It never started off like I have it now… Working long hours, unsocial hours, arriving back late, missing evening dinner, missing the school runs, working weekends… and to what end? What about when we are not at work… school runs, after school activities, homework, making evening dinner, eating quickly making sure we have enough time to do chores, reading, brushing teeth, going to sleep, waking up, making breakfast, making all the packed lunches, completing the school runs, and getting to do all this again the very next day. We are all geared towards making a wise investment for our future careers and our kids future lives, and yes, what a great concept to aim for. However, as life passes you by and changes start to happen, you must re-evaluate your investments. I did this in the year 2009 and I have never looked back since because I feel deep down inside, it was the best and most wise investment I have ever made… that investment was my family.
That’s right, we have all been there working those long hours, even to the point of bringing our work home with us only to find that coming home just feels like walking into a second job. Yes, we all feel bad for having these feelings but they are only natural. To me, these feelings were alarm bells which I could not hear at first. But in 2009, I took a long hard stare at my life and all its many dimensions. It was on the 4th August 2009 that I really decided it was time to change and create a better future for myself, and my family (This was such an important change that I even remember the date). No longer was my life going to be about having two jobs (Work and Family). My life was now going to be about completing my work, leaving work AT WORK and coming home to enjoy my family life (not a second job).
The first change I made was not working weekends. This put a lot of pressure on me because I had technically cut my working week down by two days. I did not stop here because I took it a step further and promised myself this:
Even when the kids are in bed, I will NOT work because this will be my personal time.
The pressure was on because I had to now fit everything in during Monday to Friday and this was hard. At the time I was working full-time as a manager of a charity called Hope Direct based in Manchester, Lancashire, United Kingdom and my work was so demanding that I would work early in the morning right through until 10pm-11pm. I was also a returning student looking at taking a career change that would encourage my newly found wise investment as well as having two daughters. My work started to pile up as you would expect and it really forced me to look at how I work to establish whether certain tasks are even required. I even looked at how I managed my finances and house-keeping to see if I could make some changes here and there. To my astonishment, I actually found that my wise investment even though hard was certainly paying dividends with my two girls. We would spend good quality time together each week making sure that we arranged things together that we would all participate in. You may now be realising why I just had to make this wise investment:
I was concerned that before I knew it, my then one year old daughter would be 10 without me realising it, and my then 7-year-old would be going on 17. This frightened me so much…
All the activities I mentioned above are now wonderful and we get so much enjoyment out of them. No longer is evening dinner a mad rush. We take our time, enjoy our family meal and talk about our days, what we want to do that evening, or even plan the weekend together. We have candle lit dinners, 3 course meals (Sometimes 4 if I can squeeze it in), we no longer rush to get the table cleared or the washing and drying up completed. Our weekends can sometimes be so great that I never want that weekend to be over. We can have so much fun that it actually hurts because we have been laughing that much, or we are totally shattered because we have been filling our time with so many activities. As an insight, I will share a couple of ideas we use below:
- When we are in the house, we are in the house together. Nobody runs up to their rooms and stays there all night. We sit together, hug, cuddle, laugh and joke (and if I get my own way, we watch the Friends series box set).
- No iPad or iPhone constantly glued to our sides. I even go to the extreme of turning the internet off for several hours at a time.
- When we eat, we eat together at the kitchen table for a family meal. We share our days with each other and try be upbeat and positive about what tomorrow may bring.
- We don’t watch television. Yes, we watch movies and the girls may sit in their rooms taking time out watching their favourite series on Netflix every now and then but we don’t sit there in front of our 42 inch TV and grow into a potato sat on a couch (I actually regret buying the TV because we never use it although I sometimes use it for projecting my laptop on while working, or watching my Friends series with the girls).
- No social media after a certain time or for a certain duration of time. This has to be one of the hardest I have had to deal with regarding my eldest. Social media for her is a way of staying in touch with friends and having small talk with those whose lessons might not match her current school timetable. There have been many huffs and puffs over this one I can tell you.
- We all must be completely silly and not be concerned about how we come across to each other. We let off steam by making silly noises at each other, we jump around in a silly manner, pull funny faces or just do things we would never dream of doing in front of other people.
Yes, all the above sounds wonderful and engaging for all the family and there are times when things can get a little rushed because of showers before bed, large pieces of homework, reading schedules, revision, or personal things that each one of us wants to try accomplish that day. The main thing is to remember to spend that time with each other:
Life is a compromise… learning to prioritise, then re-prioritise is an essential skill in creating a positive family environment.
I am not just talking about hands-on experience here either. There has been a vast amount of research conducted on engaging in ‘family time’ and the positive and negative benefits. However, providing a causal link between parental and child inputs and family outcomes can be somewhat elusive (Price, 2008). There are, however, studies that link outcomes to frequency of certain activities, such as reading together, playing, or even eating dinner together (as mentioned above). For example, Zick, Bryant, & Osterbacka (2001) found that if you read to your child or engage in playful activities together on a regular basis we experience fewer behavioural problems within the family home (plus, not to mention the better grades for your kids). Other researchers that establish a link between reading together and positive outcomes include Leibowitz (1977); Hill & O’Neill (1994); Snow, Burns, & Griffin (1998); and Senechal & LeFevre (2002). There are also studies that demonstrate a connection between eating dinner as a family and a wide range of outcomes (Eisenberg et al, 2004; Taveras et al, 2005).
Now, yes I am a father and I get asked many a time why I am involved so much with my girls… making breakfast before they have even woken up, getting all their clothes ready in the morning for school neatly laid out on their beds, plugging in curlers or straighteners for my teenager, making lunch for each of us (school or work), completing the school runs, taking time off work because they are ill and making sure I am the one who spends time with them and not other family relatives and friends (I have even been accused of doing too much and asked if I will take it a step back by certain people involved in my girls’ lives). The reason I do it and to the extent that I do it is because I know it will eventually end. My usefulness as a parent will change dynamics and both my girls will be grown ups possibly having families of their own. My role will change and this is one of the reasons I am so passionate about maintaining my hobbies on a regular basis because when the time comes, I know it will hit me very hard. So having something to keep me busy will be essential and I certainly do not want to go back to working every hour I am given to live.
On the note of fathers engaging with family time, Amato & Rivera (1999) find that children who have more involved father figures are less likely to have behavioural problems, which could result in a more pleasant family life. Pleck (1997) reviews a number of studies and finds consistent evidence that indicates higher levels of father involvement affect family life (children) in a positive way having many different outcomes.
I have had first hand experience of the positive benefits in taking a leap of faith and choosing to make a wise investment not just for me, but for the future of my family. Even when life gets incredibly busy, I don’t forget my family time; it gives us time away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life and may even be some of our most enjoyable memories together. I am hoping we can look back on these with fond memories and better still, my children will develop healthy balances between work and family life.
Amato, P,. & F, Rivera,. (1999). ‘‘Paternal Involvement and Children’s Behavior Problems.’’ Journal of Marriage and the Family 61(2), pp 375–84.
Eisenberg, M,. R, Olson,. D, Neumark-Sztainer,. M, Story,. & L, Bearinger,. (2004). ‘‘Correlations Between Family Meals and Psychosocial Well-being Among Adolescents.’’ Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 158(8), pp 792–96.
Hill, A,. & J, O’Neill,. (1994). ‘‘Family Endowments and the Achievement of Young Children with Special Reference to the Underclass.’’ Journal of Human Resources 29(4), pp 1064–1100.
Leibowitz, A,. (1977). ‘‘Parental Inputs and Children’s Achievement.’’ The Journal of Human Resources 12(2), pp 242–51.
Pleck, J,. (1997). ‘‘Paternal Involvement: Levels, Origins, and Consequences.’’ In The Role of the Father in Child Development, 3rd ed., ed. Michael Lamb, 66–103. New York: Wiley.
Price, J,. (2008). Parent-Child Quality Time – Does Birth Order Matter? The Journal of Human Resources. 43(1), pp 240-265. Accessed: 24-02-2016. Available: http://jhr.uwpress.org/content/43/1/240.refs.
Senechal, M,. & J, LeFevre,. (2002). ‘‘Parental Involvement in the Development of Children’s Reading Skill: A Five-Year Longitudinal Study.’’ Child Development 73(2), pp 445–60.
Snow, C,. M. S, Burns,. & P, Grifﬁn,. (1998). Preventing Reading Difﬁculties in Young Children. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Taveras, E,. S, Rifas-Shiman,. C, Berkey,. H, Rockett,. A, Field,. L, Frazier,. G, Colditz,. & M, Gillman,. (2005). ‘‘Family Dinner and Adolescent Overweight.’’ Obesity Research 13(5), pp 900–906.
Zick, C,. W. K, Bryant,. & E, O’sterbacka. (2001). ‘‘Mother’s Employment, Parental Involvement, and the Implications for Children’s Behavior.’’ Social Science Research 30(1), pp 25–49.