By Janet Fackrell
Issue 103, November/December 2000
We are as busy as most families are. We have four daughters, a business, , piano lessons, a paper route or two, a preschool co-op, a homeschooling group, a cycling hobby, a research project, housekeeping, breastfeeding, and a pet turtle to juggle. Some days we rush from one project and appointment to the next. The weeks blur as we try to accommodate every commitment and activity. And we know that some families have even more obligations to squeeze into their schedule than we have.
Some nights I look in on our sleeping children before I go to bed. I watch their softly tousled heads slumbering on their pillows, and sadness wells up in me. Have I drunk in their smiles and laughter and hugged them, or have I just checked things off my to-do list today? They're growing so quickly. One morning I may wake up and one of my girls will be getting married, and I'll worry: Have I played with them enough? Have I enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of their lives?
I've considered the quality versus quantity question many a time. We've tried to arrange our life so that we're spending as much time as possible with our children. But all too often the quantity of time that I spend managing our household and children doesn't feel like that sparkling "quality time" I fantasize about giving to my children. I continue to ask, is it enough?
In order to soothe that "mommy guilt" about providing for the emotional needs of my growing brood, our family has woven a golden thread of togetherness through our lives. We call it Family Night. It is a combination of activity, family-tradition, and passing-along-values night during which everyone feels loved, accepted, and able to speak without being criticized. One small positive activity at a time, we are building loving relationships with our children.
The two most important ingredients of Family Night are making it a good experience and being consistent. It helps to have your family's night be the same time and day each week. The kids come to expect that special time and will remind you with their queries: "What are we doing for Family Night?" Sometimes we have a lengthy activity planned. Other times we hold a short "powwow" to teach a principle that is important to us.
What we do on Family Night is limited only by our imagination: We may go out together, learn a new skill like archery, practice , cook outdoors, enjoy a sport, play games, visit historical landmarks, practice a fire drill, or teach money management by giving out pretend jobs and shopping at pretend stores. We pepper our fun activities with conversation about honesty, service, compassion, and other attributes that we'd like to develop. what we do, as long as it is a regular event and a positive experience for our young ones.
Each member of the family is always involved in planning the weekly gathering. Our four and six year olds delight in shopping for the Family Night treat with Mom or Dad. Our daughters have enjoyed teaching us songs, making their favorite craft, leading a discussion, and demonstrating skills they have acquired, like a new piano song or dribbling a soccer ball.
One of my favorite Family Nights was a few years ago. Our oldest daughter was about three. She had colored and assembled pictures of her favorite scripture story from a coloring book. While displaying each picture, she told the story. She had planned and prepared her part in Family Night without any help or instruction. We were quite surprised and pleased with her enthusiasm.
Other Family Nights that have been memorable to us have included taking a hike and sharing a picnic at a scenic vista; inviting new neighbors to feed the fish at the local boat marina; making a treat to share with an elderly friend; visiting the deer and elk at our local nature preserve; making homemade ice cream; and drawing pictures for and writing letters to our far-away grandparents.
Once we chose (as parents) to spend a month, four nights, learning about respect. We played games about respect, we had a discussion about being respectful with some role playing (charades), and we had a contest to see who could do the most kind, respectful things for a week. We could see that our kids were beginning to think about being more respectful as the month went on. Now we've had some fun practicing respect, and they have the concept and vocabulary to talk about it.
Our children look forward to Family Night all week. Our daughters remind us by asking, "Is tonight Family Night? How many days until Family Night?" Their excitement helps keep us committed to having our weekly gathering. But more than that, it lets us know that Family Night works. It brings us closer, it helps the children to feel that they are important to us, and it gives us a special time to put aside our other concerns and really enjoy each other's company.
But we do have a hidden agenda. It is to teach our daughters the values and skills that we feel will help them grow into happy adults, and to have a good time doing it. We try to liberally coat each learning experience with frolic and serve it up with ice cream or pie. We do not even have to have a lesson to be teaching our children something valuable. Just spending an evening fishing or at the carnival enjoying each other's company is teaching our children that they matter to us, that we can sacrifice our other projects and make our family the priority, that listening and sharing are important in our relationships.
Plan to hold Family Night at the same time every week.
No TV, homework, or phone calls on Family Night.
Friends shouldn't be included if it detracts or distracts from family togetherness.
Don't use Family Night to discipline or discuss family problems. Call a family council at some other time to work out such problems.
Always have refreshments. This keeps the kids looking forward to the special night each week.
Involve every family member. Each can take turns planning activities, refreshments, outings, giving a lesson, or teaching a new skill to the others.
Adapt your Family Night to your own family's situation and needs.
Teach your children what is important to you, what you value in your life. You are the most important teacher your children will ever have!
For additional information about family nights, see the following article in a past issue of Mothering: "The Family Meeting," no. 46.
Janet Fackrell is a full-time mom. Her interests include family history, reading, jazz and classical music, and having all the dishes washed. Her husband is a who is passionate about cycling. They now have five daughters aged nine years to 18 months. Her family still has Family Night, and she reports that the results are increasingly positive as the children grow. She says that their kids' favorite Family Night activity is playing spin the bottle. The spinner says something he or she likes about the person the bottle lands on.
Illustration by Russell