One of my favorite childhood memories is a tad strange. It’s an image of my twin sister, my mother, and I all cleaning the bathroom together. Yes, the bathroom.
I can picture it still. We were all crammed in there and having a great time — making jokes, teasing, and smiling as we wiped the glass and rinsed the tub. My sister and I couldn’t have been older than 10 or so, typically not the age to enjoy cleaning a bathroom, but the reason there was so much joy in that mundane activity is because we were together — as a family. We were bonding and actively enjoying each other’s company. It didn’t matter what we were doing, we were just happy to be together right then.
It’s certainly not Disneyland or a trip across the pond, but it’s one of my favorite memories from when I was little, and it’s the type of memories I want to create with my kids as well.
Contrary to what marketing, ad agencies, TV, and social media would have us believe, there’s more to quality time than spending a gazillion dollars and flying thousands of miles. We don’t have to plan vacations, take time off work, plan for time away from school, or hire a dog sitter to have quality time. The key factor when it comes to family time is…wait for it…spending time together as a family, doing whatever you’re already going to be doing. It’s not what you’re doing, but who you’re doing it with, and what your attitude is. Sure, some things are always going to be more fun than others, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some joy to be found in everyday life.
Do you have a long shopping list and you’re dreading taking your kids along with you? Take a deep breath and ask them to join you. No screen time, no splitting up so you get home quicker. Just start grabbing frozen pizzas and talk and laugh and grit your teeth through the hair-pulling moments. Ask them questions, dance to the songs playing overhead, let them cross things off the list, have a shopping cart race in the parking lot. It might not be perfect, but it all adds up to quality time.
Does the garage need cleaning? Hand out some brooms and boxes and storage containers, crank up some tunes, and get to dusting. Tell stories. Share a snack. Dig through an old box. Encourage laughter, and don’t let the need for efficiency override your need to connect with your family.
Take them along for the ride by inviting them into your world. Teach them how to scramble an egg, or sort the recycling, or show them what you do at work during the day. Plant some tomatoes in the backyard. Make a weekly meal plan and incorporate their ideas. Someday the adult world we inhabit will be their world, and there are things they’ll need to know. You can let them learn it on YouTube, or you can try to make it a bonding moment for both of you.
There’s far too much pressure weighing us parents down that we have to create all these over-the-top memories with our children, and that’s bullshit. We don’t have to break the bank to get to know our kids on a deeper level. We don’t have to plan outings and adventures to make scrapbook-worthy experiences. We just have to decide that whatever we’re doing, and whomever we’re with, we’re going to make it quality time.
I understand that household chores or boring jobs don’t typically pose as the crème de la crème of family bonding. I know that not every Saturday morning spent detailing the minivan will be memorable. But, hell, not every family road trip is memorable either. The point, though, is to just relax and be intentional. Don’t plan. Don’t overthink. Don’t overcomplicate. Just be together.