Family Nights Together

By Jill Savage

It's Friday evening at the Savage household. Anne, 17, is in her bedroom reading. Evan, 15, is on the computer. Erica, 11, is doing a craft project. Austin, 6, is watching a video. And Mom and Dad are making preparations for our family night. Our goal is to pull everyone from their corners and facilitate some time in an activity that builds relationship. It's an effort that is not always met with a "hip-hip-hurray" response, but by the end of the evening the feedback rings in with a very positive tone.

When Mark and I began evaluating our parenting role several years ago, we determined that we wanted to "parent on purpose". We wanted to have a plan for raising our children. We wanted to make sure certain ingredients were present in our family's habits. Our desire was to look forward and plan our approach now, rather than look back in 18 years and regret a lack of direction and purpose.

In order to take this proactive approach, we have worked hard to mesh our two lives and two different upbringings into a parenting philosophy that we can both agree upon. It's not been an easy road, but one I'm glad we took. The most effective tool for us was our own desire to learn. We read books, asked questions, attended conferences, talked about our own upbringing, and took several parenting classes. And we continue to do so as we enter into even more uncharted waters of raising children.

Along the way, we were introduced to the concept of family night. It was a concept that was new to both of us, but one we were drawn to.

We begin our evenings by preparing everyone in advance. They know days in advance, if possible. If it's more of a spontaneous evening, we still give everyone a warning to give them time to wrap up their activities. Family nights never look exactly the same, but the results are consistent. We are closer, communicating better, and have the sense of being teammates on the same team.

After talking with other families who value family nights, here are some ideas in creating time together as a family: If possible set aside one night of the week that becomes sacred to your family. No one accepts an invitation that evening, no meetings, no social engagements - it's reserved for family night. Sunday night works well for many families.

If setting aside one night a week is not feasible with your family's schedule, sit down with the calendar and plan for some evenings together. Communicate to everyone these dates and keep them free from activities.

Include the kids in planning the activities. When they feel they have been valued in the planning process, their desire to participate increases.

Don't be discouraged if the process of gathering everyone is met with frustration, especially early on. We all have a self-centered nature and have to be coached into understanding the importance of team. Be creative with your evenings: game night (Scrabble, Monopoly, Pictionary), watching home movies, going through old photo albums, watching a movie together, baking cookies. Bowling, miniature golf, ice skating and even roller skating make for enjoyable family time, too.

Don't discount the feasibility of having family nights even if your children have a wide age range. Last summer we took the kids golfing (this was a "family morning") at the Par 3 course. Our older children were able to golf, while our two year old enjoyed the ride in the wagon we brought with us.

As parents, we have only one shot at raising our kids. It's not a job we can do over again. That's why activities that build into the family relationship are so very important.

Gary Ezzo, author of Growing Kids God's Way, states, "Peer pressure is only as strong as family identity is weak." It's a statement that has stuck with us. Our family nights are one way we know we can develop family identity. It's an investment worth making.

Jill Savage is an author and speaker who is passionate about encouraging families. She is the founder of Hearts at Home, www.hearts-at-home.org, an organization that encourages women in the profession of motherhood. Jill, and her husband Mark, live with their four children in Normal, Illinois.


 
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