As a probate attorney, I can tell you that your loved ones are so very important in your life. But it’s easy to lose sight of one’s priorities. Your close friends and loved ones are going to be the people you turn to in your most difficult times. When you’re old and decrepit, your loved ones will be the ones either caring for you or ignoring you. And if you have kids, they need your guidance and emotional connection, no matter what age they are.
Yet, this is something I personally struggle with sometimes.
I’m a small business owner, and I suffer from a tendency to be a workaholic. It takes me time to unwind when I get home. If I’m not mindful, I’ll tend to just keep working even when I get home. I’ll keep reading emails and working on whatever project is top of mind at the time.
This is a boundary issue. I have force myself to enforce a specific self-imposed rule to create time to unwind and reconnect with family. Work for me is from roughly 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Then after that is unwind time and family time. If I don’t set this kind of limit, I’ll just keep thinking about work.
Then bad things happen.
I start to get burnt out and lose energy for everything. I get cranky. I’m not as productive. I start to get depressed. My family responds to my lack of energy and mirrors my negative emotional state. Pretty soon, everyone is distant. I start to drink wine to artificially make myself relax. It becomes a downward spiral. You get the point.
The alternative is to take the time to relax and connect with your family. Here’s a list of 9 things that I do to reconnect with my wife and kids, and to help me personally remain at the top of my game.
Make a date. Set a weekly date with each child (and spouse), so you are ensured some alone time with them. During that time, make a point of really connecting. How you do this depends on the situation.
- Toddlers and Preschoolers – Reminisce together. Recounting the day or a favorite family event can be enjoyable.
- Little Kids – Ask about your child’s likes and dislikes. Learn about who this young person is. Play make believe games. Make up a story together.
- Big Kids – Ask about things they care about but you’re not usually excited to talk about. Give just 10 minutes to say “yes” to talking about Minecraft or a recent movie, for instance. Ask them to teach you about something they’ve learned.
- Spouse – Don’t spend this time talking about the kids (especially if you’re in a second marriage). If you have any hard subjects to discuss, get that out of the way – like budgeting and other money issues. Then ask what your spouse did that day. His or her dreams for the future. Plan a date together.
Family chores. Working together on family chores gives kids that chance to find their value in the family, to be empowered and know they can make a difference. You can also ask for company while you’re working on a chore without expecting help, and you may get an unexpected worker who is happy to have a chance to chat with you.
- Toddlers and Preschoolers – These youngsters usually do want to help out. Teach them how to clean their rooms, wash dishes or feed the cats.
- Little Kids – Many young children love the repetition and simple satisfaction that comes with folding clothes or ironing.
- Big Kids – Asking for company while you’re cooking or hanging laundry can give you both a chance to catch up during which younger siblings might be less inclined to interrupt.
Read together. This sounds like something you’d do with little kids. But I have a 12 and 14-year-old, and I still think this is a good idea. Personally, one of my top 20 memories is going on a road trip with a friend when I was in grad school and having the non-driving person read the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Nowadays, my son and I like to just sit in the same room and read different books. He’ll ask me what a word means. I’ll mention when I read something interesting. It’s great quality time.
Talk to them after work. When you get home from work, instead of sitting down and watching TV, or taking a nap, or finding some other way to veg out after a long day at work … take the extra effort to sit down and talk with your kids (and spouse) about their day.
Ask “What Did You Learn Today?” I like this question because it focuses on the idea of lifetime growth and acknowledges that we learn from our mistakes, not from always being perfect. At dinnertime, go around the table and have each person answer this question. Whether we’re 9 months or 99 years old, we can all learn new things that will improve our lives. The historian Will Durant said: “Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” In other words, the more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. But that fact shouldn’t discourage us. The enjoyment of learning is mostly in the process, not simply arriving at a knowledgeable destination.
Eat together. Research shows that kids who grow up in families who eat dinner together on a regular basis have lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem.
Accept each other. Imagine how much closer every family would be if everyone was accepted for who they are, not criticized for who they’re not and never will be. Watch this extraordinarily moving TED Talk by Andrew Solomon about loving children who are different and get inspired to be more accepting and loving of those around you.
Talk to them in the car. Sometimes the only time my daughter and I have together alone is when I’m driving her someplace. This summer we’ve had more alone time, but sometimes we’re so busy, that the time when I drive her to and from her various events is our only chance to talk. So I take advantage of it — and we have some great, deep conversations in the car.
Have a Family Day. Every Sunday is strictly for my wife, the kids and me. We don’t work, we don’t do (much) housework, we don’t go to functions or parties (usually). We plan what we’re going to do, and we do fun things together. We may bike to a movie theater or go on a drive somewhere. That time is reserved for them and no one else.
If you have other ideas for spending quality time as a family, please share. Send an email and I’ll include it in a future podcast.