Those of us who are parents–and those of us who have been kids–know how important it is for parents and children to spend time with each other. And those of us who fully appreciate how much the demands of life compete with that goal, know how hard it is to get the balance right. Most of us do not live in the agricultural society of yore, where we rise at dawn and fall asleep at sunset, where the loudest noises are the whinnying of horses and the lowing of cows–and the occasional thunderclap. We do not have the experience these days of the family working together, on the farm or in the general store, interacting with each other constantly, learning from each other, embracing life together. Instead, we live in a world where the electromagnetic buzz of the city is itself a constantly rising level of noise, where we are expected to work efficiently until long after the sun has set–and square away our children accordingly in a variety of settings that do not involve us. The cell phone may go off at any second, and someone out there may demand my immediate response just because I have the technology to instantly respond! We are forced, in this day and age, to run our lives like logistics coordinators just to retain our humanity.
You and I both know that this is a crazy arrangement, one that does not respect the natural needs of people and their families. And this is especially true when we remember the importance of spending time with our kids, and we feel that pang of guilt, that sense that we are not doing what we know to be right. We complain about the influences of the outside world and the media, but we are not around our kids enough to exert our own influence on them! To top it off, we rationalize the little amount that we give our children as “quality time”. We know that, in fact, quantity is quality, don’t we?
It doesn’t have to be this way. While we can’t turn back the hands of time and demand that civilization not organize itself in the manner that it does, we can choose to conduct our affairs in a way that benefits us and our families, even if that’s old fashioned. Let’s reclaim control of our time!
I have a few suggestions–let’s call it a Beta Version–for increasing the quantity and quality of your time with your kids. You would be doing me an incredible favor by trying them out and sending me some feedback.
MORE TIME WITH YOUR KIDS 1.0:
- Every child in the family deserves a special date with each parent. This will assure the child that he or she is special in his or her own wright, and having some “just you and me” time with Mom or Dad or both will probably reduce sibling rivalry, since sibling rivalry is based on competition for one’s place in the family.
- If there are 4 weeks in a month, with effectively 5 days/nights, then there are, potentially, 20 quality time units per month, all else being equal.
- Divide 20 by the number of children in the family. If there are 4 children in the family, each can have 5 exclusive dates with a parent per 4 week month. These dates can be redeemed in any way that allows the parent and child to experience something pleasant together. If homework is not a mutually gratifying experience, it would not be the preferred activity. Yet this “date” does not have to be as elaborate as a trip to Niagara Falls either. Keep it simple, and let your child take you where he or she wants to go.
- In addition to dates, each child should have quality time every night. If the parents are home from 6-8, for example, and there are 4 children, figure that you have 90 minutes plus a half an hour for baths, brushing teeth and pajamas. Divide these 90 minutes by four. You will have 20 minutes’ worth of exclusive time available for each child. These minutes can be forgone for the sake of a mutually gratifying group activity.
- Do whatever it takes to facilitate this time. You can feed the kids early, bathe early, whatever.
- Do not answer the phone during dinnertime, and if you can stand it, ignore the phone during family time too. You don’t have to answer the phone just because it is ringing, or an email just because it arrived. (Hey, shut the computer off!)
- Shabbos and Yom Tov are “free zones”. That means family time. No one can lay exclusive claim to each others’ time, because of the time demands of shul and meals. It’s first come, first serve, and the parents have to make sure that each child has a fair shot. But remember, the kids come first!
- It is important to remember that there will be times when the childrens’ needs will differ, sometimes based on their ages, or when one needs more TLC or alone time, so the division of your time does not always have to be exact.
Please try this for a week and let me know how it goes. One more suggestion: you may want to kick off your new, quality life with the following activity. If you have a television set, unplug it, and put it in the trunk of your car. Pile the family in the car and drive somewhere where you can sell the TV for a good price. Take the money and buy a bookshelf and some great books to read together. This will instantly create a new activity for you and the kids that is calm and productive.
Alternately, if your kids are rambunctious and hyperactive, you can purchase a sledgehammer. Pop some popcorn and let the little angels have some cathartic whacks at the tyrannical tube (preferably in the backyard). Next, bring out some tempera paint and let them make some form of installation art out of the former centerpiece of your living room. Just kidding. Sort of.