Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

~ Winston Churchill ~

Bring Back Family

March 8th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 46 secs

Family experience is made from simple times shared together.

Unlike so many sites that glamorize family life and gild the lily about how wonderful everything always is, I like to add a bit of balance. Like websites that awfulize family life, reinforcing extremes gets attention. But most families manage somewhere in between with extremes more the exception not the norm.

Family life is inherently challenging but ultimately rewarding. Like every big endeavor, it takes plenty of effort. So a rich family life doesn’t exactly fall into anyone’s lap.

Still, it amazes me how many people expect their family to function with minimal effort.  People who merely cohabit with their children cannot expect much in the way of relationships.

For instance, I find it alarming how few children and teens don’t eat together with their parents. According to an abstract by Lindsay Schwarz from Eastern Illinois University (using references now a decade old):

Some 14% of kids reported never eating with their family

Nearly 20% only ate together once or twice a week

21.5% said they only shard meals three or four times per week, and

Only a paltry 18% reported eating meals as a family seven or more times per week.

This was despite research showing that a majority of young people would like to eat with their family.

To add to the mix, when families actually do sit down together, only about a quarter do so at the same table talking without the TV on.

Of course, life has many competing elements that demand our time. Factors like work, night shifts, study, and sports can all draw us apart. But unless we deliberately put our family above these aspects, family relationships are seriously eroded.

Now, I know these figures are US based, but I imagine the results in many nations will approximate the same. Unless we hold family meal times as a special occasion when everything else takes second place, other “reasonable” priorities will take their place.

But there’s more to family time than meal times, isn’t there? Young children need more nurture with bathing, changing, stories, and tucking in. While older ones require talking time, activities, and time helping. All of this takes time and focus, and cannot be done with a phone perpetually held to one ear or in the odd burst of action.

The idea that a Dad, for example, thinking he can make up for continually protracted absences with “quality time” is pathetic. Parenting is a meandering time demanding affair. It means sitting down together with family and shooting the breeze about life and what happened that day, along with all the other things that represent “being there”. I don’t subscribe to the “warrior” view that some fathers hide behind that implies working overlong hours is “all for the family”. No, it’s not. Unless you happen to live in a slum and must work in a sweatshop to bring meager funds in, the idea that parents can routinely abandon the kids is tacitly abusive.

Seemingly simple things make an enormous difference. but only when they are regularly applied. To put some flesh to bone, I’ve prepared this pro family checklist with a view to promoting relationship growth. If you have kids, tick off every item that you already do:

  1. Sit down together to home cooked meals at least 6 times a week.  ____
  2. Have your kids bring friends over (and sometimes stay over) as a matter of course ____
  3. Include your kid’s friends in mealtime conversation so they can feel at home____
  4. Ensure that most shared meals are eaten without the TV competing ____
  5. Make mealtimes talking times so that the whole family can share ____
  6. When kids get home, greet them warmly no matter what’s happening ____
  7. Ask kids about what were the best & worst parts of their day ____
  8. Praise your partner, your kids, and friends in front of them ____
  9. When you do offer compliments, always base them on something measurable ____
  10. Aim to minimize the number of “taboo” subjects your family can talk about ____
  11. When your kids want to talk to you about something the believe is important listen to them with respect and patience ____
  12. Touch your children with hugs, kisses, pats, hi-fives, etc. Just find a way to make physical contact on a daily basis that is low key and relaxed ____
  13. Seek to create a relaxed and accepting atmosphere in your home, even if some family members are hostile or resistive ____
  14. Talk about feelings as a real part of life and respect differing opinions to your own ____
  15. Minimize criticism ____
  16. Allow for playfulness and even join in yourself ____
  17. Refuse to be thin-skinned about criticism, preferring to ignore stupid comments until your children have left home and have kids of their own ____
  18. Demonstrate loving affection by kissing and cuddling your partner in front of your kids ____
  19. Allows make an effort to say hello and goodbye to anyone arriving or leaving ____
  20. Work out a few ways to say the same thing in a non-confrontational way, e.g. Okay, who’s turn is it to clean the dishes?/ Sue, thanks for getting onto those dishes now. Appreciate it./ Sue, the dishes are waiting for you and need your loving touch. ____

Family life needs our engagement and, while it isn’t always easy, it’s hugely rewarding when your kids learn better ways to live. Quite possibly, rearing children is the biggest job a parent will ever have. So it deserves nothing less than making it our priority, by showing our love beyond all reasonable limits, and dedication that deserves at least a medal.


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