The Family Project: family time
Q. My family is struggling with trying to create balance between work, children’s activities, personal time and running the household. Sometimes the tension runs pretty high because we can’t seem to keep our heads above water. We both have demanding jobs and three active children, ages 16, 13 and 5. Plus, we each have our hobbies and interests. Where do we begin with trying to bring some stability to our family?
“They could start with finding one activity per week, maybe a dinner, when they could all get together at least once, then branch it out from there,” panelist Pam Wallace said, beginning the conversation.
Panelist Mike Daniels supported the idea of planning a family meal once a week, noting that there are lots of statistics that show, for example, that families that have at least one meal together each week have lower rates of delinquency and use of alcohol. “One meal together a week can have an amazing effect.” Daniels also said he thought it was important to understand how the parents define “stability: Is it consistency? Is it having a block of time together? What is the stability the parents are looking for? What is the end they have in mind?” Panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo questioned why families need to have so many activities in their lives.
Wallace said, “That’s the way things are going: school activities and sports, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and dancing. We are giving our children so many opportunities, that they are into everything. The children become over-engaged, and there isn’t any down-time.”
“There’s also something to be said for technology that becomes counter-productive,” panelist Chad Stefanyak said. “Technology is supposed to save us time, but rather than relaxing in that time, what we do is squeeze more things into our schedules. So now, phones, calendars, and text-messaging add more things to do.” Noting the reference to “the tension running pretty high,” Mercado-Arroyo said parents need to make time for themselves. She also suggested trying to establish the family’s identity by finding one common activity in which everyone in the family could participate. She added that a central calendar listing everyone’s activities might help them realize what needs to be cut, or where to add more family time. “The first step is for the parents to sit down and list all the things they have going on,” Daniels said. The parents should determine what they want for the family and develop a plan. “Then in a family meeting they can talk about all the things everyone has going on, not with the hope initially of wiping things out, but to have a conversation about stability, needing more family time and where are everyone’s priorities.” Subsequent conversations can lead to deciding with the children what can be let go of and what they absolutely have to have.
A question was raised about what the older children might be able to do to take some of the burdens off of the parents. Panelist Denise Continenza said the parents should be asking what they are expecting from their children, and can they raise the bar? Panelist Erin Stalsitz said the children can also be challenged to be creative and come up with ideas about what the family can do together.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS, and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project weekly column is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.