These days, both parents and kids seem to have overloaded schedules. That’s certainly the case with my clan of ﬁve, including my husband and me, our 3-year-old twins and 7-year-old daughter. Luckily, we’ve ﬁgured out simple ways to all enjoy one activity at the same time: We cheer together at big sis’s soccer games; the family gathers to watch me row in local races; we all assemble for hikes on sunny weekend days. Our only real objectives are to support each other and have fun in the moment, but according to experts, our family time will have long-lasting effects.
“Quality time spent together as a family provides children and parents with invaluable memories and also gives kids an important sense of security knowing that they have their parents as a ﬁrm foundation,” says pediatrician Dr. Laura Jana. “That foundation helps children feel comfortable in approaching the rest of their interactions and relationships with conﬁdence.”
And quality time doesn’t have to be a week at Disney World — it can be as simple as a family meal, reading books together or walking around the block en masse after dinner, Jana says. Here, some great ideas from other families making the best of their time together.
Tina Mickelson of Chico, Calif., mom to Wyatt, 8, and Jack, 6, discovered the joy of de-stressing family life last fall. Before that, her sons’ constant activities left Mickelson feeling disconnected. Now the kids have cut back to one activity, one day a week. “They get their homework done without a fuss, play games while I make dinner, and read to each other at bedtime,” says Tina. “We are so connected, it’s amazing.”
After dinner, many families scatter to computer screens, televisions and texting. But not Chris Newbound and his 15-year-old daughter Hailey of Williamstown, Mass.: Once or twice a week, the duo heads to nearby squash courts for some lively matches. “Squash gives us a reason to spend time doing something healthy we both enjoy,” says Chris. “I appreciate being able to eek out a few more years of hanging out together.”
For the past three years, Lisa Madden Tucker of Falmouth, Maine, has had a book group with her younger daughter, Annie, 11, and another mother-daughter duo. The families alternate hosting, with the daughters leading the discussion. The group has transformed the girls from reluctant readers into avid ones, and given mothers and daughters common ground. “A day hardly passes without Annie and me reminiscing about a past book and ﬁnding a connection with our daily life,” Tucker says. Other options: Play tennis or golf together, or take a craft-making class as a group.
On warm Wisconsin evenings, Shannon Payette Seip, husband Roger and their kids Isaac, 5, and Bini, 3, have front porch picnics. Everyone loads up dinner on a tin pie plate and heads out to the front steps for a family dinner. “We have a great time and the boys love it,” says Shannon. “It’s free of distractions and I’m literally on their level. Plus, it keeps the dining room clean!” she says. Afterward, the foursome takes an after-dinner stroll down to the local pier.