Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Nineteen: A New Kind of Time Management
by Richard and Linda Eyre
Note: In this twenty-six part column, Richard and Linda Eyre explore the recent revolution of the family from the honored centerpiece of society to a disrespected and seemingly redundant appendage to the larger corporate and cultural institutions of our new world. Re-valu-ing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: A. Re-valu-ing the family (part I); B. The “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); C. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); D. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); E. The “cause” (parts 8, 9, 10, 11 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 12, 13, 14, and 15– how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 — what you as a parent can do about it); H. The “case” (parts 23, 24, and 25 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention), and I. Finding or forming a family support group (part 26).
In this installment, we continue our seven part “cure” (see the end of installment 16 for the seven-part list) with some thoughts on a new kind of time management.
3. Reinvent TIME-MANAGEMENT with Family Emphasis
It’s ironic that as we’ve pushed a goal- and priority-setting time-management to nearly an art-form, few of us have figured out how to make it produce any more time for our highest priority — our families. We come up with lots of “solutions” (which are really excuses) like “quality time” or pagers or availability on our cell phones. But real quality time usually happens when there is an adequate, unrushed quantity of time. And our kids don’t just need to know how to reach us when there is an emergency, they need us to be there to focus on them when there is no need other than the need for time together.
I remember as a young parent feeling absolutely swamped with responsibilities and opportunities at work, getting home after the kids were in bed and leaving the next morning before they were awake. I felt especially guilty about not spending more time with my five-year-old son who seemed to really need a dad. Whenever he wanted something I’d be gone or about to leave.
I thought, in those days, that time-management was the answer or the solution to just about everything; so I simply thumbed ahead a few days in my day timer until I saw a free evening next Thursday and I blocked it off for Josh. Almost immediately I felt a little less guilty. It was down in the book! So I really wasn’t neglecting him! But when Thursday came there was a minor crisis at the office and I knew I’d have to stay late. But no problem, I’d just pencil Josh in for a week from Tuesday. Since I’d wanted to surprise him, I hadn’t mentioned anything to him yet, anyway. So he wouldn’t know the difference. Quality time was scheduled again, so I was once again off the hook in my own mind.
When Tuesday came I actually left work a few minutes early and showed up at the house right on schedule (my schedule). Josh was sitting in front of the TV when I burst in. “Come on son, let’s go do something fun together!” He looked up at me (probably trying to remember who I was) and said, “Not now Dad. I’ve got to watch the ‘Incredible Hulk.'”
What a mistake we make when we think we can program our kids or have them want to be with us, right when it’s convenient, or schedule them like a business meeting. Kids need us when they need us, and quality time comes not when we dictate but when circumstances provide us with a teaching moment — when we’re spontaneous enough to answer a question or play a game or tuck a child into bed even when it’s not convenient or written down in our day timer. This kind of occasional “serendipity” is a hallmark of good parents and it demonstrates to kids that they really are the first priority.
This is not to say we can’t schedule some family time. Indeed, doing so may be the most important solution of all. But it needs to be scheduled with the kids so they can anticipate it and plan on it and start enjoying it even before it happens.
The problem with most time management is that it focuses on achievements at the expense of relationships, on work goals more than on family goals, and often on things more than on people. Most of us need to make two adjustments in our time management if it is to work for our families rather than against them. First, we need to adopt a serendipity attitude that allows us — even prompts us — to see unexpected, unplanned opportunities to do fun and beneficial things with our children. Second, we need to do all we can to block certain times when we can be together as families.
It used to be that families ate dinner together most nights, and the dinner hour and the dinner table became the time and the place where things were discussed and feelings were shared. The busyness and conflicting schedules of today make that ideal virtually impossible for most families. But, as a minimum, families with children living at home should set aside one or two regular, set times each week when they will be together. For many families, Sunday lunch or dinner is the best time for a family meeting setting. The next week’s needs and schedule can be reviewed, parents can ask about anything from grades to friends, and kids can ask about anything from rules to finances. Family mission statements can be developed. It’s a time to share feelings and to feel the teamwork and identity of family.
In addition to the weekly family meeting (on Sunday or whenever), families ought to try to set one weekday evening aside as a family night where they do something fun together — something as simple as a movie or a visit to the pizza house or the ice cream store. It may not be possible to do this every week (or to hold the family meeting every Sunday), but if times are set aside and if only real emergencies or things beyond our control cancel them . . . they will begin to have a bonding, unifying effect on our families. Whether a family consists of two people or ten, holding certain times of the week for just each other can make a huge difference.
We had been holding Sunday family meetings for years — as consistently as our schedules would allow. But we still didn’t feel like everyone was having their say or that all were equally involved. Then we heard an idea from another family and began trying it in ours: Once a month, on the first Sunday of each month, after a Sunday lunch together, we began holding what we called a “family testimony meeting.” Each family member had a chance to stand up for a few moments and talk about (or “testify” of) his or her feelings (about other members of the family, about school or work, about themselves — their worries, their joys, etc. — each could just say whatever he or she wanted, with everyone else listening and paying attention. The only instruction we gave was that they should center on feelings and use the words “I feel” as often as possible.
The first couple of times were a little slow — one child was too anxious to express himself, another didn’t want to say a word. But we persevered, Linda and I talking about our feelings (especially for the children) and then encouraging them to do so. It has now become the absolute highlight of our month. There, in the quiet of our living room, with phones off the hook, we take time to tell each other how we feel. The love level and the trust level have expanded dramatically. We know each other better, appreciate each other more, and love each other more completely than we otherwise would
Find your own formula. Look for the times of the week that are most possible and most predictable for you. But prioritize them and make them happen. Real quality time will come gradually, and according to your willingness to set time aside and to be flexible and spontaneous when relationship opportunities come up.
4. Practice (and teach kids) the SELECTIVE USE of larger institutions.
It may sound like a stretched or overdramatized analogy, but we need to think of (and teach our kids to perceive of) big institutions as similar to fire. Fire can warm, support, and sustain us, or it can consume and destroy us. Media and merchandising, business and banks, Internet and information are the same — they can serve us or consume us. It’s a lesson our parents and grand parents didn’t need to teach us. It’s a lesson we do need to teach our children and grand children.
They need to learn to perceive the world like our target diagram . . . the family as the essence and the core . . . drawing on the outer sectors for support but never giving up their identity to them, never letting them replace or supplant family loyalty, never letting them take advantage of or swallow up the family.
Children are capable, once they are seven or eight, of understanding this perspective — and can be taught to identify the larger institutions and know what each does to help us and what each does to hurt us. A parent can use a large version of the bull’s eye diagram and help a child fill in the big institutions that fit within each sector and list the good and bad effect that each can have on the family. Such a chart can serve as a “framework of warning” on what to avoid (from “too easy” credit to too expensive tastes, from media amorality to Internet pornography, from all-consuming employment to all-consuming recreation). If your children are older, share with them the charts on pgs. ___ to ___ and help them to understand the ten different types of large institutions that they should use selectively (accepting the good, rejecting the bad).
Essentially, the goal is to help our kids become good critics who can see through advertising and promotion, who recognize instant gratification for what it is, who connect action to consequences whether others do or not, and most of all who perceive the dangers stemming from the expansion instincts (and the greed) of larger institutions. Our own experience convinces that kids can, gradually over time, become good critics who see things as they really are.
We’d been trying for months to help our kids see the world in the framework of the bull’s eye diagram and to be self-motivated critics of the materialism and amorality that lurks everywhere today. We had little indications that we were getting somewhere when a child would say, “Yeah, sure.” while watching a commercial on T.V. or would ask their friends if they knew how much a car really cost when you bought it on credit. We knew one of our boys had really mastered at least a part of it when he told us he’d found an Internet server he thought we should shift to because “it screens out all the garbage.” But we really felt we were making progress when we were driving our seventh-grade daughter home from a parent-teacher conference and she suddenly said, “You know, I’ve just got to go in and talk to my math teacher and tell him why I didn’t think that test was fair. After all, he works for us!” We asked her what she meant and she really told us. “Well, we pay him, don’t we? I mean, it’s our taxes — he works for us. We own the schools. They don’t own us. It’s like you’ve been telling me — schools and stores and companies and stuff, even movies and music and the Internet, they shouldn’t be telling us what to do. We should be telling them what to do!”
Well, we had to have a little discussion about the right and wrong ways to “tell them what to do,” but we were delighted with her growing ability to think things through for herself and her capacity to be a critic rather than a pawn-like acceptor of everything.
The bottom line (and one that kids can understand and feel empowered by) is this: Live by your own values. Sift and screen the things media and schools and advertisements throw at you. Learn to recognize when a big institution’s self-interests don’t match up with your values, your beliefs, your sense of what’s best for you and for your family.
Next week: The fourth phase of the cure . . . the selective and careful use of larger institutions.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.