Other Husband & Wife Articles

Family is Job #1


By Dennis Poust and Mary DeTurris Poust

Families in today’s world are pulled in many different directions. Talk to any parent, and you’re likely to hear a litany of scheduled events – some out of obligation, others by choice – that stretch families to the limit and leave little time for togetherness.

Sometimes what’s most needed in a family is someone willing to say “no” to one more class, one more committee, one more unnecessary time filler. We think we’re trying to do everything and be everything for our kids, but the reality is that most kids don’t want more appointments; they want more attention and more time with mom and dad.

Dennis’s View: Our family has never been to Disney World. There, I’ve said it. I know what you’re thinking. “They have to go!” “Denying their children of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot is tantamount to child abuse!” OK, maybe you’re not thinking that last part. You know what, though? Neither are our kids.

Would they like to go to Disney World? Of course. Might we go one day? Perhaps. But I can honestly say our kids do not feel deprived and really have barely ever uttered a word about it.

We do go on a family vacation every year though, but it has always been within driving range of our upstate New York home. This summer, for the fifth straight year, we will be staying in the exact same condo in Wildwood, N.J., home of a two-mile long boardwalk, the tallest ferris wheel on the Eastern seaboard, fried Oreos and funnel cake, and one of the most beautiful stretches of beach you’re likely to see outside the Caribbean. Every year, on the way home, the kids start planning for next year’s trip.

Here’s the point: It’s not where you go on vacation, or even if you go away at all. What kids really crave is family time, where Dad is not grumbling about work and Mom is not stressed out by having to be in three places at once. Family vacations, no matter how modest, are a great way of achieving that for a few days. But it is even more important to find some of that family closeness at home during the other 51 weeks of the year.

Let’s face it. Our daily lives are about the farthest thing from a vacation, with work pressure, household chores, kids’ schoolwork and extracurricular activities vying for our attention. But for the sake of your marriage and your family life, it is imperative to carve out some down time, even if you have to put aside something else worthwhile.

So let that lawn go uncut or the laundry pile creep up to eye level. Play catch instead, or a board game. It may not be breakfast with a Disney princess, but sometimes the best memories are the ones made closest to home.

Mary’s View: Between piano and dance, baseball and soccer, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, we can sometimes feel like bi-location is the only answer to our scheduling problems. And that’s despite a conscious effort to put limits on what our three children do. Add to that the fact that I work from home and constantly feel the pull of the office just one floor away, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

We are very aware of the need to step back and slow down at times, not just for our own sake but for the kids’ as well. Sure, they love running from one fun event to another, but it’s pretty clear that there’s one thing they love even more: time together as a family, even if that simply means making pancakes on a Saturday morning and spending time outside riding bikes.

Although we don’t have any written rules or a “mission statement,” as some parenting professionals suggest, we do have some unwritten guidelines that have served our family well. First and foremost is dinner together as a family every single night except on rare occasions when it simply isn’t possible. And that really is rare for us, maybe once a month or so. I can’t imagine what our lives would be like if we let that ritual fall by the wayside.

We are blessed that Dennis’ job is close enough that he can drive home for lunch on summer days or to take a child to the doctor. And, of course, my home-based business has allowed us to keep our children at home whenever they are not in school.

Not every family is so lucky, but even if schedules are more complicated and commute time more extended, parents and children need regular time together, whether it’s just taking a walk around the neighborhood or going to an actual destination. The reality is that kids aren’t really looking for extravagant outings; they just want time with mom and dad. Turns out kids sometimes know better than we do what’s most important in life

Dennis Poust is director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference. Mary DeTurris Poust, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism,” blogs at www.notstrictlyspiritual.blogspot.com. They live in upstate New York with their three children.