After my husband bought an additional TV for our bedroom, he, our son and I were on three devices at the same time. The only real talking we did was to tell each other to turn down the volume.
Before coronavirus forced us to spend every minute together, I’d find myself complaining about picking up my son from preschool, biking the few miles in the intense Florida heat.
The fact that my husband and I both work from home, plus my son’s getting used to his at-home routine means we have plenty of “opportunities” to spend time together. Of course, relishing these moments can feel hard, especially with work deadlines and your children acting up because their routine is disrupted.
That’s why I’ve asked relationship, family and money experts to help you find ways to savor even the mundane time that you spend with your family—whether or not you’re in the middle of a pandemic.
Here are some seemingly ordinary activities you can do with your family that’ll help you grow closer together (instead of tearing each other apart).
1. Create a New Routine Together
It can be helpful to create a new routine, especially if your old ones have been disrupted. Instead of dictating the routine to your kids, why not involve your children in the planning?
Jonathan Dixon, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests families start slow. Schedule a time when everyone is free and won’t be interrupted. Take the time to listen to what activities each family member enjoys and how they can be implemented into the week ahead.
“Try a routine similar to you and your children’s typical daily schedule,” he says. “This can help you get into your child’s world a bit; ask them to show you what their day would’ve looked like at school. Ask what they love to do for recess and try incorporating those activities.”
It could also be helpful to discuss a morning routine where you’re spending time together before going off to your separate activities. For example, Fabric’s editorial director Allison Kade has found it hard to be quarantined with her husband and toddler while trying to work a full-time job, but she’s been trying to see the upside: “The three of us now have breakfast together pretty much every day, which we didn’t do before.”
See if you can build positivity into these new daily routines. Kade says, “To try to focus on—and bond over—something positive, we’ve been taking turns saying something we’re grateful for over breakfast.” More often than not, her 2-year-old announces that she’s grateful for the bib she’s wearing. “One time she said she was grateful for her Papa, though!”
While you’re getting used to a new routine, Dixon suggests checking in once a week and adjusting if necessary. Dr. Alex Melkumian, a relationship therapist and founder of the Financial Psychology Center, agrees. “Have your family think of this as a team effort so it’ll encourage buy-in from them.”
2. Make Your Walks Meaningful
Especially in a “socially distanced” world where there isn’t much to do other than going for a walk, this sounds about as mundane as it gets, right?
For Leisa Peterson, author of soon-to-be published book The Mindful Millionaire, this seemingly simple activity helps her to engage in really good conversations and learn new things about her family.
“I have a teenager, which means conversation, when it happens, is priceless. It allows us to ask each other questions about how what’s happening in the world could affect our lives and our future,” she says. “My son is incredibly insightful and I always learn new things when he is talking.”
Walking or hiking in nature also helps her family get some much-needed exercise. “I think that spending time with my family is my greatest joy in life—there is nothing like being able to connect deeply with my family through communication and being in nature together,” Peterson says.
For younger kids, too, getting outside can make a big behavioral difference. “My toddler might be throwing a tantrum at home, but once we get her outside, she tends to absorb what’s around her and become a different person,” says Kade.
3. Rent a Movie (Then Talk About It)
After discovering that my family watches three different shows on three different screens, I made it a point to watch a movie together. We each take turns picking one we like and we all talk about it.
Couples counselor Adam H. Kol, J.D. says that spending a few dollars to rent a movie (which you can do through plenty of online services like Amazon) can actually be a great use of funds because it can facilitate meaningful discussion.
He suggests movies that help you relive your childhood memories, which will encourage you to share some of these stories with your children. Or, really, any movie where you kids will be able to recall details and be able to articulate their opinion afterwards.
“A mundane activity such as this means you’re carving out intentional time where you minimize the use of cell phones or other distractions,” he says. “It means setting aside jobs or other commitments to simply be together.”
4. Transform Chores Into Activities
OK, let’s be real: When life is busy, it’s not always possible to carve out special time. But attempting to relish the moment with your kids doesn’t have to mean special field trips, especially if you can make your chores feel more meaningful.
It can feel anxiety inducing to have your kids, especially little ones, do chores. How long does it really take to put building blocks away?
But Joel Larsgaard, host of the How To Money podcast and father of two young kids himself, takes chores as an opportunity. That means embracing the craziness, and accepting that the house will get messy and it’ll take longer to complete certain tasks.
“It’s a blast to have our kids cook with us, but only if we go into it knowing that we’ll have a far bigger mess on our hands when all is said and done,” he says. “The goal isn’t efficiency. It’s to enjoy time together, and to help them learn some important skills.”
Laarsgard also suggests resisting the temptation to use your phone during these times. Especially if you find yourself stuck in the house together, try to forget about the additional time it’ll take to cook or put away laundry or do the dishes—and attempt to make these things feel less like chores in the first place.
5. Introduce Kids To Your Favorite Hobbies
Constantly trying to come up with activities to keep our kids engaged is all well and good, but it can be exhausting. Especially if you’ve internalized the pressure to make every activity educational, and if you have a life of your own and things you need to get done.
Emily Guy Birken, author of End Financial Stress Now, suggests finding ways to incorporate your hobbies into the activities you do with your kids, so you can get something out of the experience, too.
“My husband is an automotive engineer, and he will have the kids help him with any car repairs he is doing,” she says. “He’s also got an old lawnmower engine that he kept specifically so he and the kids could take it apart.”
Birken, meanwhile, asks her kids to help her with her current cross stitch project. She has also passed on her love of reading by sharing her favorite comic books from when she was a child. “Sharing the things you love is a wonderful way to enjoy time together,” she says, and it enables you to take some time and energy for yourself, too.
6. Sometimes Money Can Buy Quality Time
Think about whether any given purchase, whether it’s a board game or paying extra for a convenience that saves you time, is worthwhile if it means more quality time with those you love.
Dr. Melkumian suggests that if your kids are old enough to talk about budgeting, this could be a great opportunity to teach them about financial concepts like weighing the costs and benefits of a purchase.
The key, really, is that you don’t need to do anything grandiose to show someone you care, or to make the most of your family life. It’s what you do with your time that will make it special, even (or especially) those seemingly mundane minutes.