I've been hearing a lot about "family time" from my children lately. Mostly along the lines of their friends not being able to play or hang out because families were having "family time." I think families spending time together is great! I love it when my husband and children are with me and we are enjoying time together. Families who have activities that they all enjoy doing are fortunate in that they have a natural way to spend time together. Creating family traditions, such as game or movie night, can be a lot of fun. If you are big fan of "family time" I ask you to remember this: nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, not even family time.
Being respectful of our children involves respecting their individual preferences or needs for social interaction. This includes time spent together as a family. It also involves understanding that as our children are progressing on their path to adulthood there may be times when they need more time alone or with their friends. Parents who do not employ manipulations such as praise, punishment, withdrawal of affection, shamming or guilt trips, are more likely to have a connection with their children that in turn makes their children more likely to choose to spend time with their family.
Family time that is designated as such by parents, with mandatory attendance, may be an effort by the parents to create connection and develop a pattern of spending time together that will last for generations. However, family time of this variety often creates feelings of resentment and frustration. Instead of strengthening the family connection it can instead cause conflict and become a trigger for yelling, threats and punishment. For more on triggers, read Here. When negative feelings build up about family time children end up looking forward to the day when they have control over their lives and can choose to spend as little time with the family as possible. Your child may not be showing how they feel about mandatory time spent together. It is possible that what your child is expressing on the outside is not really how they are feeling on the inside. If you think your child doesn't mind family time, reread my blog post "My child doesn't mind."
Spending time together as a family can be fun, heart warming, cozy, silly, relaxing and wonderful. However, when it becomes something our children are required to do, instead of something they are choosing to do, the possibility for negative effects on our family relationships increases dramatically. When family time becomes more important than our children we have lost focus of our priorities. What we should aim for is A Family of Connected Individuals.
Family time may be held up as an ideal, something that good families have on a regular basis. The reality may be that for your family having each parent spend time one on one with each child is a better way to build connection. Spending time in different combinations of family members instead of all together is also a possibility. Letting go of your own need for enforced family time may open the door to new and wonderful ways for your family to connect. Your child will most likely feel more connected to you when you cheerfully kiss them goodbye, as they head out the door to hang out with friends, then they will spending several hours together during mandatory family time. When you shift your focus from family time to the relationships in your family you will experience a greater love, joy and connection when you are together, and when you are apart.