Building Strong Families with Time Together

by Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT

This column is the sixth in a series that covers the six most common traits of strong families. Remember the acronym ACCCTS (A-Triple C-T-S)? The T stands for “Time Together.”

Guiding Principle: Quality time is a function of quantity time.

There has been a lot of talk about “quality time.” Strong families recognize that quality time is more than just a quaint aphorism. They realize this important truth: That quality time is a function of quantity time. Strong families spend as much time together as possible because they realize that quality relationships are only developed with investments in time. So how do we spend our time with each other? Most of our time together is spent in two main categories: Peak time and continuous time.

Peak experiences are the obvious, usually memorable events where we are isolated from the distractions of TV, phone and computers such as camping, playing with each other, changing roles (i.e., dad making breakfast) and so forth. Family trips to Disneyland are great, but they are no substitute for uninterrupted family time.

Continuous time is the day in, day out time we spend the majority of our lives in such as housework, homework, and practicing for sports and music. Think back to the times when you spent this type of time with your family growing up. Many people remember special talks they had with a parent while they were washing dishes, weeding the garden, fixing the car or cleaning the toilet. This is important time for several reasons. First of all, this is the time we have the most of which means we have a lot of opportunities to use it as a means of strengthening our family relationships. Secondly, the act of working together allows communication to happen in ways other mediums do not. For example, a parent and child are washing the dishes together and talking. An otherwise awkward lull in the conversation isn’t because each can just continue with the chore. Also, the chore can keep them from having to maintain eye contact which can be uncomfortable when discussing a sensitive subject.

Guiding Principle: The purpose of the task.

            When working together as with your family, remember what strong families remember. Dr. Kathleen Bahr of Brigham Young University expressed it this way: “The purpose of the task is not the task. The purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship.”  Oftentimes parents will focus so much on getting the job done that the job becomes the priority and the relationship gets lost. Drs. Bill and Christina Marshall posed the question, “Will you enjoy your clean house if your children hate you?”  How about the father who takes over his son’s project so it is done “right” instead of letting his son learn by making mistakes. This begs the question, “Do you want a model airplane that flies or a relationship that flies?”

Does this mean we neglect discipline or quality work so everyone feels good? No, definitely not. It does mean that we use discipline, chores, and activities as the means to strengthen the relationship instead of the relationship being the means for “getting things done.” Strong families realize that this present moment is the only time they really have together and they use it. There is a great piece that is worth reading entitled “Why Don’t You Kids Grow Up?!” While it is too long to print here, you may read it at bardos.net/strongfamilies in the Time Together section.

Are we too busy helping others that we neglect our own children? I see it all the time. We truly need to put first things first. Serving others is a beautiful and important part of this life. However, if we are not available for our own family then everyone misses out.  Charles Beckert tells a story called, “If Only His Parents Had Listened” about a young man who was taken from home, called a juvenile delinquent, placed in an institution and when he was about to be released at age eighteen he wrote a poignant letter home. He wrote:

"You know, Mom, I remember all those cookies you baked for me. And I enjoyed the cookies—for about 5 minutes. But I didn't want cookies. All I wanted was someone to talk to. But every time I wanted to talk you were too busy doing those things you thought were right for me." He ended the letter by saying:

"If anyone asks where I am tell them I've going to find somebody who'll listen because I have a lot I'd like to talk about."

Practical Techniques: Take time to make time.

            Sit down together as a family with pen and paper and ask everyone what they would like to do more of together as a family. You may be surprised. Then pick one or two things and begin implementing them this week. Usually the simpler, the better. Allow me to share a story along these lines from my own recent experience.

One day my boy informed me he was not going to school. While I was already late going to work, I reminded myself that as a family therapist I had better practice what  I preach. I sat down with him and asked about, and listened to, some of his frustrations at school. I told him that I did not want to go to work, either. We talked about all the things we would do if neither of us had to go. While that lifted his mood somewhat I could tell it was not enough. I guessed that part of what he liked about our pretend day was that it was just he and I in the story. I suggested that just the two of us spend some time together the following Saturday. He liked that idea and was a little more willing to go to school. However, as the week progressed and the more he thought of our “date” the more excited he got about it. When Saturday came, the couple of hours we spent together proved to be the highlight of his week—and mine, too. What did we do together? Not much really, we just did it together.

Without having taken that time I would not have realized how much he really needed to be alone with just me, as well as how much each of my four children needed that one-on-one time. A new family ritual developed from that simple act of slowing down and remembering that the task was not to get him to go to school, but that the task was to strengthen the relationship. Now once a week my kids take turns spending two hours alone with me. My daughter calls it her “special day” and she looked forward to those two simple hours all week long. The payoff of investing those two hours is this: my child got many hours of pleasure simply from looking forward to it, my child and I got to spend one on one time alone where we each got the other’s undivided attention (which is sweet), we both have some nice memories and an even closer relationship and each week I get to repeat that experience with a different child. Also my wife and some friends said, “You’re such a good dad.” While my ego likes hearing that, the truth is it was my son who taught me what we needed to do. I just listened.

They say time is money. How much is your time worth? If your time is worth X number of dollars an hour wouldn’t you gladly pay that much money for the kind of payoffs I described above? The good news is it does not cost money. Me being a family therapist has little to do with it. Anyone can create similar results. It just costs having the simple desire, making simple decisions and taking simple actions. I prided myself on already spending a lot of time with my kids. My kids taught me that we could make that same amount of time even more meaningful.

The well-known Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh urges, “There is no need for us to struggle to arrive somewhere else. We know that our final destination is the cemetery. Why are we in a hurry to get there? Why not step in the direction of life?” (Touching Peace, 1992, p.45). I encourage you to find life in the time you spend with your family. I would love to hear about your experiences. How does your family spend time together?  Send your solutions to ideas@bardos.net and I will post them online so others may learn from your successes.

Watch for the next column where we will look at spiritual wellness as a strategy for creating greatness in your relationships.

Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Consultant specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn to improve their marriages, their parenting and themselves through skill development, life coaching, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively throughout Utah County on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of Bardos Relationship Consulting located in the Prairie Gate Professional Building in the Ranches, Suite 200. You may reach him at 801.787.8014, jonathan@bardos.net or at www.bardos.net.

Time Together Examples
Why Don't You Kids Grow Up?

How have you and your family spent time together? Send your ideas to ideas@barodos.net and I'll post them here.


This article provided courtesy of
Bardos Relationship Consulting
801.787.8014 •
bardos.net