By Mireille McKee
In this fast-paced, multi-tasking world, in which the push to do more and do it faster is pervasive, it is no surprise that families are feeling disconnected and even our youngest children are feeling the stress of this “hurry up” society. Throughout the past few years there has been a growing awareness of the dangers of over-scheduling our children, and of the need to slow ourselves down and be more present with our families. I talk to many parents who are feeling this stress and are anxious about the lack of family time. How much more challenging family life has become!
I think we are all in agreement that slowing down is vital, yet we struggle to accomplish it. As our children’s role models we must set the rhythm. Whether we work outside the home or are stay-at-home parents, we must be aware of the pace of our lives and the quality of our connections. Achieving a balance between work, family life and kids’ activities is essential. Easier said than done, but we need to start somewhere. We need to make the decision that time together as a family is crucial. Something that helped my husband and me was to prioritize a few family routines. We enjoyed family mealtimes and being out in nature together. We prioritized these in our daily and weekly schedules to ensure we spent time together. There were times when our children’s activities seemed to take over, but we
always tried to focus on maintaining our family time and connections. This helped us to slow down and enjoy each other. I believe that our children felt our commitment to slowing down and spending time with them and have learned to value the same.
Here are a few ideas that may be useful in your quest to slow down and enjoy family connections:
• Family mealtime. Our fast-paced lives leave little time for shared family meals. But eating together regularly can be a wonderful source of family time, a way of slowing down and keeping a family in contact during a hectic week. It doesn’t need to be a home-cooked meal and it doesn’t need to be every night. Try it for three or four nights a week, and if you can’t do dinner, try breakfast or lunch. The important thing is to make the effort, slow down and enjoy each other. The benefits are far-reaching, including increased communication, reduced stress, improved connection and FUN!
• Have a “family date” once a month. Whether toddlers or teenagers, your children will enjoy a special date set aside for the family. Everyone gets a turn choosing what is done on date night. It may be everyone getting in jammies and having popcorn while watching a movie, an outing to the beach, an afternoon of mini golf or going out for dinner and a movie. The main focus is family and it is a great opportunity for everyone to reconnect after several weeks of school or work.
• Have a family exercise routine on the weekend. Family routines that include exercise have many benefits. Taking a walk, a hike or a bike ride together on the weekend can be fun and encourage physical fitness. What about a weekly Yoga class with the family? A family-oriented Yoga class can help with relaxation, connection and slowing down.
• Enjoy a “game night” or family “reading time” once a week. Everyone has a favorite book or board game. Institute some simple rules: no television, computer, phones or text messaging. This will encourage you to slow down and tune in to one another. The children will appreciate having you to themselves and will delight in this time together.
• Grow a garden together. Being out in the fresh air and tending to a garden has wonderful benefits. Even young toddlers can enjoy participating by digging and watering. Older children can be given a particular patch to tend to, keeping it clear of weeds and harvesting their crop when ready. Children who have grown veggies tend to also enjoy eating them.
Whether you adopt one of these routines or create your own, keep things simple and meaningful to you and your family. When family time is prioritized, you will feel a shift in your attitudes and mindset about what is really important. Connection follows! Take time to create ways to slow down, tune in and enjoy one another. Slowing down in today’s busy world is challenging yet NOT impossible when we truly value our family and make the time.
Mireille McKee is the director and a teacher at Little Wonders, a Parent Child center in San Mateo. She enjoys sharing her knowledge of child development and helping families navigate their parenting journeys. She is particularly fond of the Little Wonders’ theme this year, “Slowing Down and Tuning In” and embraces supporting families in examining and challenging the societal pressures that often lead to disconnected families.