Everyone says one of the best ways to keep a family together is by having regular family dinners. Parents and kids sit down around the table and catch up on the events of the day. They talk about plans for tomorrow, discuss important family matters, or just take the time to enjoy a nice meal and some no-stress conversation.
We agree – family dinners are important.
But not everyone has time to make family dinner happen, no matter how much they try. Some families are simply too busy, especially those that have more than one child. And if those children are in different schools and into different extracurricular activities, we get it. Family dinner might only happen a couple times a month, if that.
No amount of willpower, commitment, or schedule juggling will help.
Don’t worry, though. If your family is way too busy to sit down at home for dinner, we have some alternative ideas about how to lock in quality time with your spouse and children.
Five Tips for Finding Quality Family Time
- Family game night. Find a night that works for everyone. If weeknights are too difficult, try the weekend. Ask your children or teens to select a game. Consider teen favorites Settlers of Catan and Codenames. Don’t forget old classics like Taboo, Apples to Apples, or even Monopoly. Keep in mind that your adolescent may grumble and complain about having to join the activity, but keep encouraging them. Once they join, we bet they’ll have fun – and not want to stop.
- Paint nights. Creating art has tremendous benefits: it’s relaxing, stress-relieving, and an enjoyable escape from everyday worries. It’s also rewarding to walk away with a physical, tangible painting you created with your own two hands. That’s why family paint nights have so much potential. You can buy some cheap canvasses, invest in some brushes and paints (either acrylic or oil), and set up some homemade easels in your living room. Then, you can either encourage each member of your family to paint something along a certain theme, or pick a single image and have each member paint their interpretation of it. As family members try different strokes and experiment with different colors, you’ll marvel at the flowing, open conversation that ensues.
- Walks or drives. Quality time doesn’t have to happen at home. In an article for Parents Magazine, Liz Vaccariello writes that although family dinners didn’t work out for her, family talks and walks or night drives around the neighborhood did. Everyone sat together in the car, with the radio off, and the conversation meandered. In a way, nightly walks and/or drives might have benefits that family dinners don’t. Think about it: everyone is present, and no one can slip away to the bedroom or bathroom. This can lead to deeper, longer conversations – plus, if you choose walks, you get the added health benefit.
- Weekend outings. Most parents don’t work on the weekends, which gives them more flexibility to plan small family trips or activities around town. If your family enjoys nature, take a hike in the forest or hills near your house. The aquarium or zoo might be popular with younger children, while an activity like an Escape Room might be better suited for families with teens. But even just a picnic at a park or the beach, with some good old-fashioned soccer or volleyball, can become a fun tradition for everyone that makes memories that last for years.
- Tech-free time. Some weeks, you may not want to go on an outing, especially when the weather is bad. You may not even be up to taking out the paints or board game. Believe it or not, you can have valuable quality time without any of that. Just put your phone and laptop away and unplug the TV. Then you can enjoy your family’s company for as long as you decide. Make it a full day, an entire evening, half a day, half an evening – you decide. Many families find that a digital detox is all that they need to reset, recharge, and spend mindful time together with their teens. Technology has a way of distracting us from being present, even when we try hard not to let it. Research shows taking breaks from digital technology can improve memory and concentration, increase sleep, reduce stress, improve happiness, and even help with mental health. But the opposite is unfortunately true, as well. Too much technology or social media has adverse health and mental health outcomes for both adults and teens.
Savor the Moments
Whether you try any of the ideas above or are inspired by our list to come up with your own, the most important thing to remember is this: enjoy the quality time with your family, no matter what form it takes. These years go by quickly, and you don’t want to look back and wonder what things might have been like if you’d made more time to spend with your kids before they grow up and leave the house. Even if specific members – like your surly teen, for instance – aren’t on board the whole family time train, they’ll come around.
And they’ll even thank you for it – if not now, then a few years down the road.