Eleanor writes on many topics, including parenting, single parenting, party and activity ideas, and career and home life.
Spending time together as a family is important. It helps to nurture close relationships that last from childhood through the adult years. Sometimes, though, we can get into the habit of existing around one another without spending any actual quality time together.
Here are 6 easy ways to spend more time together as a family:
1. Sit Together and Watch Something
Screen time. It's become the villain of family life, but is it all bad? Today, we all have so many options when it comes to sneaking away—alone—with some kind of screen-based device for company, be it a smartphone, tablet, games console or TV in our bedroom, complete with Netflix subscription. Screen time can be isolating. At the very least, it can mean socialising without actually leaving the confines of a room, or being with anyone at all in the flesh.
But I remember many an evening sitting with my family watching TV. It might sound like a lazy way to spend time together, but it definitely brought us together. With only one TV in the house, and no other form of 'easy' entertainment with the exception of music, we all watched TV and we often watched the same shows. Top of the Pops, on a Thursday evening, was a favourite.
Being in the same room, perhaps rather obviously, meant that we probably talked more than many families today. We talked about the show; sometimes we laughed if it was a comedy. We talked about anything else that sprang to mind. But the main point is that we were together. That's not so often true nowadays. (I watch TV, for example, while one of my sons plays Xbox and the other watches Netflix in his room.)
One way to spend more time together as a family is to watch something together, in the same room, at the same time. It's cosy, particularly in the colder months. Watch a movie, begin a box set, or just choose something regular that everyone will like.
Or, if you are happy to spend the money, go to the cinema. If you can afford it, make it a regular outing - say, once per month. I hardly ever go to the cinema, but it was my birthday recently and I took my children (aged 10 and 18) to watch Bohemian Rhapsody, the new Queen biopic. It was my birthday, so my choice, I figured. I didn't know what they would think, particularly my youngest. Even as we were watching it, I was thinking to myself that he's probably not enjoying it; it's too old for him and maybe too dated. Afterwards, he said it was brilliant, much better than he'd thought it would be. We've all been playing Queen around the house ever since - proof that watching something together can lead to bonding in other ways, as well!
2. Play a Board Game and Make It a Regular Event
Board games bond families. As a child, I recall many weekend evenings spent together around the table, playing a game of some description. There was talking, laughing, excitement over winning - in fact, family board games have left me with that kind of cosy, simple memory that is the very fabrication of a happy childhood.
Perhaps it seems as though your older children aren't interested anymore, but it might just be that you're not playing the right game or that you haven't even asked them. My teenager loves games, but not ones that rely on luck to win. He likes games of strategy, or anything that allows him to show off his general knowledge or skills, such as Trivial Pursuit or Chess. Yahtzee is another favourite, and it's a great choice because it's so quick. It's a personal choice, but as long as everyone is happy then it's positive time spent nurturing bonds.
Even if you don't feel like playing a game, or you're busy doing something else, it's important to make the time anyway. Just half an hour of quality time spent with your family can bring everyone closer together. Chores can wait - dust off the board and do it!
To make it even more of an event, prepare some favourite snack food to put on the table alongside the game. Perhaps some popcorn, or just bowls of nibbles. Making it a regular event will help to strengthen your bonds as a family unit.
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3. Go Somewhere or Try a New Activity
Families that play together, stay together.
Well, the idea is that children eventually grow up and move out, so that's not completely realistic - but there is an awful lot to say for the role of a shared activity when it comes to maintaining close family bonds as your family grows up.
'Going somewhere together' presents endless options. It could be a full day out, or something as simple as a walk along a beach for an hour, skimming stones (something I used to love as a child, plus it's free). You could visit a museum, go bowling, visit another city, play mini-golf, walk through woods, go on a family bike ride, or anything else that appeals.
Going somewhere together can really help to improve communication with family members, since you'll all be sharing the same experience. It allows conversation to arise naturally, since everyone's focus is on the same thing, without distractions from home. And it doesn't have to cost a lot, or anything at all. There are options for all budgets.
And if you're feeling adventurous, how about trying a completely new activity together? What you choose will depend on your individual interests, but ideas could include climbing, geocaching, skating, canoeing, archery or anything else that takes your fancy.
4. Eat Together
In many countries, eating together is an integral part of family life. Regular, shared meals offer the chance of relaxed conversation; a chance to catch up with everyone. Sometimes, modern life and work commitments mean that everyone is in a rush and has different time commitments, but gathering around the table as much as possible is an important way to bond. I find this to be even more important as children hit the later teen years, as they tend to like their own space at that stage, meaning that the meal table may be your only chance in which to be in the same place at the same time, for more than five minutes.
Make mealtimes into a ritual in which everyone participates. Get the children to lay the table. Light a centrepiece candle. Turn the television off and ban any phones. Talk about everyone's respective day, or anything else they want to discuss, and remember that listening is as important as talking.
Eat together as often as you can - I work three nights of the week, meaning that those nights are very 'rushed', but the other four nights (and especially on Sunday), I try to adhere to the rule of eating properly, together.
5. Go Camping
It's not everyone's cup of tea, but there's nothing quite like camping to force your family to spend real time together. Camping is all about making your own fun - with little else in the form of distraction, it's a good, back-to-basics winner - with plenty of healthy fresh air thrown in. In fact, camping is the extreme version of the other suggested activities, because you all have little choice but to cook, eat, play and converse with one another, for the entire duration of the trip. And that's a good thing, because time spent as a family unit, away from work responsibilities, household chores and isolating technology is quality time.
6. Make Something as a Family
My son wants to build a cabinet. Personally, I know very little about building cabinets, other than some wood and various tools are required. We don't actually have the tools, either, so we are probably not yet in a position to make the cabinet. However, his enthusiasm for the project is very refreshing, especially since he spends most of his time at home cocooned in his room.
Making something together is the perfect team-building exercise. Many companies and establishments go to great efforts to arrange team-building activities in order to foster an environment in which people work better together. Making something as a family is a great way to bond; it is fun and rewarding. Just make sure that everyone gets the chance to participate somehow.
Two ideas for a family project are a bird box, which is a fairly simple woodwork project that can be painted afterwards, and a vegetable box, which can be an ongoing project in that it can be used indefinitely to grow and harvest food. Alternatively, you could create a 'den' out of wood for younger children, or just something random, like the robot pictured below.