20 Things To Do With Your Family — Besides Being Busy

Recently some friends and I undertook the virtually impossible task of trying to schedule a get together for our families. Our conversation went something like this…

“How about Thursday night?”

“We can’t baseball.”

“Okay. Friday?”

“Nope. Soccer. How about the next week? Anyone free Saturday?”

“Sorry. We have a game.”

“We’re out. That’s practice.”

“We’ve got dance.”

We went back and forth like this for several minutes and into the month of July, when finally someone asked the question that we’ve all asked ourselves a thousand times. “Why is this so hard? Why are we all so busy?”

Image courtesy of Unsplash

There was some momentary lamenting about full schedules and hectic lifestyles, but ultimately the group consensus was that this is how it’s supposed to be. Busyness is good. Busyness deserves defending.

“It gives the us something to do.”

“I don’t even know if we would know what to do with ourselves at home every night.”

“If our kids didn’t keep us running, what would we do with all our time?”

Seriously? Do we really not know how to spend time at home anymore? Have we forgotten what free time is for? Is busy really the new status symbol?

If it is, I guess my family’s laid back schedule would qualify us as social misfits. Of course with four kids that hasn’t always been the case. There have been times in the life of my family when we were gone every night of the week and most weekends. Having a night at home was a treat, and a free weekend was practically unheard of.

However, the year that our elder son left for college, it wasn’t just one less kid at home that freed up our schedule. At that same time both of our daughters chose to give up sports (each for various reasons), and we enforced a winter off-season for our younger son — no sports between fall football and spring baseball.

Suddenly we found ourselves at home most nights and our weekends free. At first it was disorienting. Then it was pleasant. Eventually it became blissful.

This isn’t so say that every moment spent at home with our kids is a perfect delight, but not constantly running from one activity to another certainly is. We aren’t so frazzled anymore. We are less stressed and more content. Best of all, we get to spend a lot of time just hanging out as a family.

So, when my friend posed the question, “What would we do with ourselves if we weren’t alway running?” I was tempted to answer…

1 Read. Is there anything that compares to the joy of a quiet night at home with the whole family — everyone with a book, a blanket, and cup of cocoa? Coziness at its best.

2 Read aloud. Believe it or not, people used to do this. Families would gather around while the mother or father read to the whole family. What a lovely tradition to bring back to these hectic times.

3 Binge watch. I wouldn’t want to do this every night, but my family has passed many hours curled up together with a giant bowl of popcorn and half a dozen episodes of a favorite show. TV time really can be quality time.

4 Play a video game. Also, not something I’d want to do night after night, but the kids might get a kick out showing mom and dad what Minecraft is all about or taking them down on a virtual playing field.

5 Go for a walk. I am not talking about exercise. I’m talking about a stroll — through a park, around the neighborhood. I’m talking about ambling along with people you love and winding down after a long day.

6 Go for a bike ride. For fun or for exercise, take a few spins around the block with your family.

7 Play cards or a board game. Now that’s a great way to make memories!

8 Have people over. I know. This seems pretty radical. But I’m not suggesting a dinner party. I’m suggesting asking neighbors over for dessert or asking some friends to stop by for a visit. Nothing fancy, just a couple of families passing an evening together — like the olden days.

9 Cook something. Get in the kitchen as a family. Fix a meal! Bake a cake! Talk! Laugh! Eat!

10 Work a puzzle. Perhaps not everyone’s thing, but a whole family gathered around the table trying to figure out how to arrange 1000 random pieces into a field of tulips is surefire way to get a conversation going.

11 Play croquet. No really. It’s actually kind of fun, and you’ll get to say things like “Well, that was a sticky wicket.”

12 Build something. A birdhouse. A doghouse. A table. It will give everyone involved a deep sense of accomplishment, and you’ll have something useful to boot.

13 Play basketball (or baseball or soccer or flag football). Not being busy doesn’t have to mean giving up sports. What about a family game of two on two or H-O-R-S-E?

14. Do some good. Do you have a lonely neighbor who could use a visit? An elderly friend who needs help in her yard? Is there a local soup kitchen or nursing home where your family could volunteer? More free time could mean more time to give.

15 Sit on the porch. Get some rocking chairs or a porch swing. Watch the cars go by. Talk to passing neighbors. If you want to have a truly authentic porch-sitting experience, snap some green beans or try your hands at whittling.

16 Look at old photos or home movies. Reminiscing is always fun. And bringing out old photos also tends to bring out old stories, so don’t just look at your kids’ baby books. Pull out old, old family photos if you have them. Tell stories of your childhood or talk about grandparents and great grandparents. Put names and faces and memories together. Pass down your stories.

17 Go fishing. Pack a cooler. Grab your poles. And find a local pond or a nearby river, and wet a hook. There’s no better way to spend a summer evening.

18 Collect some skills. Learn to tie knots, do a magic trick, knit a scarf, change a tire, start a podcast, plant a garden. In other words, learn something, individually or as a family. Learn something new just for the fun of it.

19 Just hang out. Families used to do that. Sit around. Chit chat. Talk about their day or the weather, politics or local gossip. No plan. No rush. Nothing pressing to do. Just being together.

20 Go to bed. The fact is kids are woefully sleep deprived, and many adults are too. Imagine a nice family dinner and afterwards a little TV or maybe a stroll around the neighborhood. After that, everyone grabs a book and heads off to bed at a reasonable hour. Lights out in thirty minutes! Now imagine kids who are less grumpy, better behaved, and who more alert and attentive at school. Imagine yourself not be so damn tired all the time. Unfortunately busyness is robbing too many of us of the precious, restorative sleep that our minds and bodies so desperately need.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with being an active family. And maybe my friends were right. Maybe some families really do thrive on a busy lifestyle. But maybe some families are like mine. We didn’t know how crazy life had gotten until it slowed down. We didn’t know how tired and stressed and disconnected we were. No, we don’t do everything on the this list. But we do love our card games and our long walks and early bedtimes. And who knows? Maybe at some point we’ll give whittling a shot or try our hand at reader’s theater. After all, we’ve got the time.

The above conversations represent various attempts to schedule plans with one friend or with a group and do not represent the exact details of any one conversation.