Dear Mom with a View,
I have children of all different ages and genders. Do you have any suggestions for activities that the family can do together to build quality family time?
Pulled in Every Direction
Dear Pulled in Every Direction,
The short answer is no. It is almost impossible to find activities that will appeal to both a 16 year-old boy and a 4 year-old girl – and every permutation in between. (To get an adolescent to spend time with the family is a miraculous feat in and of itself.)
That said, there is one thing that everyone needs and likes, one thing that is very basic – food. Children of all ages need to eat. And like infants, teenage boys need to do it constantly. Even dieting teenage girls need regular meals. This may be your only hope.
You may be familiar with the famous study that showed that when families ate dinner together, their children were less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol. And of course there is the time spent at the dinner table (a good 7 minutes at least!) and the important conversation. "I said ‘Pass the potatoes!'" "She took the last piece." "Could you tell him to use a fork and napkin?" If this isn't quality family time, I don't know what is.
The family dinner may be brief but that doesn't rob it of its "quality."
Of course there is also the opportunity to share stories of the day, commiserate about some unpleasant classroom experiences and discuss current events. It's an opportunity to share opinions, learn about each other -- and even about the world. They find out what we think and we find out what and if they do.
It may be brief (I have managed to stretch it to a half hour on occasion) but that doesn't make it any less vital, that doesn't rob it of its "quality." It's a crucial chance to stop and connect amidst busy work, social and sports schedules.
But the real answer to your question is deeper, more effortful and of greater impact. The real solution to quality family time for all ages is Shabbos. It's the only time when you can get everyone to sit around the table -- and stay awhile.
There are no phones calling them away. There are no cars honking to pick them up. They are not on their iPods or computers or blackberries. And you're also disconnected from the distractions, and truly present.
Shabbos is the secret to quality family time and it should take place within a supportive community so that your children's friends are doing the same thing.
The Shabbos table conversation moves at a slower pace. There are more courses, more food, and more reason to remain seated. There are songs for the soul and desserts for the body. And a chance for everyone to reconnect with each other – and the Creator.
You may argue that it is harder to keep Shabbos in today's fast-paced world than it was 150 years ago in Europe. The world seems to be at work and available 24/7 and demanding bosses expect the same from you.
Every generation has had its challenges in keeping Shabbos. And ours are real. But probably no generation -- and no families -- have needed it more.