Principle 9: I Know Family Life Is Our Most Important Activity
When we were first parenting young children, my husband had an office that
backed against a peaceful and serene cemetery. Since we only had one car, I would
drop him off at the office in the morning, use the car for errands and appointments during
the day, and then pick him up at the end of the day. Sometimes, if I arrived a bit early, the
children and I would stroll the cemetery pathways to get some fresh air and keep them
from being cooped up in the car.
As I walked through the quiet and peaceful grounds after a busy day with little ones, my
eyes would scan over the headstones. I became aware of the theme that summarized
the most important fact of these lives now at rest. Almost all read Beloved Husband or
Wife, Father or Mother, Daughter or Son, Sister or Brother.
These people were not identified by their jobs or the committees they served. Exceptions were if they had served in the armed forces or were first responders.
This fascinated me. So many people strive to leave a lasting legacy of some kind. But
here were the facts for all to read; the people we genuinely matter to and who will
remember us are those we are called to love and serve and work on relationship with,
The world lies to us all the time. It tells us that everything we do outside of our family life
is essential and will give us fulfillment. But those things can never fill us to the depths of
our hearts and souls if marriage and family life are the vocation to which we are called.
There is no other place where we will have more importance and lasting impact. In any
other situation, no matter how important we are, once we are gone from it, something or
someone will replace us and fill the gap we leave. But no one and nothing can ever
close the gap we leave when we pass from the lives of our spouse and children. I can
speak to this personally (having lost both my parents) and professionally. I talk with
people every day, on More2life, who still deal with the pain and consequences of losing a
family member, either from death or desertion, even many decades later, or are carrying
pain from a relationship that isn’t as close as they long for it to be.
Truly grasping the truth of our importance to our family can lift us out of our false
perception that the ordinary moments of family life are mundane or insignificant. We can
instead knowledge that each moment of presence to our family matters to them
profoundly. Instead, we can choose to embrace each moment and create more good,
positive, and upbuilding ones for our family.
Principle 9 encourages us to stop thinking of family as just something we have or as
something we will hopefully get around to if we have enough time at the end of the day,
week, or year and instead think of family as our primary place in the world, and the place
where we grow closer to God’s love and each other while we help each other become
everything God created us to be. Therefore, we give ourselves permission to prioritize
creating time to be a family and build up our relationships.
Once we prioritize family time, we must figure out how to make it happen. As with any
goal, we need a plan to make it happen.
First, we need to (as a family) schedule times to focus on family time. We need to get out
our calendars and find times, small or big, to spend time together. This can be difficult at
first if you are each involved in a lot of activities already. As time goes by and schedules
change you can be more intentional about what to take on or not as you begin to make
family time a top priority. Start small if you must. Can you fit in 15 minutes at the end of
the night before bed to share a warm drink and catch up on everyone’s day, or read a
chapter of good family read a-loud? Could you all get up earlier on Saturday morning to
have a big breakfast together before heading out to activities? Could you all go to brunch
at a family restaurant after Mass on Sunday? Could you do a 5 minute family prayer and
blessing time before everyone leaves for school and work? Look for any minutes you
can turn into family time and write them in red on all your calendars so they are no
longer mere wishes, they are prioritized plans.
For bigger chunks of time we need to generate ideas for what each family member
would enjoy. We can choose different ideas for different times so that everyone’s needs
get met over time. It’s ok if not everyone likes the same things. We can grow in love by
stretching ourselves to do something someone else likes. Teens won’t die from playing
Candy Land, and little ones can roll dice and move pieces around a game board as
part of mom’s team for harder games. Once we’ve got a list of ideas, we need to
schedule them on our calendars. Some families may choose to set aside the same
evening or day every week for time together so they always know that Sunday or
Thursday night or whatever is always for family and no one will schedule anything in its
place. But in busy lives that can be hard to do. Looking ahead at the schedules before
the beginning of each new month and scheduling at least one family connection time for
each week that month can be really helpful.
Next, fit times to work, talk, pray and play together into the flow of your day. For
example, clean up the kitchen together after a meal (work ritual). While doing them, you
could turn on fun upbeat music and dance and sing together to add some joy to your day
(play ritual). Turn off the radio/screens on the way to school or appointments and talk
and catch up (talk ritual). If everyone is in the car driving home at the end of a long day
of school and extra-curriculars, pray on the way home (prayer ritual). Share your
gratitude and concerns with God and each other, intercede for one another and friends
who need prayer. This can be a great alternative for nights when you know everyone will
be too tired and grumpy to pray once you get home. These are just simple suggestions
to get you thinking about ways to connect during those crazy busy seasons. Remember
the goal is to create a loving, positive connection. Don’t use these times to discipline your
children or complain. The goal is to be building a warm, loving, connected family one
intentional step at a time.