Making more quality time with your family
Does it take one week? One hour? One minute? Between all the many many things we try to pack into our day – and the unexpectedly busy schedule that my five-year-old has – finding time together isn’t always easy.
More to the point, finding more quality time together: simply sitting in the same place as she watches TV while I tick off notifications on my phone is not the kind of memory I’ll be looking happily back on in years to come.
If you’re nodding, it’s not just us – UK families spend less than seven hours of quality time together per week, and in the South East it’s under four, according to a new report from Bassetts Vitamins looking at the challenges of modern family life.
It’s all very well suggesting parents find more time – as the report recognises, if we could, we would, with 50% of parents sayng they were ‘desperate’ to spend more time together.
But you don’t need to wait until an annual holiday or weekend away. To answer that original question, every minute adds up – I like to think of life (indulge me) as a tapestry. The highs, the lows, the joys, the sorrows might make the pattern, but every stitch counts. So inspired by my five-year-old, here are my five tips for making more quality time with your family
Don’t forget the spare minutes
Despite a wish from everyone I know to have more hours in the day, we seem to be stuck with 24 – and you can’t simply stop doing all the things you have to do. But what about the dead time, the spare minutes?
From the school run to those journeys ferrying kids to activities, you’re probably driving or walking somewhere most days. For my daughter, it’s a chance for her to ask the dozens of questions burning in her mind (and for me to ask Google some of the answers) as well as to chatter about the highlights and lowlights of a day as a five-year-old.
For friends of mine who have older kids, a car journey can be a low-key way to chat with teens – no eye contact, no pressure, just an opportunity for them to open up.
You don’t even need to talk: walking along hand in hand, cycling next to each other, sitting cuddled up for a bedtime story all make a difference.
Keep it simple
We’ve had some amazing adventures together – I can look back on our travels so far and love the experiences we’ve had as a family. But it’s not only the bucket list locations which stand out, wonderful though they are, but the simple joys.
There’s the time I pretended to be a crocodile as she jumped between tree trunk stepping stones to escape. There was beach combing in Whitstable, her face shining with glee as she sprinted over with a new treasure. There was conker hunting for the squirrel who lives in our back garden, chatting about trees, about animals, making up stories along the way.
When you make the plan and refuse to ditch it for bad weather and bored whinges, the possibility is always there. And when inspiration is failing to strike at the right moment, I love the Colour Quest Activity Kits which Bassetts Vitamins have created, including easy ideas for crafts, for cooking together, and other outdoor activities based on the roll of a colour-coded dice.
The booklet of suggestions now lives in my bag and almost two weeks on, my day still begins with my daughter announcing our colour theme – whether that’s spotting a traffic cone and autumn leaves for orange, racing me to a post box for red, or baking apples and chatting about recycling for green.
Put the tech away
At the grand old age of five, I’m still in charge of her (limited) screen time so my own habits are the ones we need to tackle first. As I’m self-employed, it’s tricky to ignore the emails altogether… but do I need to be idly scrolling through Facebook, especially as my daughter soaks up my example?
Every family’s different, so work out what’s a realistic target – putting devices away at mealtimes, switching off more at weekends, going cold turkey for a certain time period every week. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, when my attention’s off my phone, it’s on my daughter. My other solution is heading into the countryside for a mini digital detox: when 4G vanishes, I can ignore all the missed messages.
Trying to get myself, my husband and my daughter together sometimes feels like mission impossible – for now, even our weekday mealtimes don’t coincide. But I remember my family always sitting down to have a roast dinner together at weekends, and it’s a tradition I want to continue.
Will she always want to? I doubt it – but, whether it’s a picnic, a pizza or a proper sit-down dinner, we’ve all got to eat and it’s a great time to be together.
The same goes for cooking together – left to her own devices, our menu would consist of cheesy pasta and pesto pasta. But she loves to help with the ‘boring’ jobs like peeling fruit and veg, nibbling the results along the way, not to mention weighing ingredients. And the more involved she gets, the more likely she is to eat the finished product.
Let your kids lead
For everything I teach my daughter, there’s something I learn in exchange: how to slow down, how to notice the little details, how to delight in silliness, how to question everything.
And watching her imagination flourish is one of my favourites – the intricate lives of her stuffed toys, the decision to be knight/dragon/princess and several other characters in a castle, her creation of new animal languages right down to translation sheets (cat language is a lot harder than you’d think!)
She’s challenged me to make up stories as we travel, alternating her own tales with mine. She loves a drawing challenge I thought up, where you pull words from a pot and make a picture… and anything is possible.
And there’s the unselfconsciousness of young kids – dancing to steel drums at an airport in the Caribbean as we waited for our transfer, who cares what anyone else thinks of my dodgy moves? For other friends, their kids are the fearless ones, the first to try something new – and by joining in, they push their own boundaries too.
Disclosure: I am working with Bassett’s Vitamins in a paid relationship to raise awareness of their Purple Paper research and campaign. All opinions and pasta-obsessed question-filled small girls remain my own.
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