Time…everyone wishes for an extra hour in the day! Time always seems to be running short for busy families. Balancing a calendar filled with work, school, children's activities, caring for the home, and other obligations can seem like building a house of cards… add one more event to the calendar and the whole house falls down! No matter how busy our schedules seem, it is important for families to make time to be together and connect.
Children and parents need "down time" to talk, laugh, and explore together. Finding focused time together without distractions can seem overwhelming. Try to remember that regular and repeated time together matters for building strong family relationships. These times do need not be long; everyday moments add up. As a working mom of a preschooler, I often find myself feeling like I am running from morning until night trying to finish everything that needs to be done.
Here are some ways I have found that help our family find moments to be together even on hectic days.
We cook together…
Even though this may mean a bigger mess! Some chores my four year old can help with include shucking corn, washing fruit or veggies, and stirring and mixing when we are preparing recipes. Young children are quite capable of many tasks and will continue to grow in their competence if they are given opportunities to help. While we cook, I get to hear about my daughter's adventures with friends at preschool and other things she is curious about.
We try to keep screens away from our table…I haven't had a smartphone for long, but I try to avoid the temptation to take it out at the table. We try to focus the time we have at the table on mealtime conversation and developing healthy eating routines. I must admit the temptation to check something on the web or Facebook on my phone gets to me, too. I try to remind myself that by keeping screens away from the table, I am modeling healthy habits for using media for my daughter and showing her family time is important. Research has shown that family mealtimes also help families build stronger relationships and promote their children's health.
We're growing together…
We are in a rental home, and we don't have a garden like we did when we lived in Illinois. Instead, we have some container veggies and flowers that we are nurturing this summer. Being outside together gives us opportunities to talk about nature and growth, look for bugs, and talk about where our food comes from. It also gives me an opportunity to enjoy the sweetness of my daughter's growing generosity when she says, "Mama! I saved this tomato for you!"
We make time to play…
We love to go to the playground, nature center, and to the local pool. Sometimes we go with other families with kids or connect with our family members for this playtime when they visit. These opportunities help children see that their families are part of a community of friends, neighbors, and extended family.
We use routines and in-between times as moments to connect…
Having set bath time and bedtime routines help us reconnect even on hectic days. Bath time is usually a quiet conversation time with my daughter. My spouse and daughter look forward to reading library books together each evening, and the promise of him reading an extra story, sometimes motivates her to get her pajamas on quickly!
Also, when the routines actually help get my daughter to bed - on most days - my spouse and I can also find a little downtime to talk and reconnect as well. Keeping in sync helps us be better partners in parenting, too.
Rebecca Swartz, Ph.D. is an Early Childhood Education Specialist with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension and an assistant professor in Child, Youth, and Family Studies.
Her focus is helping parents and early educators through community education programs related to child development. Rebecca also draws from her first hand experiences as an early childhood educator and being a mother of an creative 4 year old daughter in her work.
For more ideas about how to strengthen your family, visit the Families and Parents section at the UNL Extension site.