Before you begin reading this, ask your children, what family time means to them. Don’t give them prompts. Allow them to describe. You may be surprised to listen to their answers. It could be funny or emotional, but that is what family time means to them. And what family time means to your child, matters!
This post is a part of a series of posts on this blog on The Things that really matter to Children. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the complete list of posts in the series.
F for Family Time: What it means to our children, matters!
How is an ideal family time imagined or spoken of? An exotic holiday, a movie outing, a dinner time, a sunday morning mass?
Today family time is more about ‘spending time’ with your family. Spending time! Everytime I read or hear, ‘spending time with your family or children’, something feels inappropriate with respect to what it means. To me, the phrase emphasizes on ‘time’ – what we do with our time, how we are making use of it, or how it’s a great way to utilize time by being with the family. It sounds like spending time with your family is a special event that happens occasionally, once in a week, month or a year. And always spending time is something to be seen as a happy time.
Of course it is not a wrong usage. It certainly carries a great deal of goodness in it. But, imagine this term wasn’t used as much it is used today. Do you think your perception will change if you read ‘involve with your family’ or ‘being with your children’ instead of reading ‘spending time’?
Here are the first few posts from the first page of Google search for the term ‘spending time with your family’:
How will the lines above sound if you read it the following way?
Involving with younger children is easy because they so often want to be as much a part of our lives as possible!
Involving with family helps create a better life for your kids.
Involving with your family is not just fun, but important as well.
If superficially it makes no difference or no sense to you, take a deeper read. Involving is not about the time you spend with the family but what you do with whatever little or more time you get to be with your family.
I am writing this post with the perspective of how posts, videos and TED talks across social media today make many parents to feel guilty or concerned about not spending enough time with children. I believe that if only we were to replace spending time in all such videos with involvement or being with, it will make a whole new meaning of this aspect of parenting.
The reason I bring the difference in the two terms is that, it is what matters to children! Unlike all popular, viral, widely spoken-of messages of ‘spend more time with your children,’ I say, it is really not about the amount of time you are with your children.
I am a stay-at-home mom. Does it mean my children can never be deprived of family time? No. Let me tell you, there have been several days I’ve gone to bed with the feeling of guilt that I hardly connected with my children that entire day. Are working parents who get to be with their children only a few hours in a day, depriving their children of family time? No. Think how some dads who work away from the towns build a nice bonding with their children. Though they don’t get to be with the family for longer times their children don’t feel inadequate of family time.
In reality what family time means to children may be different from what we assume it means to them.
Before I began writing this post, I asked my son what family time means to him. Of several of his words in reply, most repeated ones were playing together and talking.
If you asked your children in the beginning of this post, you will have their answers by now. And their answers are your door to understand what they love within the family or perhaps what they are deprived in the family.
If we were to collate a list of the answers from many children under 7, what do you guess the list will be full of?
May be a family dinner?
May be visiting a favourite friend or relative?
Maybe being with grandparents?
Family time for little children are mostly about the little everyday happenings of our lives, for that is where we build our families! We don’t build our families in an exotic vacation, or on a Taco night or during a pyjama walk after dinner. Family times are not special moments of life. Family time is a day-to-day affair. Even as we give them hurried bath as we get them ready to school, and even as we quietly braide our girl’s hair, family time is happening. Involvement with your children is what matters!
On the contrary, you can ride to a theatre with your family, watch a movie and come back home without having involved with the family at all. Still, you might consider it a time well-spent with the family.
From what I see in children of today, if I were to list out more, it would be this:
Making children feel they matter
Ask yourself how involved you are with your children. It’s not about knowing the names of all their classmates or switching off the television to play hide and seek with them. It could be even a 5-minute talk after you come back from office while the television is still running in the background. In those five minutes, if you describe to your children how your day in office was – what challenges you encountered in the day, what you accomplished, what you were praised for, that something you were thinking about for the weekend – it is an involvement of a special kind to children. Making children feel they matter, is one of what family time means to them!
What the mom and dad are to each other matters
As you come back from office and describe your day to your children, if your wife throws a face on you and rejects to listen to you, what would your children wish happened instead? It is alright if their mom is not listening to the dad’s story but they’ll wish that animosity between them wasn’t present at that moment.
No child ever will want their parents to fight or make arguments with each other. It is a universal thing. And no husband and wife can exist without quarrels, it is another universal thing. But, when your children in a few years will become teenagers, whether they’ll prefer to go to their rooms and close the doors behind or eagerly come to sit next with you both for a chat, depends on how you both behave to each other now, during their childhood. After they grow, if you were to ask them what family time meant to them as a child, they may not remember that you sat with them to play snake and ladder but they’ll definitely remember how you threw the snake and ladder board in the air during a fight while they sat in a corner with beating hearts.
Of course, we cannot always act to be nice in front of our children, at least not more than five minutes, or say an hour. We are humans, after all. But we can try to behave neutral if accepting and accommodating each other feels eternally difficult.
Family times need not always reflect happiness
I will not be surprised if you are surprised by this statement. As a matter of fact, that’s what we assume – children must always feel happy. I remember a day in my childhood when my dad was narrating our grandfather’s death. My dad was about to leave the town and in fact he was already seated in the bus but all of a sudden something made him to get down from the bus to go back home and he heard his dad had passed away. While explaining this to us, my dad didn’t cry or wasn’t emotional as it had happened several years ago. Yet, I felt a warm bonding with my dad when he shared the most saddening experience of his life.
Families make the foundation for a variety of experiences for children – from sharing to disagreements, everything nice and unpleasant are a part of all families. If you recollect from your childhood too, you will have incidents where there was an open expression of emotions in the family. You may not believe, but such moments make family time rich to children – if not today, certainly as they grow.
Family times must be free of violence, hatred and abuse
If we were to follow one rule of not-to-do when children are around, it will be this. Whether grandparents are watching a news telecast of the war or the mom and dad are derogating each other’s parents, let little children be kept away from this.
Let me end this post with a message from my son’s school when the recent war incident had shook the country. It throws immense light on how a young mind gets influenced.
Yesterday, we noticed a very strange and disturbing pattern of behaviour among our Kindergarten children during the free play period. Almost all the play of all the children revolved around war. Children were shouting about thrashing and killing each other and many a time we heard words like “bomb”, “gun” being thrown around casually.
We all understand that children of this age only reflect all the impulses that come from around them. So, we are forced to infer that most if not all children are being exposed to talk and images of war, fighting and violence. While we understand that each of us as an adult might be preoccupied with such thoughts in the present environment and may even be receiving more than the usual dosage of news on the possibly looming conflict, it is of utmost importance that we protect our children from words, thoughts and images of war, fighting, violence and bloodshed. There is a time for our children to grapple with these, but it is definitely not during their childhood.
So, we request each and every parent to be extra conscious of what is being spoken in front of children and what they get to see and hear around them. With immediate effect, kindly desist from viewing news about war and conflict or discussing your thoughts on the same in the presence of your child/children. Please fill their world once again with gentle and child-like thoughts that will nourish their soul. Let us not forget that childhood is precious and the quality of their childhood will deeply influence what kind of people our children will turn out to be.
We look forward to your full cooperation in this regard.”
If you have something to share about the topic, please leave a comment below. I love to hear from all of you.
List of posts in the Series
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