My idea for a family night was not a total failure. It just didn’t happen the way I envisioned it could have been done.
I didn’t consider calling what we did “family night,” even though we had nights for our family that could have been considered family nights. While the idea was great and we accomplished it in different ways, its consistent implementation is what I would change if I could.
When you’ve got a passel of kids (and I think a passel is better than a few), the less vocal ones and the younger ones tend to get lost in the shuffle. The younger ones often aren’t asked for their opinion or given a choice when the older ones have an idea and are ready to move with it. Often, we as parents assume the idea is okay with everyone when it’s proclaimed loudly by a few, and we don’t always realize that quiet whispers aren’t being heard. Therefore, the minority of the group can tend to rule even when that is not the intent of the parents.
We had nights with family that were fun and creative. We played games (both inside and out). Hide and seek on the swing set in the back yard or hide and seek in the house were always a favorite. Dave found more creative places in the house to hide than one can imagine (standing on the knob of the back of the door so that when the kids swung a door, he swung with it and they never noticed him since they were shorter than the door knob.) I, on the other hand, was usually the first person who got caught.
We played football and softball and ran races. We played table games for hours (and still do.) Some evenings we sat around the dining room table with each person having his own coloring book in which to color (including the parents). There was plenty of talk and discussion going on while we were coloring, which meant a lot of connecting. Sometimes we played putt putt at a local course or participated in local events. We didn’t call it family time, even though that’s what it ended up being.
My cousin raised eleven children – three daughters and eight sons, including two sets of twins. (Don’t feel sorry for this cousin; she raised a powerful bunch of kids who are great friends to this day.) The middle child was the youngest girl. Sandwiched smack dab in the middle between the oldest five and the youngest five, she grew up acquiescing to whatever the other siblings wanted. It wasn’t a big deal to her, because she’s the kind of whatever makes you happy person.
Years later as a teenager, she and the oldest, a sister, stopped in at a store to pick up some chips for the family. Older sister told youngest sister to choose the flavor she wanted- but she was so used to letting others pick what they wanted that she didn’t have an opinion on which kind she wanted to buy! Oldest sister said middle child had to choose. Youngest sister couldn’t decide, but the oldest sister won. It was hard, but she finally chose. Even though this happened in this family dynamics, the middle child grew up to become a leader and an encourager in her church and in her work place. The point of this story (shared by permission) is that if the family had implemented a family night once or twice a month, this middle child would have had one night (or two or three) a year where she would have been able to (or had to) choose an activity she preferred over all her siblings. She would have learned to figure out what she liked and the other siblings would have learned to see her as an individual who had opinions as well.
My vision for a specified family night was that we’d be together as a family (with no guests) and have a special supper. The activity and possibly menu would be chosen by a specific child – taking turns by the week or month, however often we had “family night.” That way, even a two-year old could choose to have the entire family build with Legos or blocks, or play in the sandbox together. As often happens, the ten year old or teenagers tend to override what the preschool caboose wants to do and the caboose gets lost in the shuffle.
Sure, there were times when we catered to a younger child, even though the older ones didn’t want to play the game this child wanted. It just didn’t happen as regularly, and it wasn’t always intentional on our part. Sadly, sometimes the squeaky wheel got the grease!
Spontaneity can show the creativity of our kids. There’s a lot of laughter that happens when we remember the ridiculous things that happened without any planning. Yet there are times when it’s good to be intentional. Times when we say, “This is our family, and this is our time. Each person is important, and each person gets to have his turn to choose what is special to him.” Even when a child has to participate in something he doesn’t like because the family is doing it and because another child got to choose, he will have his turn when everyone else will participate with him in what is important to him. Parents can also take a turn choosing the activity. Our children need to practice deferring to what a parent might enjoy as a family as well. Parents can use their turn to choose an activity that will hone in one abilities or attitudes that need to be addressed.
In today’s family, parents need to turn off the computer or phone and focus, for a few hours, on their children. Children, who are used to having a father on the phone for business most of the evening, will have his undivided attention. The quiet, passive child won’t get missed. The boisterous, dominant child will learn to watch others have a turn. The prominent personality will learn to consider the desires of others and the I-just-want-everybody-to-be-happy kid will learn to have an opinion that counts. You know something else? The parents will learn what makes each child tick and they just might find out some hidden desires of the heart. It’s a win-win for everybody.
We say our children are special, unique individuals. We say family is important. We say TIME is more important than things. Family night is a way to say this clearly and consistently to every one of our kids.
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