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Get Creative with Family Day

The acid test of “family day” is an honest answer to this question: would I really rather be doing something else? For parents, the answer is often “yes” because the day tends to gravitate toward children’s activities, rather than using the day to catch up on things that have been put off in favor of work or other pressures. It’s good when families stick to their guns and make Family Day a priority, but like anything worth doing it requires work and creativity to keep it fresh and meaningful. The nature of the activities need to evolve, not so much to alleviate apathy, but to meet the growth curve of the children for whom the day has been set aside. There are tricks to this trade, but they call for a shift in intention and mindset on the part of the parents.

The biggest mistake a parent can make, one that they were able to get away with then the kids were younger, was to drag the family along on activities that you could do by yourself, and are designed to check off a box on your to-do list or wish-list. Some dads take the kids fishing on Family Day, but after a few years of mom reading a magazine and the kids complaining that this is boring, it’s time to realize your free pass has expired. Two things need to happen to resurrect the joy and reward of Family Day, and not just for the kids – selflessness and creativity. The combination is magic, and it can create lifetime memories that define the childhood and the parenting experience.

One strategy is to let the child plan the day. Ask them to make sure there’s something in it for the whole family, not just a trip to Toys ‘R Us, but rather, a trip to the zoo or a ballgame or maybe a play at the Civic Center. When the children have a sense of hosting they invest more of themselves in the event, and their self-image gets a ride along with their funny bone. Your children love seeing you at play and full of joy as much as you enjoy seeing the same in them, and when they feel as if they are the architect of that experience, bonding occurs in a very special, enduring way.

Family Days that involve surprises are a wonderful change of pace. Have Dad and the kids plan a day with mom, then spring it on her and watch her face light up. Then have Mom and the kids plan a day with Dad in return. Giving is a special experience, and it is one that can be modeled and taught through participative Family Day planning.

Another approach is to make a game of it. Design a scavenger hunt, or solve a mystery, or design some sort of point system for, say, a nature walk to hunt for flowers from a book, the most identifications winning a fun prize. Children love to compete, and with no losers this fosters a sense of self as well as a sense of teamwork.

And speaking of work, here’s a wonderful way for any family to invest time together: create a charitable project, a work party, that the family can do together that benefits someone in the neighborhood or someone from the community. Recognize the children for their contribution, and share the moment of giving together. Talk about it later, maybe over burgers and fries (or tofu and rice) at your favorite restaurant, to cement the experience and acknowledge everyone’s contribution.

The common element of all these approaches is togetherness. Family Day is more than spending time together, or at least it can be. It’s about growing and exploring together, about common interests and shared joy. Take it seriously and invest the time, because time is moving forward and the opportunities to create memories won’t be there forever. Grab them now, and make them count.

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