With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the importance of setting aside time for your husband or significant other is frequently talked about. When you become a family of two it’s easy to see how important it is to build your relationship as a couple. One of the best ways to do this is to keep dating and going on regularly planned dates together. These happy moments carry so many couples through harder times and they create an environment where love is fostered and pleasant memories are made. Most people make date night a priority and try to have it happen regularly even after kids to continue to strengthen relationships and craft structured fun time to bond as a couple, but have you ever stopped to consider that memory making and dating should also take place as a family?
Think back to your fondest family memories from your childhood. Chances are it is surrounded by a family trip, a special occasion, or a special day that was filled with a fun activity. Most childhood memories are attached to strong emotions (both good and bad), and helping children cultivate strong feelings of love and happiness are an important part of their emotional development. When your children are adults, don’t you hope that most of their childhood memories are of the special days they spent with their family instead of the time they were grounded? I think most parents absolutely want to be remembered in a positive way, and give their children positive experiences to look forward to.
So how does one go about cultivating these experiences? Family vacations are definitely one idea, but it’s much easier and often just as effective to do small staycation style activities in the form of family dates. All it takes is planning fun intentional time together with the entire family to count as a family date! It can be something free, it can be something short, it can be a favorite activity, or bonus points come if it’s a new experience for your child. This helps stimulate new feelings and excitement, and creates stronger memories.
If your kids are old enough I’d start by sitting down as a family and making a list of fun things you’d all like to do. Think of this as a family bucket list, one you can create each year, each season, or each month. You can take turns picking the activity so everyone feels more invested and ensures that each family member gets at least one activity they are excited about and that fits their interests. If your kids are a bit young, I’d sit down and make a list of activities as a couple that you think are age appropriate. You can also decide how much you want to spend on these activities, and make sure that your plan fits within the monthly budget. Even if the budget is modest, there are plenty of fun, inexpensive or even free experiences any family can have. No matter how much you plan to spend, just make sure the planning stage happens, it’s the key to finding that special time to build love and relationships in your family.
You may also want to set a few family rules early in the game. Make this a time to unplug, even parents should commit to putting their phones down and being fully present for the activity. Make sure everyone knows we take turns doing different things and we all agree to go and enjoy new activities, even those we may not have chosen ourselves. If you have more than one child it’s particularly important to help them understand that they may not always get to pick the activity, but it will still be fun with a good attitude and that taking turns is important. You will also want to set distinct times. Saying “We’ll go to the park this week” often yields to busy schedules taking over and activities getting pushed back. Just as an adult understands what it may feel like to be stood up for a blind date in their single years, kids will feel similar feelings of disappointment. Value their little feelings and make sure it’s a set time and all family members are committed. Put it on the calendar, put it on all calendars. This is one time parents should take out their phones with their children and make sure it’s officially booked as a sacred family time that won’t be interrupted.
So what does a family date look like? I’d say much like an adult date, with age-appropriate activities. It will vary depending on the ages of your child or children, your budget, the city you live in, and the time of year but as long as everyone can be together, that is all that matters.
Here are a few ideas to get you started if you’re looking to make your next family bucket-list:
- Go out for ice cream
- Visit a new park you’ve never been to
- Find a free museum day and go as a family
- Visit the zoo
- Attend a children’s play
- Find a new restaurant as a family
- Look for a local train in your area and take a ride
- Attend a library activity
- Go to a bookstore and choose new books for your family library
- Go for a hike
- Ride bikes together around your neighborhood
- Go to the movies, and make it extra fun by letting them pick out the popcorn or candy
- Volunteer at a local food bank. Many will allow children to help sort cans
- Build a snowman
- Go sledding
- Fly a kite
- Go to community swimming pool
- Build a model rocket for one, launch it on your next family date
- Visit a pet store
- Build something together as a family for your home
- Have a craft day and have everyone make a specific craft
- Visit elderly neighbors
- Have a family movie night at home, complete with popcorn and blankets and pillows on the floor
- Bake cookies together
These are just a few to get you started making your list. Just remember that what you do is actually far less important than who you do them with, and that a few fun family dates can make all the difference in building love and stronger relationships as a family unit.