What I really recall most about my early parenting years with four young boys, is that I wanted to be the very best parent to my kids. Maybe I was even trying to be a supermum. But as hard as I worked at being the ultimate parent, something was still missing. I always had one eye on the clock, ready to spring into action to pick up my youngest one from Playcentre, or my older boys from school. I actually felt a little sorry for myself and all the other budding wonder women out there.

And then in a moment of clarity amongst the madness – I looked at life from my children’s perspective.  I noticed that it was not much fun for them either. We didn’t seem to spend much time together and we certainly didn’t seem to have much fun. Our lives seem to be a constant race to reach a destination rather than the enjoyment of the journey.  By following a few of the simple tips below, you will hopefully be able to find a bit more of a balance not just for yourself, but everyone in the family.

Families who play together stay together

There have been many studies about family life and one of the common reasons for breakdown is the lack of time families spent together, leading to communication difficulties. Family members need to share a common purpose and really get to know each other well. Make a commitment to spend some quality time together and you will find your family really starts to flourish.

Family meal times

A meal shared together is a great way of getting your family communicating again. Some families are able to commit to one meal together a day but as I have found with my kids getting older, this became a real challenge. Ground rules about distractions like cellphones and the TV are useful to keep the focus on being together as a family. We have a basket that everyone puts their phones in at the start of the meal, so there is no sneaky texting under the table. As a parent it is important to set your kids a good example. If you expect them to leave distractions behind during meal time, then make sure you don’t get calls from the office either.

Perhaps add a little variety to your meal times by getting the kids to help cook or choose what to eat one night. A few flowers and a nice tablecloth could be a talking point for another night. When my children were into collage and drawing they each made their own drawing that we laminated into a placemat. You may want to change your meal environment by having a picnic in the garden, or an indoor picnic works just as well in the winter. Another way of spending some quality time together is having regular family activity nights.

Family fun nights

Choose one night per fortnight or as frequently as you can manage, where everyone commits to being together to do an activity that you have agreed upon. To involve your kids ask for their ideas about the kinds of fun things that you can do together. You may need to put some boundaries in around what you expect otherwise you may be committing to a trek across the Sahara, when you budget can only stretch to a walk in the park. Each family member places three ideas into a hat. Each fun night one person gets to draw out the activity for the next night, giving you time for planning.

Ideas for fun nights can be as simple or as complex as your imagination and budget. You could make pizzas, play soccer in the park, make a treasure hunt, or a have a movie night. There are many ideas available on the internet. Perhaps use photos to record the fun things that you do together. Keep these in a place that your kids can easily see them, like on the fridge. This helps to keep the motivation for family fun nights. Just as it is important for healthy families to spend time together, it is also important for parents to have some time for themselves.

Parents date nights

As parents your relationship is often the last thing that there is any time for, yet if you are not communicating well with your partner the whole family is affected. Like family fun nights you and your partner may commit to a date night perhaps once a month. Call in friends or family to baby sit and perhaps you can do the same for them. Put your date night ideas into a hat and take turns at selecting what you will do next.

Giving your children time

Now my kids are at high school and University I do still sometimes feel the odd twinge of guilt that I did not reach the highs of supermum status. Advertisements and books are full of the mum that has it all. The kids, the work, the marriage, the life style, and yet she is still well groomed and sane. Such images are quite unrealistic and unobtainable. Over the years I have learnt that time is the most important ingredient for a healthy family, rather than the abundance of opportunities that you offer your kids. The old Warehouse advertisement “the most important thing that you can give your kids is your time”, still stays firmly fixed in my mind. Remember to keep the fun in parenting and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Trust yourself that you are a good enough parent. Good enough is often really great!

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Sue Hunter is mother of 4 boys and has a wealth of early childhood experience including lecturing on the subject. She has a special interest in how trauma and neglect can impact upon children’s learning and development. Sue believes that strong connected families are the building blocks to a healthy society.

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