10 Easy Hacks to Help You Create Quality Family Time
How much time do you spend with your kids? Actually, let me rephrase that. How much quality time do you spend with your kids? Do you often stop to measure it or bother to create it? We all know modern life can be exhausting, with time together squeezed out of busy schedules. And believe me, the older the kids get, the harder it is to put boundaries around family time. But it needn’t necessarily become extinct. In this advertising collaboration with Bassetts Vitamins we suggest ten of our own tried and tested hacks for making a lot more out of a little time together.
Creating Quality Family Time
When our children were little we took a gap year. A whole luxurious year, biking New Zealand with two toddlers. While we thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m not sure we were aware of how quite how valuable it was at the time, or how much it provided the building blocks for our future family life.
Whilst on the road, someone we met stopped to congratulate us on our adventures and gave us this advice; “Make the most of the kids at the age they are right now; they will never be this age again.” They were wise words and I have often reminded myself of them.
Dreaming of a gap
But in the daily business of family life, there’s often no gap in the schedule, let alone a gap year. Amidst the demands of work, school, after school clubs, revision, rehearsals, practice and parties, I sometimes wonder how we can possibly all stay in touch and worry that we are merely orbiting the house and each other.
The issues around modern family time and how it is being squeezed out have also recently been addressed by Bassetts Vitamins. Recognising that the demands of contemporary life can put barriers in the way of creating shared experiences, the company commissioned a ‘Purple Paper’ about our time, how it is spent and why more of it should be spent together.
Desperate to hang out
Bassetts surveyed 2000 households, finding that almost 50 per cent of parents with children under 18 are ‘desperate’ to spend more time together. Meanwhile 10 per cent of parents said their lives were so busy they didn’t spend any time together at all. The survey also found that UK families spend less than seven hours of quality time together each week.
Of course any survey figures can be looked at as glass half full or glass half empty. For me those results are something to cheer about. Not only does it mean 90 per cent do spend time together, but 50 per cent want to do it more. On top of this, UK families manage to grab an average of a whole hour a day with each other. I’m not sure we manage that in our house. When we aren’t working, or pursuing our various creative projects, we are trying to manage the diaries of three over achieving children. And then we get a call from the mother in law to say her TV remote has broken again…
Strategies for shoehorning
But we do work hard at shoehorning ourselves into their lives. And over the years we’ve developed a range of hacks to create family time out of nowhere and to meet each other somewhere in a busy day and week. So if you are one of that ten per cent of people who can’t do it, or the 50 per cent who would like to do it more, here are some of our tried and tested ways of reconnecting with your kids and making family time quality time. With a little help from Bassetts Purple Paper…
1 Turn ordinary family time into quality family time
We are all taxi drivers now aren’t we? I swear Uber drivers spend less time in their cars than I do in mine. So I’ve started switching off the radio and turning down the Satnav and using this time to connect. With my son now training in dance in two different parts of the North, we spend a lot of time driving, and what I assumed would be dead time has turned into a really valuable space to talk about the big stuff and the small stuff. Talking while driving is especially good for awkward teens as they don’t have to look you in the eye and they know yours are on the road ahead so you can’t eyeball them.
Child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson who wrote the Bassetts Purple Paper confirms that family time is not about the number of minutes you and your child spend together or how frequently you do it. Instead it’s about the quality of your experiences during those moments. “Chatting with your children for ten minutes while on the school run, offering them advice, listening to their stories, swapping ideas and suggestions and generally being present in the accidental moments you share as part of your daily routines can have a significant impact.”
2 Freshen up routines
Family life is built on habits. And some of these habits have been passed down through generations; if you sat down together for lunch every Sunday as a child, you might value this more than a family who went their disparate ways. But equally it might have got a bit stale. Maybe your kids are there under duress or more likely (like mine) they bolt their food and try and get away as quickly as they can. Freshen up mealtimes by taking everyone outside, in the garden or up the fell. Have Sunday lunch out occasionally, at a venue of their choice. Even if they choose Pizza Hut and McDonalds!
Nutritionalist Charlotte Stirling-Reed, who has also been working with Bassetts on the paper suggests making mealtimes at home more fun by hosting indoor picnics or playing pre or post dinner games, “and using fun dinner props – like a colourful table cloth or crockery.” She says older kids are more likely to eat well if they are involved in the cooking, serving or even growing. Getting them down to an allotment will certainly increase your family time together – I know this because my dad always dragged me down to his.
3 Tap into their enthusiasms
We have always tried to follow our children’s lead. When they were little and wanted to spend hours examining pebbles and shells we took them to the beach. As they grew we spent time with them at the library and the playground. Now Stuart and I have recently become interested in dance. To be honest we don’t know a pirouette from a tango step but with a child immersed in it, we figured we should know more about his world. We find ourselves on the motorway to Manchester a lot more than we used to be, and enjoying the easy companionship of sitting in a theatre together and puzzling out the subtext of the plot afterwards. The other son is into engineering and robotics. I’m passing on that for now, but you never know.
4 Unplug mealtimes
Meal times are the ideal time to chat. Lose the tech and you will instantly gain the children’s attention. Ok at this point I have to admit we aren’t the experts on this. We try our best to leave our phones in the office upstairs but sometimes they find their way down to the dinner table. And often the kids have to remind us of our own rule. In the Bassetts survey 30 per cent of parents said the distractions of technology are one of the biggest barriers to family time, while 50 per cent of parents blame work for their predicament. These figures definitely chime with my own experiences.
5 Use exercise to connect
The best way I found to force the kids to chat was putting them on a back of my tandem where they couldn’t escape. Or even better, a triplet. Exercise always bonds and according to Richard Woolfson is an important tool in any family’s armory. “Being physically active usually adds to everyone’s enjoyment because we typically spend most of the time sitting down or moving occasionally from room to room.; you know how good it feels when you’ve walked that extra lap with the dog, played a final set of tennis or pushed yourself to swim those few more lengths than usual.” He recommends the easiest way to do exercise together is to build it into a typical day. “Walking to school instead of going by car, climbing stairs instead of taking the lift or escalator, carrying shopping bags instead of putting them in the boot of the car; all those simple things can be worked in without the child even realising it.”
And despite what I said about mealtimes, using technology as a shared experience can help encourage them to do things with you. We have always done geocaching as a family and Stuart and Cam occasionally run away from zombies together with their phones and ipods. I’ve just downloaded the ‘Couch to 5k’ running app which I hope to persuade Hannah to do with me. However the kids did draw the line at Pokemon Go and refused to come out with us. No idea why!
6 Ring fence holidays and weekends
Holiday time for us is important. Travel has always connected us and I can’t remember a summer where we didn’t get away from it all. Protect it, make the most of it and don’t be tempted to over schedule it like your home life. But value weekend time too. Identify weekends you can get away together. Plan long walks like this week-long walk we did on our own patch, getting the bus home each day. Don’t leave your child wondering if getting outside with family is just something people do in adventure books.
7 Fill free time with microadventures
If your time is too full to take a big holiday together, and weekends are saturated too, it is possible to fit adventures into your working day. You just have to be creative about it. A couple of times we have taken up Adventurer Alastair Humphreys summer solstice micro adventure challenge. Other times we have undertaken 5-9 adventures. It’s the opposite of 9-5. You start after work and finish up at breakfast. Check out this post for our Lake District overnight canoeing adventure or this post on our Skiddaw overnight camp.
It’s not necessary to cram loads of them in; Richard Woolfson says you should let yourself off the hook and relax sometimes. “We are all human, and we occasionally secretly hope that our phone will ring so that we can side step that outing to the soft play centre. That’s normal.” But when the psychologist, who is now a grandparent of five, falls into that trap himself, he asks himself what he’d rather fall asleep remembering. “A film I watched alone, during which I nodded off on the sofa, or the fun time I had with our family together?”
8 Let the kids teach you
We all remember the joys of spending time with your baby, teaching them to tell the time, tie their laces, or read. As they get older they will do most of their learning at school. You can still spend time swapping information. But perhaps you need to relax and let them teach you. In our house the kids can help us fix most computer issues, they are all willing to teach me how to sight-read music and they seem to have been born ‘searching stuff up’ on Google that can explain everything I ever need to know.
In the Bassetts Vitamins survey, 45 per cent of parents report that spending time together has helped them overcome a fear of new challenges. I know that adventuring with Hannah makes me braver. If she hadn’t been holding my hand, I may not have completed the canyoning session at Area 47. And she was the first to freefall into a canyon the day after when we did a bungee swing, showing us all how easy it was.
All three kids are now much better at skiing than I am and we had fun last year when Hannah ran a ski school just for me. Check out this video of how I got on.
9 Trust them – to navigate for you or cook for you
And if you ask their advice, trust them to get it right. On trips we always make one child a leader each day and it is their job to decide what we do. I remember one day being faced with a 10km climb up a gravel track in an Eastern European country to see some deer that we could have seen at home thanks to putting a five year old in charge of the map, but on the whole it worked very well. And on our driving trip of Japan, sometimes the kids were in charge simply because they were the only ones who could get to grips with the unreadable Satnav.
10 Be children again
Don’t expect your family to join you at the Opera or comment on the headline of the Financial Times over an intellectually stimulating breakfast. (Although don’t rule that out either.) Have some fun together and do what they do. Almost without exception everyone joins in when we play Bananagrams, UNO or poker. We’ve also spent years going round together on micro scooters, in cities ranging from London to Edinburgh as well as to the local shop. Get a dog, go swimming, rollerskating or trampolining. If you are fun and approachable and above all, there for them, you will get that quality time you are desperate for. And you will enjoy together, the age they are now, and later on when they are gone you will undoubtedly wish you could do it all again.
The Bassetts Pledge
The Bassetts research and Purple Paper comes with a pledge to support time strapped parents who want to live a happier healthier family life. Skye Lucas Banks, Brand Manager for Bassetts Vitamins, explains the thinking behind it,
“Families are already under so much pressure. Our pledge is we’re not going to ask mums and dads to find this miraculous ‘more time’ that they haven’t been able to find so far. It’s about making the most of every single bit of time you’ve got, like school runs. You’ve got these five minutes; they don’t have to a dull five minutes. They could be a really exciting five minutes.”
Colour Quest Activity Book
The pledge is supported by their Colour Quest Activity Kit – a little box filled with tips and tricks and ideas. “Not a big tome of ideas involving getting out paper and glitter and endless stuff,” say Skye. “But a little book of ideas you can fit into a handbag. Ideas for things to do together in a snatched five minutes.”
To find out more about the kits or the paper visit www.bassettsvitamins.co.uk where you will also discover the range of vitamins they produce for kids of all ages.
Disclosure Note: Bassetts Vitamins compensated us for producing this post to help share their Purple Paper findings. The picnicking on toadstools, reading on the back of a tandem, opinion and photography was, as ever, all our own.