How To Carve Out Family Time When You Feel You Have None

Re-examining the way we approach the time we spend together with those we love.
Prioritizing Family Connections by spending quality time
Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

Ever feel there is very little time you spend with your family all together.  Or that you put in a ton of effort to create family weekends away or evenings of fun activities to do with your family in order to spend more time with them? Are you met with resistance or guilt or frustration during these attempts? I do not think that you are alone in this. 

What if the problem was not in the time we spent with family but in the connection we have with the family members that are the underlying problem. We shouldn't have to carve out more time and create forces situations for family bonding. Instead, we should be focusing on the connection at home during our day-to-day happenings. 

Meaningful family time is created by making presence a priority and infusing intention into our words and actions allowing us to utilize the moments we already have. Re-examining how we approach and create time with our family may be the key. It is not about the lack of time spent together. It is in the awareness and intentionality we put into the moments we have with those we love. 

The Importance of Family Time

Today's society is over-scheduled, overworked, and obsessed with the belief that there's never enough family time and we all need more. This includes the concept of time. It is not about the lack of time spent together. It is in the lack of awareness and intentionality we put into the moments we have with those we love. 

As a result, we have lost sight of the value building solid family bonds can provide. We have also lost this perspective with the conditioning of looking to outside things for our happiness and worth. The gifts family connection can contribute to our wellbeing has gotten overshadowed.

Putting in the effort to creating meaningful family moments strengthens the bonds we share with our loved ones. Increasing the connection, and having an understanding for one another builds our sense of worth and gives us a strong sense of safety and security. Having a stable supportive family unit is directly correlated to the wellbeing of each family member.

Family members are expected to show up and be available when we require them and love us unconditionally no matter what. This expectation and belief surrounding family cause us to take these special people for granted, and this is most likely the underlying problem. Family members need tending to just as much as every other type of relationship. Unless bonds are formed, nurtured, and maintained there's a risk for dysfunction and chaos in our family units. 

This practice can be better understood if we look at it using a specific situation in comparison. When your phone sends you notifications how long does it take you to pick it up and reply or respond? For most of it, it's an instinct and a habit to respond pretty immediately. If we were to add together all those responsive moments, we could see how much time and attention we were giving to our phones. If we could make responding to our family an instinct or habit as we do answering our phones, we would be able to see just how many moments of connection are presented to us throughout the day. 

Here is what you can do to ensure you spend quality family time with your loved ones:

  • Examining what family time means to you
  • Shifting our mindset about what family time entails 
  • Making family time a priority
  • Taking intentional action to be available and knowing your opportune moments' connection
  • Finding simpler ways to connect

1. Examining family time and what it means to you

First we need to know what our beliefs are before we can make a shift in our mindset. Ask yourself these questions to examine how you define family time:

What comes into your mind when you hear the phrase family time?

Generally, this question leads us to thoughts of planned events that happen over large chunks of time. Like an evening at the movies, or out hiking. Or perhaps you are thinking of specific times of the year like Christmas dinner. Some of us just see smaller more intimate moments of time like eating dinner together, or everyone crawling into mom and dad's bed on Saturday mornings to snuggle and watch tv or read books. Creating these smaller more intimate moments is what we need to focus on more. 

Do you plan something like an organized event?

When we talk about using intention it doesn't mean we haul everyone to the local indoor play park or take the family skiing. Organized bigger family outings are truly wonderful. For the purpose of creating intimate moments in already carved out routines, it simply means we have the intention of putting our family members first before anything else. So if someone rings the doorbell and one of your children has just scraped her knee. You recall that intention of putting your family member first and ignore the doorbell until she is settled. 

Is it scheduled so everyone can attend?

If we can build our intentional moments into our already established daily routine, we won't have to find that extra time trying to navigate at a time where everyone is available. I love camping trips with my family and I love taking my kids swimming but this should not be the only thing we are looking at. 

Which family members are involved?

We usually associate family time with the whole family together doing the same thing at the same time. Family time can be shared moments between two of you or all of you. Mealtimes is an example where all people can be together doing the same thing. But family time can also be just two of you sharing a cup of tea in the back garden. 

Do you find creating meaningful time together with a struggle?

If you are struggling to make time or put together activities it can simply create more stress. Believing family time includes all members doing a scheduled event that lasts for more than a few hours can put huge pressure on us to find something everyone will enjoy and can be available for. It doesn't have to be this way. Focusing on more intimate, meaningful moments in our daily comings and goings take the pressure off. However, we need to learn to be flexible and focus on prioritizing this in order for us to get into the habit of utilizing and recognizing when those moments occur.

Is it possible to find something to do together that pleases everybody? 

Sometimes just creating a space for things to happen naturally is all that is needed.  Making yourself available and creating an opportunity for connection rather than having a specific agenda is all that is required.  

By taking the time to explore these questions and find out what motivates you, and your beliefs around the family time you can start to shift the concept of family time in your mind. It is the first step to creating better habits towards more intimate moments together. Remember Family time is not something to carve out, it's something you tend to, nurture and develop. We don't need to add to the time we already spend together rather we need to utilize the time we already do on a daily basis.

2. Shifting our mindset surrounding Family time

Just as we calculate phone or screen time, adding up the moments we engage with our family could potentially be the foundation of what time is about, a collection of moments containing meaningful connections. We need to have a close look at the time we have with our loved ones and how we are using it now.

Taking the time to notice how you spend your moments now and realizing that utilizing the time you have as potential family connecting moments is the shift we need to make to ensure spending quality time with your family.

Start by thinking about when your spouse attempts to engage in conversation with you, how do you respond then? Do you drop everything and answer? Do you ask them to wait to finish your task before answering them? Do you continue what you are doing and try to multitask?

Or perhaps there are times you find excuses to escape and avoid the situation entirely. Your automatic response is most likely quite different from your response to your phone. 

Remember Family time is not something to carve out, it's something you tend to, nurture and develop. We don't need to add to the time we already spend together rather we need to utilize the time we already do on a daily basis. Once we can shift our perspective, we need to commit to it by making these moments a priority.

It will take time and patience with yourself as you make this transition. All things require a balance. There are going to be times where you have to take that phone call, or are busy with one family member and another one comes along just as needy. As long as you are honoring that intention of creating connecting moments as much as possible it will allow for times where we can't do this. Only you know the balance that is right for your family.

3. Prioritizing Family Connection

In order to carve out meaningful moments, we have to change our habits, in order to do that it needs to become a priority. By laying the foundation of prioritizing moments of being present, this will gradually grow into larger moments where our family members will in turn learn to prioritize the time they spend with family. 

What do you find prevents you from fully engaging in these moments with your family. Is it making sure one task is done before moving on to the next? Being aware of your habits is key and changing them. One way to figure this out is to simply notice or take note of your daily movements. Do you always head to the living room after dinner to watch TV? As soon as you get home what is the first thing you do?

Write all this down and at the end of the day see if any of those actions show you have made your family time a priority. Rewrite your list of daily habits of how you might like your day-to-day movements in your ideal day and where family time might be natural incorporation into the routines you already have. This is your new game plan for making it a priority in your day-to-day life.

When moments arise that you cannot give your family your full attention, try letting them know they deserve your full attention and unfortunately at this minute you cannot give it. Give them a time and a place in which to come back and honor that time slot fully. This act in itself is an intentional way of creating and carving out family time.

4. Take intentional action towards being available and knowing your opportune moments for connection

Breaking old behavior patterns, and intentionally working towards creating new ones require work and consistency. It's not about creating time and adding things to do, it's about taking the to-do's and using that time for connecting moments and knowing when your moments of opportunity are. Making yourself available is key.

Finding your moments of opportunity requires a little investigating on your part. When I was still living at home with my parents and my brother in my early twenties I remember making sure I was on the living room couch when he came down the stairs on Sunday mornings. My littlest brother is not an overly open and communicative person but I found that if I was purposely there on the mornings my mother was at church he instinctively would sit next to me and we would have some great conversations.

I was aware enough to know that that was a moment of opportunity. It was just him and I in the house at that time and his habit was to go and sit on the couch when he got up. By me noticing these things and making sure that I was there in that moment opened the doorway and connection naturally followed. If you can create these open moments where you are simply available it can allow for connecting moments to occur naturally.

Another intentional act I create is just before bedtime. We call in our house tea time. I make a pot of tea and sit in the living room. It is not mandatory for them to attend, but they all know where I am. It is during this time where we all sit together in one room sometimes we're just reading silently, sometimes reading to each other or helping each other with homework. It doesn't matter what we do or who shows up, that family time and space are available. If I miss tea time my children usually let me know, if we've missed a few they will come and request we get back to it. It proves that this has become important to them too. 

We need to acknowledge, and at times remove the things that draw our attention towards, as well as away from being present. Going back to the phone example, if we find every time the phone rings we are turning to it instead of our family, it is showing your phone as the priority, not your family. Creating simple boundaries is a strategy that can make a huge difference. Something as simple as no phones allowed at the table opens space for intentional conversation. These are the backbones of building strong bonds. 

It will take time and patience as you make these transitions. All things require a balance. There are going to be times where you have to take that phone call, or are busy with one family member and another one comes along just as needy, or the day just gets away from you. Take the pressure off of yourself to be there 100% of the time.  As long as you are honoring that intention of creating connecting moments as much as possible it will allow for times where we can't do this. Only you know the balance that is right for your family. 

5. Finding simpler ways to connect 

You may struggle with knowing exactly what to do. Making yourself available is key. You also may wish to create little rituals. Here are some ways you can incorporate to efficiently connect with your family during your family time:

Moments, where any family pulls toward each other, are meal times, hellos, and goodbyes at the door, or at bedtime.

Creating little rituals around the daily moments of connection helps make them meaningful. For example, when my kids come in the door from school, I intentionally put music on in the kitchen. This sets up our after-school snack time to become an opportunity to dance and sing. This is one activity where everyone from my 5-year-old to my 13 years old enjoys doing. I prepare snacks, my kids unload their lunch kits and all of us are dancing, unwinding from our day and we are connecting as a family unit.

When we sit down to dinner we take turns as we eat asking each other what our favorite part of the day was. We use an imaginary talking stick to toss from one person to another to encourage and teach active listening. Our children love pretending to throw sticks at one another across the table and by the end of the meal each child feels as if they truly been heard and had a chance to speak.

Creating a vocal agreement with your family members every time you leave or return back to your house.

My husband and I have a vocal agreement that anytime either one of us leaves or returns home we must always hug each other. In order for us to turn this into a habit, I made myself be at the front door during his rush to get out of it and get to work on time. This set us up for success in creating this small intentional act into a habitual one. In turn, he makes sure his first stop getting home is the kitchen because he knows that's where I will be busy with dinner prep. We both do our part to make this connection happen.

To conclude, carving out family time is about choices and it takes your focus and commitment to work on creating new habits and intentional moments into our daily routine. Creating a connection is what family time should be. Knowing when best to incorporate these small yet impactful and intentional moments into our existing daily schedules is the cornerstone for connection. Take the moments you have together and make them meaningful ones.

Mother of four. Nature lover, Gardener, crafter, and certified soul coach.

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