Rachael Rachael, a mom of two daughters, is a freelance editor and writer who enjoys gardening and dreams of keeping chickens in her suburban St. Louis backyard. In her spare time, she helps to edit her husband’s science fiction books. Read more of Rachael's work at www.rachaelsjohnston.com or contact her by emailing rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

I wrote a post a while back about a typical day in my life as a stay-at-home mom. I briefly noted that our family is determined to avoid the busy trap so many families get caught in during family time.

That got the attention of one of my friends from church, who told me I inspired her family to rein in their busy schedule. She had cut down on her 4-year-old daughter’s extra activities and was staying home more. At first, her daughter had trouble knowing what to do when every minute was not planned out for her, but the whole family enjoyed the less hectic pace. She said they were “trying to find the margin” in their lives.

That margin is key to reducing stress, fostering close relationships among family members, maintaining a healthy marriage, and promoting creativity and social development in children. Our daughters are not enrolled in multiple classes, sports, or other activities. My husband and I are home ninety-nine percent of the time in the evenings.

It helps that we are natural homebodies, but even the most extroverted families might benefit from pulling back a little.

Here are a few guidelines to help families maintain margin for family time:

Family Time: Maintaining Margin

Don’t over schedule.

We do participate in some things, but we also practice the art of saying no, whether it’s to dance classes or soccer leagues for the kids, a church committee I’ve been asked to join, or special optional work committees that require my husband to invest time well beyond the normal business day. We are thoughtful about the activities in which we do participate. Last year, my oldest daughter attended preschool two mornings a week (we purposely chose a program that was not four or five days a week), and she’ll be taking swimming lessons and attending a Vacation Bible School program this summer.

Children need unstructured play time to promote social and mental development, and children who don’t get that unstructured time may grow anxious or depressed. It can be hard to say no to commitments outside of the home. A great book that provides help and insight is Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

Set aside specific time for family.

Weeknights are an almost sacred time for our family. We are more likely to say no to activities that draw us away from home during this time. My husband is finally home from work and we have missed him. He gets a chance to unwind and recharge, we can chat about our day, and our daughters get time with their father.

Our community center offers tempting dance and tumbling classes, and our church has mid-week kids’ programming, but we are selective about how many activities we say yes to so I don’t spend every evening chauffeuring my older daughter and leaving my husband alone at home to watch our toddler daughter. I often schedule fun outside-of-the-home activities for the girls during the day when they will not interfere with our family time.

It will be more difficult to keep our evening time together as our daughters grow older, but it will remain in some form. We may not spend the entire evening together, but experts recommend that families insist on having dinner together most nights.

Limit activities that separate the family.

Mom’s nights out can be fun and it’s great that women have close female friends, but I’m not typically drawn to these types of events. My husband is my best friend. That’s why I married him. After he’s finally come home from work, I’m not eager to run out the door and hang out with non-best friends while I leave him alone to feed and entertain the girls and put them to bed.

If I want to commiserate with other moms, I do it during daytime play dates or other activities that bring moms and children together, or on the weekends. Likewise, my husband recently passed up a two-night men’s retreat partly so my daughters and I wouldn’t have to spend the whole weekend alone.

We’re also selective about how often we participate in personal hobbies or passions outside of home. I enjoy singing and could easily be out several nights a week with musical commitments, but I opted to be involved in only one group and keep a simplified schedule. When one spouse is heavily involved in outside hobbies like sports, leaving the other person home alone with the children several nights a week, it can engender bitterness or resentment. I did not marry my husband and have children so I could leave them behind.

Seek activities that cater to family.

Even extroverts who like to be on the go can find ways to be busy and be with family at the same time. An outgoing family from our church with three kids ranging from grade school to college-age exemplifies this idea. They are fans of a college football team and often spend their weekend evenings at a restaurant eating dinner and watching the game together. They also do family movie days at the dollar theatre.

Our family enjoys attending an annual festival with rides, food, and games at a Catholic parish in our neighborhood, and we have camping trips and outings to St. Louis attractions like Grant’s Farm on our summer to-do list. I’m content with simple family trips to the neighborhood park or local Target, too. When it comes to family, sometimes simple is best.

This summer, take some time to reevaluate your priorities and focus on family time. Your marriage will be healthier, your kids will be happier, and you won’t regret all the memories you’ll make.

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Category: Family Free Time

Tags: boundaries