By Nelle Myrica Donaldson
My three-year-old does not own a cell phone, which makes the rules for Family Night easy for him to follow: no phones, no screens, no excuses.
We had this conversation the other day:
“I’m pretending to be a dad.”
“But I don’t have a phone or a computer.”
“OK. Well, that’s fine. Not all dads have phones or computers.”
“I’m going to go to the phone store and get one, and then I’m going to go to the computer store to get a computer.”
“Do you have a job, to earn money to buy a phone and a computer?”
“I’ll go to the money store, too.”
Money, for my son, is something his parents sometimes keep in their wallets, something that he usually only handles in coin form. The fun of coins is putting them in your piggy bank, but that game only lasts about three seconds, therefore money is only a little fun. I’m certain he would happily trade any amount of money for something sweet. As it is said, a fool and his money…
However, my son is no fool. For one thing, he wisely values time with his family above all. “Dance with me” is one of his favorite requests. He enjoys opportunities to ask questions. He delights in drawing, make-believe games, making silly faces, and getting airplane rides, and he uses this play to build and rejuvenate his most important relationships.
At his age, his sense of connection with his family is not only reassuring in terms of survival, it is also the basis of his sense of self. Someday, he’ll take more of his identity cues from his peers (and I doubt I’ll be crazy about all of them), but so far, we are his people. He intuits that if we are confident and at ease, he’s alright. Naturally, and conversely, he perceives that if we are grumpy or tense, his world is in strife.
After a crabby conversation with my husband, fueled by exhaustion and exasperation, and roughly about conflicting obligations, I touched base with my sons. I reassured them that if they ever heard us talking in a way that didn’t sound very nice or that they perceived as arguing, I hoped they would remember that Dad and I love each other very much, that we are good at saying sorry and working things out, and that we feel incredibly lucky to be their parents. “And our baby sister’s,” the three-year-old amended. The six-year-old replied simply, “Yeah, I hear that sometimes. But you mean the whole, you know, Donaldson family isn’t in jeopardy.” Yep, that’s exactly what I mean.
Mind in the Making executive director, Ellen Galinsky’s research found an interesting disconnect between child and parent perspectives: When asked what they would change about their parents if they could, most parents predicted their kids might answer, “I would like my parents to spend more time with me.” Yet, children most often reported wishing their parents were less tired and less stressed.
Worry over providing the right stuff or the right experience while trying to enhance the quantity or quality of time spent with the kids, can be a source of parental anxiety. Yet I think what our kids are asking for is the opportunity to unwind and enjoy their families, some time to put the cares of the world aside in favor of bonding.
I am committed to a weekly family night. For us, that’s three hours on Friday evening. No phones, no screens, no excuses: just time to hang out together.
See next page for some fun Family Night ideas…