As moms, we can get lost in the day-to-day details. Between meals, picking up the messes, baths and bedtime, it can feel like all we do is run around putting out fires. I’m so busy caring for my kids, that I forget to actually care for my kids. I forget to show the affection, sit down and listen, read the stories and spend the time with them. I can’t see the forest for the trees. But that’s where my family night comes in.
Once a week, take a step back, and get closer
Paradoxically, sometimes you need to take a step back so you can get a closer look. When you’re too close, too involved, all you see is what’s right in front of you, and you miss parts of the whole picture. So when you take a step back, you can get a closer – a better – look. Once a week, I try to do this with a night set aside for purposeful family time.
What’s a family night? It’s a family tradition. I put down my phone, minimize all the work tabs and screens, and turn off the to-do list screaming in my head. Sometimes, my kids and I plan a night out. We go mini golfing, or picnic in the park. Sometimes we stay in and just read stories together. Or watch movies. Occasionally, we’ll pull out the board games or the coloring markers.
The point isn’t what we do together, but that we do something together. As a family.
How do you create your own family night?
Start by picking a night. Pick one day or evening a week where you block it off on the calendar, set it aside as sacred, and reserve that spot for your family night. Consider your family’s current obligations and lifestyle. When do you get interrupted or go out the most often? When do you generally have less on your plate to do, or naturally spend in leisure time?
It does NOT have to be a weekend night, though that tends to be the usual time slot that’s picked. My family night isn’t a weekend, because I only have every other weekend with my kids. Your weekends may be packed full of sports, chores or travel. Or you may have a family member that works weekends, frequently. Pick a night that works for the whole family.
Does your weekly family night have to be weekly?
Your weekly family night doesn’t necessarily have to be every week, but needs to be regularly! Maybe you have a shift worker who works an odd rotating schedule, such as 4 days on and 3 days off. So maybe your set aside family time won’t be a specific day of the week, but rather be tied to the rotation. So if you have 3 days off in a row, maybe your family night will always be the 2nd night off. As long as you set aside regular time for family, you’ll get all the benefits of a family tradition.
What to do on family night
Family night is all about spending time as a family. That means that whatever you do on family night needs to involve the whole entire family. So if you have a child between 1 & 3, mini golfing might not be the most fun. But an evening walk might be perfect, because they enjoy being in the fresh air in a stroller.
A classic family night tradition is the family movie night. This is a great adaptable idea, because there are tons of options here. For the family with young children, pick movies that are family friendly. These days, even the “children’s movies” have some great humor that only parents will understand. (Honestly, sometimes I laugh harder at the kids’ movies than my kids do!!) If you have older kids and teens, you can explore some more dramatic films. And then you might get an added bonus of sparking some incredible conversations over the next few days and weeks.
Stay in or go out?
Family night lends itself to many, many variations. Do you go out for ice cream? Stay in with a great read-aloud? Maybe you head out to a festival. Or you have a weekly TV show that you all enjoy watching. There are so many different things you could do!
Here’s a short list of the things we’ve tried on our family night:
- fed the ducks at a local pond
- late evening splash park fun
- played a day-long game of Monopoly
- long afternoon drive in a part of the country we don’t normally go to
- sang songs together
- put together a model or a puzzle
- baked treats
- sorted pictures into our albums (while reminiscing over the memories!)
To eat or not to eat
Often this weekly tradition can involve food. You can buy it or make it and eat it together. Some families will reserve certain treats or foods just for family night, making it part of the tradition.
For example, I know of one family that has a family recipe for spinach dip, that they only bring out at family time – holidays, birthdays and their regular family night get together. It started when the kids were teenagers, and now that the children are grown and starting families of their own, they trade off who makes and brings the spinach dip to the family meal.
Will your family night involve a meal or just a snack? My family nights often involve ordering pizza from our favorite pizza delivery service. Another family favorite is when we have “snack supper”, when we just throw together trays and bowls of cut veggies, meats and cheese, along with maybe chips and salsa, or deviled eggs, or some other snack.
Or sometimes we’ll just make popcorn. In fact, we do popcorn so frequently, my mother gave us an air popper for a Christmas gift one year.
Your family night can change!
You do not have to do the same thing every time you have your family night. It can change as your family grows, as the seasons change or as your needs change. A family with lots of young children won’t do the same activities as when all those little ones become teenagers, obviously. So don’t feel like you have to be tied to any one activity.
Being spontaneous can be part of the fun of family night. Surprise your kids with a star gazing trip, complete with hot chocolate in a thermos. Or maybe swing by and bring home take out from your favorite Chinese restaurant. Try going skating or swimming at a free public event.
Family nights bring the family home
You have to make family night a priority, in order for it to work. But once you’ve started, you’ll notice that it brings the family home. Your family will grow closer together.
Everyone looks forward to it. You talk about the last one, or anticipate the next one. Your younger children will ask for their favorite activity on the next family night. And your older kids will look back fondly on these special times, even when in the moment, they might grumble or get embarrassed.
Family night may not be easy to do, all the time. But don’t give up. It’s well worth the trouble. And it can be a lot of fun!