the behavior of certain smallish people has been horrendous. Dessert makes everything better. On family night all is forgiven. We have ice cream sundaes, root beer floats, smores made by roasting marshmallows over the dying embers of the grill.
a) don’t use this night to test out a new recipe.
b) especially if this recipe has any sort of green vegetables in it.
2. There will be fun, gosh darn it all, fun! FUN, I say! Or we will die/kill each other trying!
If it isn’t fun for everyone, including you as the parent, it is time to step back and reevaluate.
My favorite family nights are the spontaneous ones, when we sit outside on the patio with a fire burning in the chiminea. My sons will play their guitars. The younger kids will play freeze tag or something similar in the grass. We all eat smores until we simply can not eat anymore.
We laugh. We tell stories. We relax.
3. Keep it simple. Don’t feel that Family Night has to be an involved or elaborate affair.
I know that there are some people who plan Family Nights, complete with themes– Movie Night, Game Night, Juggling Circus Animals Night. And while I love the idea, I know the perfectionist in me would never be able to do it without stressing myself and my children out. To me that would defeat the purpose.
My theme every week is simple, family fun. There are some Sundays when I order pizza and we eat picnic style in front of the tv while catching up with Zach and Cody, Hannah Montana, or those Wizards of Waverly Place, Or, like this past Sunday, we have breakfast for dinner.
4. Leave the rest of the week behind
For us, Sunday night marks a fresh start. The slate is wiped clean. This isn’t the time to bring up chores that haven’t yet been done, tests that received less than stellar grades, or behavior issues that have already been dealt with. You want Family Night to be a time that you all look forward to sharing. A time when you can reconnect and feel energized about the week ahead.
5. Know when to talk and when to shut-up.
When you are talking with your children, especially older ones, allow there to be silent pauses. I have found that they will fill the silence with talking. They open up in ways that they might not if you are so busy filling the silence with your own voice. Tell them stories about the Dark Ages when you were a kid. They particularly like to hear stories about things you did wrong, ways you were embarrassed, mistakes you made. When they tell you their stories, resist the urge to turn it into a life lesson. Oh, this will be hard. Resist.
6. Find games to play that span the ages.
Nothing is worse than being over the age of 5 and being forced to play Candyland. Likewise, watching your family play Monopoly because you are not yet able to read well enough to join them is less exciting than watching paint dry. We love playing charades, 20 questions, hangman, Wii. I have never been a huge fan of video games, but the Wii levels the playing field so that your 4 yr old will be beating the pants off of you in golf.
You know what other game my younger kids love? The quiet game. Just like it sounds, you have to be quiet. The person who goes the longest without making any noise or talking wins. I know it sounds too good to be true, but my uber-competitive children will turn anything into a competition. Not surprisingly, this is my favorite game. Sometimes we will play this one several times in a row.
I wish that we had the sort of simple laid back life that afforded us the opportunity to have every night be Family Night. And I will admit that a part of me misses the days when all of my children were small and the evenings after dinner were spent reading a chapter from a book, all of us snuggled together on the couch. But children have this annoying habit of growing up and having lives of their own, as parents we have to take the time to spend together with them wherever we can get it. Having one special night set aside every week to spend as a family has been transformative for my family. When you have your teenagers putting in requests for the next Family Night and happily coming home on time, you know that you are doing something right.