As per request, I am going to do a post devoted to maximizing family time. This is a great topic for me because I am all about family time. Aside from the Lord, family is top priority to Lee and myself. We are all about quantity time and quality time with our family.
How To Prioritize Family Time -
#1 - Don't Over-Commit to Things
In this busy day and age there are a million things you and your family can do from church activities to school activities to sports to social get togethers to hanging out with other friends. It's not that these things are bad, but if you aren't careful, you could all be going in 100 different directions all the time and not have time for just your family.
Lee and I make it a priority to really think about what we are doing with our time and commitments to make sure we get time as a family unit. That means we aren't excessively involved in our church (we do go every Sunday morning to worship and most Wednesday nights for the meal and classes, but we don't do choir, extra Bible studies, or too many other get togethers that pull us away from each other extra times).
We don't sign up for activities all the time. We like spending time with friends and extended family, but we don't do it excessively.
We will let the kids do activities as they get older, but not excessively. I am not sure what the rule will be yet, but we will look at each thing and the commitment level (ie how much time it takes each week) and decide if it is fruitful enough for the commitment it takes. Of course our children will do church things, sports, and activities, just not every single day of the week. And when possible, I want things to still be family time or at least more than one person in the family going (ie all of us go and cheer for Luke's sporting event or Lee and Nathan go to cub scouts together). That way we aren't split up all the time.
#2 - Have Dinner Together [Almost] Every Night
I have read a ton of parenting books and gotten tons of tips on how to have a successful family unit and one of the biggest things I have seen is how important family dinner is. We try to have dinner as a family every night. I know this isn't possible for everyone but since I stay home full-time, we only have to work around Lee's work schedule. I try to have dinner ready when he gets home so that we can all sit down and enjoy a meal together.
I know that life is going to get busier as the kids get older, but I really want to try to have family dinner every night (at least most nights), so we can all stay on the same page and know what is going on in each other's lives. It doesn't matter if it's a fancy meal, hamburger helper, take out on paper plates, or at a restaurant, family dinner is just everyone being together enjoying a meal and conversation.
On that note, we try to keep family dinner positive. We don't talk about Lee's work (unless it is good stuff) or the misbehavior of the kids all day or bad things that are going on. We try to have fun and enjoy that time together.
#3 - Spend Time Together Playing Each Night (Or at least most nights)
Again I know that isn't always possible for everyone, but Lee and I try to spend time playing with the kids after dinner each night. If you can't do every night, plan nights when you can. Designate at least one night a week for "family night." It is easier now to have this time together and I know it will get a little harder as the kids get older (especially teenagers), but I think setting aside time to play and have fun as a family is important.
I read that as your kids get older you should designate one night for "family night". No friends over, no dates, everyone is there. The book said Sunday night worked for their family because they had gone to church and usually had a lower key day and it was a school night so kids weren't going out with friends/on dates and there usually weren't activities on Sundays. I think whatever works for your family is best.
#4 - Plan Special Outings
We aren't big on going to movies since most of the movies that come out are too violent and/or sexually explicite and it costs a lot, but if there is a good family movie worth seeing, we plan it as an event. For instance, we went to see Toy Story 3 as a family this summer. When we go, we go all out. We get popcorn, candy, and drinks and just have a blast. We don't focus on the cost, we just enjoy the outing.
Same with vacations or special events like the fair. We plan ahead financially and really enjoy ourselves. I look at is as a memory making thing and I want our kids to have lots of great memories of their childhood.
Fun Family Time Ideas -
Go to the movies - Like I said above, when you hear of a great family movie coming out, go and make an experience out of it.
Go to the movies at home - Put on a great movie, snuggle on the couch with blankets and loved ones, pop popcorn, have snacks, and have fun.
Go bowling, mini golfing, or skating - It is so fun to have some healthy competition and do something that isn't just sitting.
Go out for ice cream - Lee and I love to take the kids to our favorite ice cream shop, Sunni Sky's, in the summer and sit outside and have homemade ice cream.
Make homemade ice cream - Get an ice cream machine and make your own ice cream. It's really fun to try new flavors or buy all the toppings for sundaes.
Make homemade pizza - Make (or buy) individual pizza crusts and get all the toppings prepped (I like to put them in individual bowls like a pizza parlor). Everyone rolls out their crust, adds their sauce, cheese, and toppings, and gets to enjoy their favorite pizza.
Go to the park and play (parents too!) - We love to take lunch to the park and play. Lee and I are big kids at heart and have just as much fun going on the slides and swings and playing with the kids and the kids love it.
Have a tickle fight - We love to do tickle fights. Just make sure you go potty first ;).
Go paint pottery - I love to paint pottery. I am not an artist, but there is something so fun about getting a piece of pottery and just painting it and enjoying it for years to come.
Go to the zoo/museums - Lots of places put out coupons (sometimes buy 1, get 1 free). It is so fun to walk around learning about things together.
Wash the vehicles - Put on bathing suits and wash vehicles. Mom and Dad wash the big ones and let the kids wash their bikes/trikes (or let them help with the big vehicles).
Water gun/balloon fight - Again, put on bathing suits and get water guns/balloons and have a fight in the backyard.
Pillow fight - Grab some pillows and have a great pillow fight. Set some boundaries and have fun.
Play sports in the backyard - We love to play baseball or toss the football in the backyard.
Decorate cookies - Make (or buy) cookie dough and icing and use cookie cutters and sprinkles and decorate cookies.
Volunteer - Go to a shelter and serve food, build a house for Habitat for Humanity, etc.
There are millions of things you can do with your family. Some take time, money, or a bigger commitment than others, but the main thing is that your heart is for your family and that they are your priority. I hope these ideas have gotten your juices flowing. I would love to hear how you make family time a priority and what you do with your family.