The importance of family time
Spending time talking and especially taking time to listen to our family is rarely easy, but it’s a vital investment for the future, says Rob Parsons
The Bible has a lot to say about communication – and the sheer power of the words we speak. The book of Proverbs talks about the tongue having “the power of life and death.”(Prov. 18:21).
Most families go through times when communication is difficult for a while. It’s common, for example, for teenagers to go through a stage when you’re lucky if you get a grunt, let alone a more verbal response. Normally with teenagers the problem passes, but sometimes in families lack of communication is much more serious.
None of us enters family life intending to be distant with each other, and in most families, lack of communication does not show itself quickly. It’s more common that month by month and year by year family members grow apart. One couple described this to me as “a creeping separateness”.
I’ve made some bad mistakes in this area. I’ve spent much of my life communicating with others but I remember well, in the early years of my family life, having little time for communication with those I loved most. Thankfully I learned some lessons just in time. I don’t think Dianne and I would have made it had I not realised that our love was dying for lack of communication. I remember cancelling many commitments I had outside work and suddenly we had evenings in which we had time for each other. This wasn’t a quick fix – one particular winter we spent night after night just talking.
The antidote to “a creeping separateness” and rediscovering communication with our partner and children is not usually found in expensive holidays - what some call “quality time” - but in quite a lot of “ordinary time” spent doing everyday things together – especially talking.
I think now of a couple who had three children, led busy lives, and who had somehow grown apart. They agreed that each Tuesday night they would spend some time together on their own. Sometimes they went to the cinema, sometimes just for a walk, and occasionally, a meal out. It’s true they could afford baby-sitters, but they were not wealthy by any means. It is simply that they made time with each other a priority and they planned it into their lives.
They had those Tuesday evenings together until after their kids had left home. Did that evening every week save their marriage? Who knows. But I do know this: it became important to them. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t expensive, but it did give to each of them the dignity of time.
In the same way that we need to spend time with our partner, we need to give time to our children. This doesn’t have to be complicated. It could be just chatting as we do ordinary things together – clearing out the garage, helping with homework. Research has shown that parental involvement has a huge effect on children’s performance at school and one of the most powerful elements of this is the time parents give to conversations about everyday events and activities. When those conversations did not take place, it led not only to a lack of knowledge in the children but to a lack of confidence.
Spending time talking and especially taking time to listen is rarely easy, but it’s an investment in the future. If we listen to our children when they are five, six and seven as they’re helping us wash the car, there’s just a chance they’ll listen to us when they are fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen.
Tips for family communication
• Take the chance to talk while you’re doing things such as going for walks, washing up, or tidying a room.
• Ask each other’s opinion - few things please children (or anybody else) more than being asked for their view. It doesn’t have to be about important issues all the time.
• Make sure you really listen, even if you think you know what the other person is going to say.
• Never interrupt or finish someone’s sentence for them.
• Wherever possible, try to eat a “proper” family meal together.
• Plan regular one-to-one times with each member of your family.
• Don’t answer the phone if it gives the impression it is more important than the
conversation you’re having
Cartoon: David McNeill
Photo: Daxiao Productions/shutterstock
Rob Parsons is an international speaker and best-selling author. He is the founder and chairman of Care for the Family, a national charity which aims to strengthen family life and help those hurting because of family difficulties.
Rob Parsons and Katharine Hill's new gift books, The Really Really Busy Person's Book on Marriage and The Really Really Busy Person's Book on Parenting, are published by Muddy Pearl and available from CLC bookshops and www.muddypearl.com.