The middle one loves Dreamland Barbecue. One year, his cross-country team was on a road trip on his birthday and ate at Dreamland. We were there also with our youngest. She was in charge of his box of leftover ribs since he didn’t want to take it on the bus. She forgot about it and left it on the table. She will never be off the hook.
What got left on the table for you this year? A family trip you wanted to take? An experience you wanted the kids to have? A visit with significant family or friends that just didn’t happen because of too many other commitments, too many hours at work, too many soccer games, club meetings, practices, dance lessons, or enrichment camps? Did you have hopes for some downtime to hang out as a family and a hectic schedule kept you so busy that the year flew by before you realized and now it’s over?
Time really did seem to fly with our kids growing up, even faster once the oldest hit junior high. Before we could blink, they were graduating and leaving for college and life. I’m thankful we realized early on that we had to set some boundaries, some ground rules, to help protect our family time. If you, like us, find the tyranny of the urgent often threatens to overwhelm the things that are really important, maybe some of our ideas will help you.
- We tried to make family meal time a priority. Healthy families need healthy relationships and healthy relationships don’t grow without intentional connection. Simply sleeping under the same roof doesn’t count. Realistically, it may be difficult to get everyone’s schedule to intersect every day, but it needs to happen frequently. Home cooked meals that everyone helps prepare are wonderful and definitely qualify as quality time, but frozen pizza together at 9 pm or take-out on a picnic blanket at the ballpark work too–meet, talk, and eat together as many nights a week as possible.
- We tried to choose commitments wisely and set limits. With three active kids, we limited each of them to two outside commitments per season. There were some commitments that ran year-round like band and some sports, especially once they reached the junior high level, but for the most part, any seasonal activities were limited to two per child so a) we could have time to eat together and b) everyone could attend each others’ events and support each other at least most of the time.
- Church attendance and participation was a given. We weren’t at church every time the doors were open, but everyone was encouraged to participate and take responsibility there. Children’s choirs, camps, Vacation Bible Schools, musicals, and youth group activities weren’t limited like other activities. If things got overwhelming, we re-evaluated and did a restart on the amount of time commitments, but we wanted our kids to engage with our church family and grow up learning and actively participating in our family of faith.
- Everyone had chores. All of us had responsibilities to keep our household running. Weekdays the kids had to keep their rooms clean, their beds made, and each had a chore like sweeping the kitchen, taking out the trash, or collecting all the dirty laundry. On the weekends, each had a bathroom to clean and had to help with yard work as needed. This way, all of us shared the load, allowing all of us to have some free time later. Not only did they learn responsibility, but we worked alongside them and had some good conversations, so we had more family time and they learned valuable life skills.
- We limited TV/Tech time. With Alexa and Siri listening and ready to meet our every request, tech can be amazing, but it can also be invasive and dominate our attention span, robbing our relationships of authentic connection. Meal time and family time need to be tech/phone-free. Movie nights and family Zooms during meals are fun and a treat now and then, but ditching tech during regular family times invites more personal interactions with the people in the room, sitting beside you and across the table from you.
These are just a few of the ideas we came up with for making the best use of the time we had each day as a family. I’ll bet your family can come up with some good ideas and simple guidelines of your own to make sure that you get in some of the experiences you want to have. I challenge you to be intentional. Don’t allow those good memories you want to have this time next year get left on the table.*
What are the most valuable experiences and memories you want to take away from 2023? What activities have you been continuing to do that are just habit and no one really enjoys anymore? What things can you delete from your schedule that would never be missed?*
With a little planning and some simple ground rules, maybe what gets left on the table this year will be the disposable stuff. Maybe this year the good stuff won’t be left behind.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from our family to yours!
*Ideas from Simple Christmas by Tama Fortner @tamafortnerbooks