PANHANDLE PERSPECTIVES: Building strong families – making time for family

Jackie Guzman, Extension Educator
Scotts Bluff County

Now that children are home from school on summer break, parents can spend the next three months just keeping them busy, or else they can seize an opportunity to build a stronger family and maybe create new traditions.

Many families have their own traditions. As long as I can remember, every December my family’s tradition has been to make tamales together – a very labor intensive process.  Regardless, we all look forward to our annual family gathering.

The year that my mother passed away I found myself unable to muster up the courage to organize the annual tradition and make tamales without her. My adult children recognized the fact that I was dragging my feet and took it upon themselves to organize the day’s events and invite family members, myself included, to my house.

It was a difficult day for us emotionally. However, we quickly started conversing, telling stories, laughing about memories of past years and wondered what mom was thinking as she watched us from heaven.

The event was very therapeutic. It also demonstrated the importance of time spent together as a family, valued by all the generations who participate – from my children to my siblings and their children.  It wasn’t necessarily the product (though we enjoy eating the homemade tamales), but the time spent together that my children truly relish. And regardless of the circumstance, this was an important family time tradition.

Just as it was difficult to move past emotions to organize our annual tamale making, it can be just as difficult for families to plan and spend quality family time together.

It is important to remember that families are the first teachers of their children. Families help teach children how to socialize with the world outside and engage with others. Families form the foundation for children to learn from in order to become great family members and citizens.

I often start teaching sessions with adults by asking this question: “Think of someone who was really special to you when you were growing up. What was your relationship to this person? What made you think of this person? What did this person do that made him/her so important or special to you?” 

Most responses refer to a family member. There is usually a very strong emotional response about how this person made them feel. Often people shed tears when sharing with the group about how important this person was to them.

When I ask, “What did they do?”, these are the common responses: Their love was unconditional. They listened to me and didn’t judge me. They shared their passion with me sewing, cooking, mechanics, etc. A passion that was passed on to them and they continue as adults. Most important they always found time to share with them. They spent a lot of time together. I then ask, “Did the time spent together that brought you such happiness always cost a lot of money?” The answer is always no.

Through this process, we conclude that the most important thing is that what made us most happy as children is just being together and enjoying each other’s company, and that the activities that bring us together don’t have to cost a lot of money. Most importantly, out of this comes the foundation for a strong family!

As parents begin the summer, with children home from school, they should think about how they can build a strong family by spending time together conversing.  Here are some ideas to start with:

  • Mealtime is a great time to engage in conversations with your children. Plan meals together, allow children to help in meal preparation. Allow them to plan a meal, create a grocery list, and help with the grocery shopping and then meal preparation. Consider giving older children a budget for a meal in order to plan and prepare the meal. For very young children there is always something they can do, like take items out of the grocery bags, help wash fruits and vegetables, or help set the table. Be creative.
  • Have a picnic for dinner on a blanket on the floor, in the yard, or in a park – it doesn’t have to be anything costly; make sandwiches or have each family member build their own sandwich.
  • Spend time outdoors enjoying nature together, playing games, going for walks or hikes, riding bikes or camping.
  • Have a family slumber party or pitch a tent in the back yard.
  • Play games together board games and card games.

An important rule during family-time activities is all family members must put away technology and electronics – turn off the TV, put the phones away, no electronic games or anything that keeps you from interacting and having a conversation with each other.

Remember the planned activity is what brings the family together, to spend time together engaging in conversation and learning to enjoy each other. This may be an opportunity to start some of your own family traditions.