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November 2005
Time Out for Your Family

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

"Our families are essential to our health and well-being. They shelter us from the craziness of the wider world. That’s especially true for our kids, who need strong families as a place to learn what’s really important in life and to de-stress."
My Christmas cactus recently woke up from its summer stupor, which can only mean that the holidays are almost here. If the second half of that sentence triggered a stress response, I apologize and empathize. Holiday stress is very real especially if you’re anything like me when I’m on a quest for the perfect pumpkin, the perfect turkey-brining recipe, etc. etc. etc. But, by definition, a holiday is: “a day taken off for leisure and enjoyment.” Holidays are meant to be a pleasant break in routine for you and your loved ones – well-deserved time to de-stress and appreciate being part of a family.

I’ve got a favorite family memory of an unscheduled holiday we Foxes celebrated in January 1996. A tremendous windstorm roared through our area, knocking out the power for five days. No school, no computers, no work. My husband David and our kids gathered round the fireplace as I read aloud from a big book of obscure folktales. We paused at crucial plot points and guessed what would happen next. We acted out alternative endings. We played Crazy Eights by candlelight. We roasted marshmallows. We all shared memories from childhood. And by the second or third day, we were eating outrageous ice cream sundaes for breakfast (hey, we couldn’t let all the Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia melt, could we?).

Christmas cactus bloomAll in all, we had a blast hanging out together. We depended on each other for warmth, comfort, entertainment, and connection. And when the lights went back on, I think we all felt a little sad. (I know I did!)

Our families are essential to our health and well-being. They shelter us from the craziness of the wider world. That’s especially true for our kids, who need strong families as a place to learn what’s really important in life and to de-stress. Don’t think your kids are stressed? Listen to some typical responses I’ve gotten from kids when I asked: What does the word ‘stress’ mean to you?

  • “A kinda of mind overload.”
  • “Pressure and lots of responsibility on your hands.”
  • “Overwhelmed. Overworked.”
  •  “...a lot of stuff that I have to do like homework, chores and other things a girl my age should not be stressing about. If I have to do all those things in ONE day I would just pass out. It's too much pressure!!!!”
  • “A tax on your soul.”

Heart breaking, huh? And those were from 11-13 year olds!

Most things in this world are constantly changing but our unconditional love for our sons and daughters isn’t one of them. We hurt when we see our kids so freaked out and wound up, but what can we do?

You can’t stop the world, but you can slow down your own little corner of it. By instituting a regularly scheduled Family Time, you can create an oasis in your home that gives your kids (and yourself) a very powerful antidote to stress. The only agenda is being together as a family. Ground rules are simple: Turn off the TV and talk to each other. (HINT: To keep the interactions stress-free, it helps to avoid bringing up past conflicts and asking questions about homework, tests, chores, etc.)

Don’t believe your kids would want to hang out with you? Probably not all the time, but when I asked teens to complete these statements:

I wish my mom/dad would _______ more.

I wish my mom/dad would _______ less.

Here’s what they said:

I wish my mom would:

  • spend time with the family more.
  • yell less.
  • listen to me more.
  • stress less.

I wish my dad would:

  • laugh more.
  • nag less.
  • stay home more.
  • worry about money less.

They want to spend time with you. They need to. And you need to spend time with them. If everyone’s schedule is already packed, I suggest you might eliminate a few things that compete with Family Time. Where do you start?

How about calling a Family Meeting? Sit down with your kids and talk about the daily pressures each of you deals with. Talk about how spending time as a family can help with that stress. Unplug the media (including phones) for one night a week and do something you can enjoy together: Make a meal, bake, work on a project, play a game, go for a hike, make music, dance, look at old family photos or videos, tell stories, read stories, laugh, relax. Try it and you may get the same gift our family got when the storm blew out the power… the gift of time, which is the first step to reclaiming the heart of your family.

I wish you and your family well.

In friendship,



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