Kids on couch

Family Time Spent Well (Part 1)

Lisa - May 18, 2022

Within our families, there is much we can spend our time on—talking with each other, making food, playing sports, cleaning up, pursuing interests, religious practices, attending performances, reading books, and on and on. Clearly, time is a precious and limited resource, while the possible ways to use it are nearly endless. How can we make sure our family’s time is well spent?

The first step is to establish your family’s priorities, and the parameters to do that are as varied as families themselves. Here are a few ways to sort them out.

This is the most basic parameter; if something’s important to you, then take time for it. This is easily seen in comparisons such as, it’s more important to finish homework than watch a TV show, or it’s best to at least keep gas in the car even if it’s not always clean. If some things seem to be of similar importance, try listing them out and asking family members to rank them.

Your family can also look at the grand scale; for example, while it’s easy to get caught up in cleaning the house or putting food on the table, building relationships with one another is even more important. It’s surprising how often we forget our greatest goals because of what’s happening right now. So look at what’s most vital to your family long-term, whether it’s saving up for a big vacation someday or teaching children to give service, then schedule in a way that reflects that. Don’t let multitudes of less-vital things crowd out the events or tasks you really want to happen.

Family at the park

Take more time for the things that need to happen more often. For many things, frequency is determined pretty naturally—homework needs to be done most days, soccer practice is weekly, and the family celebrates each child’s birthday once a year. Even then, sometimes too many of these happen all the time, such as having every night occupied by some rehearsal, meeting, or activity. To properly balance your family’s time, you may need to go back to the parameter of importance and give up some that are too frequent and not important.

Other tasks and activities are up to you to determine the frequency. Some families may need to empty the trash every day, while others just do it when it fills up. Maybe your family runs out of clean dishes faster than they run out of clean clothes, so you determine that dishwashing should happen more often than laundry. Even if some things are more occasional, like visiting the dentist or cleaning the garage, make sure to schedule them as often as they do need to happen. (If you set it up, Family Tools is great at reminding you of these infrequent tasks.)

Tasks and activities that take more time logically need to be given more time. An hour might be sufficient for cleaning a bedroom, but might leave the garage only partially organized. Meeting a coworker for lunch will naturally need less time than Thanksgiving dinner. Make sure to give each one the appropriate amount of time on your schedule. Also try to keep some wiggle room in your plans for tasks and events that might take longer than expected, especially where traveling is involved.

Some things might be flexible in their intensity, such as piano practice or raking the yard. Maybe some days, a family member practices for ten minutes, and other days, they have an hour to really nail down those songs. In these cases, you might fall back on importance, or maybe just personal preference, to judge what really needs to happen.

Piano practice

What if something is important to your family, but seems to take too much time? For big chores, try asking for help; if raking really needs to happen but the whole family still takes two hours to do it, maybe ask your neighbors or friends. You could even get some of the local teenagers to join and offer to pay them for the job. Other situations may take some creativity. For instance, if your schedule makes it hard to attend your son’s concert, but you really want to show your support, you can have someone record it so you can watch it later. Or maybe ask him to perform for you personally; it might not have the same tone as the whole band, but it will show that you care.

Sometimes prioritizing is less about favoring one activity over another and more about keeping balance between activities. These can include making sure there's time for both work and play, or balancing family time, social time, and personal time. Every family needs some of both; for instance, family relationships are much easier to improve while spending time together, but family members also need a chance to develop their own talents and enjoy their own interests. Too much work can wear people out, while too much play can erode discipline and cause stress from the neglect of important things. Find the spots in between that work for your family.

You’ll probably find that different family members have different priorities, so sorting them out will take some collaboration and compromise. For example, you may be used to having the bathroom cleaned every other day while your spouse only thinks it needs weekly attention. This could lead to a compromise of cleaning it twice a week, or it could mean that you take over the job to do it your way and your spouse takes care of something else in return. Try to be open to all opinions as you work out your overall priorities, and give children some freedom to choose what’s important to them to spend time on. You’ll, of course, want to remember what priorities you’ve set, so make sure to write them down, whether on a digital note that everyone can access, a paper list you hang on the fridge, or some other solution.

A wise man once said, “Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming.” So once you’ve finished prioritizing, it’s time to put those priorities into action so your family can achieve and become what you really want. We’ll discuss setting goals and following through on your priorities in part 2.