Making more time

Modern family life means that quality time together can often end-up squeezed. Samantha Sawyer of Staines Preparatory School argues the ‘new normal’ is the right time to look again and try to make more time for family.

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As a Headmistress and a full-time working parent, it is very difficult to always feel I am practising what I preach. I am often spinning several plates, juggling different size balls and standing on one leg... sound familiar? And that was before the coronavirus changed all our lives completely.

Great schools pride themselves as having ‘family values’. This is very important as your child spends more hours at school than at home during the week. Family values are therefore what parents say is the number one reason for joining a school because they promote a nurturing, family learning environment, and rightly so. As a fee paying parent myself, this comes with financial pressures and, for the majority of parents involved, this means being in full-time employment, working hard and, on occasions, very long hours. Weekends, therefore, often seem to be consumed by neglected household chores and, prior to the pandemic, the taxi of Mum and Dad.

When sitting down to eat supper, we are often distracted by technology. Even if the phones are away from the dinner table our minds are often focussed on unfinished work matters or on what is happening in the news rather than focussing on the ‘here and now’. I am often the first to try to instigate dinner conversation with ‘So how was your day?’, and I always receive the same generic alternating responses: ‘Fine’ or ‘Okay’. In fairness, if I was asked this every day I probably would respond in the same way. I have now started a supper time ritual of ‘Tell me something that you think I do not know...’ Meal times seem to be much more entertaining and fascinating. In one week, I discovered that phobophobia is the fear of developing a phobia and that bees can sting other bees!

One of the few positive things to come out of the lockdown was the opportunity for families to spend time together. Of course, it came with considerable stress, but it was also about sharing moments together and creating memories. Family time is such a precious gift that with our normal busy lives we can often take this for granted. Perhaps the current situation with the pandemic gives us the opportunity to reset and re-evaluate. Before we know it, our precious babes in arms are no longer babes in arms but teenagers preparing for adult life choices.

A healthy family environment influences a child’s views on relationships, self-confidence, how to deal with situations, conflicts and being confident to find resolutions, how to embrace life, learn to take risks and to ‘be the best that they can be’ academically – but more importantly, personally. All of these life skills are easily achievable. Just engaging in day-to-day chit chat decreases stress and provides easier opportunities to discuss anything that might be worrying them. To put it simply, family time creates happiness.

I feel putting aside quality time every day reaps benefits and helps define your child to become a rounded individual with a sense of belonging. Family time is not always about the need to have excitement, going to places or being busy, it’s about real life and children should be exposed to just knowing how to relax with the family. In many ways, their lives are just as hectic as ours but with a different focus. We are at risk of becoming a society where we have to be busy and are losing the ability to stop and relax without feeling guilty.

Family time is about incorporating everyday life into opportunities within a family. A while ago, I decided to decorate my teenage son’s room. I persuaded him to help me with the promise of extra gaming time – it can have its advantages! I have to say it was the best Saturday afternoon that I have had in a while. We were laughing, making decisions together, helping each other and actually just hanging out – chatting about absolutely everything and absolutely nothing. The end result was a lovely decorated room but more importantly a wonderful afternoon of ‘us’ and a sense of achievement, resilience and determination.

Maybe when cooking supper, make it a family affair? Children love to cook and create meal choices together. Having Funday Sunday crazy breakfasts is always something we look forward to in our household. Have a designated family movie night, a board game evening, or just building a den at home. Children love fixing things as they have such curious minds and there are always projects within local communities which enable all of us to appreciate the feeling of giving back and helping others – and never more so than at the moment. The list is endless and often does not involve lots of planning or expense. Create opportunities that you all – as a family – look forward to and becomes ‘your sacred family time’.

Above all, involve the children in your family decisions as this gives them a sense of understanding and appreciation for the real world. From experience children are extremely good at finding solutions as their views are refreshingly innocent and simplistic – as adults our life experiences can often end-up over complicating our choices. Create new family traditions. Learn new skills together as a family. Family time is not about finding time, it is about making time.

Samantha Sawyer Photo

Samantha Sawyer is Headmistress of Staines Preparatory School.

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