“Hey, wait,” you might say. “Time isn’t the most precious gift. Love is.” Let’s think a minute about that. If love is to be real, it takes time. And commitment. And energy. So, I believe that time is the most precious gift anyone can give to another. And it translates as love.
With your busy family schedules, the last thing you may want to hear is how important it is to show your love by giving time. The following suggestions can be worked into the family routine without too much difficulty. You and your children will discover an added degree of intimacy and joy.
Plan to eat dinner long enough after you get home from work that you aren’t frazzled and early enough that the children get to bed at a reasonable time.
I know a family in which each member shares the “high” and “low” of their day during dinner. Each person gets the opportunity to talk and to be listened to. Some families have each member tell about their day. However you choose to create conversation, the meal needs to be a time for sharing. It may be the only time during the day when this happens.
Reading every day is best. If you can’t fit it in, find several times a week to read to your children. Just before bed works well. The children are bathed and ready to be tucked in for the night. Reading together provides a quiet time for cuddling and intimacy. It also generates conversation.
One night each week, have a family fun night. Draw silly pictures together. Make figures from play dough. Play board games. Have a scavenger hunt. Activities like these don’t need to last the whole evening. Even 30 minutes will let the children know that you enjoy spending time with them. When you take the time for having fun, it says, “I love you.”
At least once a month, plan an outing. This may be taking a walk, going to a community event, or a bigger outing like attending a performance or going to a zoo. Read the local section of your newspaper to find out what is happening in your community that will provide interest to everyone in the family.
Taking walks, playing catch, riding bikes, or hiking provides a healthy dose of fresh air, some physical exercise, and play. Families who spend some time outdoors together find that laughter and playfulness come more easily.
This may seem opposed to what we’ve been talking about. Space is not together time. Everyone needs some quiet opportunity. Many children are so scheduled into events that there is no down time. Children and parents who have some down time each day come to the family fresh and ready to interact. Parents who understand that their children need space to just be, may be surprised what emerges. Many times children seek you out. “Mom! Look what I just made,” or “Dad! Do you know what I was just thinking?” They want to share what their quiet time has produced.
Most children from toddler hood on like to help. Little ones like to take things from the grocery shelf and put them in the cart or help make the bed. Most children like to help cook. Some kids like to vacuum out the car. These are not the tasks they are asked to do but things they spontaneously offer to do. Give them the opportunity. While they won’t do it as well or as quickly as you would, it is their way of giving. You show love by giving them the time to help. They show it by helping.
Children are young for a very short time. Most parents look back after their children have grown and say, “It all went so fast.” While easier said than done, make every effort to bring your best self to each moment of parenting. Take the best from together time. Try to see the gifts that both the joyous and difficult times bring. Use what you have learned to grow in parenting.
Giving time is possible in most every moment. It just takes some creativity. Play games in the car such as, “Let’s look for something that starts with…” or “Let’s look for something blue, or green, etc.” Sing songs. Tell stories. Talk about what you see in the stores as you do errands. The important thing is to interact.
For those of you who follow the articles in THE INFORMED PARENT, this probably sounds very familiar. Many of my articles focus on family time. Having worked with hundreds of families over the years, I have discovered that those who are willing to learn and practice the art of togetherness are happier and can deal with what life brings better than families who do not know the skill.
Do not give the gift of time because you have to. Give it because you want to. A few quality minutes a day or a week given from the heart are more meaningful than greater amounts of time given with resentment or out of a feeling of should. Honor yourself. Know that when you have given time lovingly, when you need to say, “I just can’t right now,” or “I am just too tired today,” the children will understand. The important thing is to begin practicing. Practice strengthening your family by giving the precious gift of time.