Bottom Line Inc

What Is Your Family Activity?

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When I was interviewed recently on the Small Business Advocate radio show, I was asked—as I often am—what it was like growing up in a family business. After I get off my martyr cross about having worked since I was 12 years old and then finish singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” because I spent hours watching Shirley Temple movies while inserting customer invoices into envelopes by hand, here’s my answer—the business was my family’s activity. It’s what we did together on nights and weekends. It’s what we talked about over the dinner table. And it’s what we were all committed to for the common good of the family.

Now, 44 years later, I am watching the demise of family togetherness and I hear parents bemoan their lack of a connection with their children who hide behind screens and will end up suffering chronic neck injuries caused by constant texting. And I realize how special those nights and weekends really were to my sense of security in the world, knowing that my parents were “there.”

Having family time has been shown repeatedly to be critical to the health and welfare of our children. For my Hiner family, together time came in the great outdoors. My husband grew up in Denver, so we encouraged our East Coast–raised daughters to experience the mountains of the West with hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. It’s amazing what comes out of kids’ mouths during hours of quiet time on the trail. We played the song game, where someone gave a word and the others had to quickly think of a song with that word. We “wrote” stories with each person contributing one sentence at a time, never knowing where the next plot twist would come from. And then there were the “nothing” moments when the girls would talk about what was happening in their worlds, with their friends, at school, in sports or even on their favorite television programs. Any topic was fair game…and every word was welcome.

When we were back home in Connecticut, like most families, my husband would be in his office working…I would be in my own office working…and the girls might be in their rooms or scattered around the house. But we were lucky enough to also spend time sailing on Long Island Sound. And the girls were at their most peaceful when we stayed overnight in the boat’s cozy 100 square feet of space with no TVs or computers. We played board games, created macramé bracelets, did art projects or just sat in the cockpit looking at the stars and listening to the sounds of the water and the night.

Family activities don’t need to expensive or extravagant. When my parents weren’t working, we did simple things like go on ice cream outings or play tetherball in the driveway. What’s most important is the shared time when everyone participates and the children know that they are part of a loving unit.

I worried when my girls were young that perhaps my being a working mother would affect my relationship with them. Then my pediatrician reminded me that when I was young, my mother was busy with chores and not necessarily attending to me all day every day. Rather it was the quality of attention that I provided to my children every morning with a full cooked family breakfast before school…and every evening with game time or reading time or, later, homework time…and movie nights with cooked-on-the-stove popcorn.

What is your family activity? What memories will your children bring into their adult life about the times spent together?

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Source: Sarah Hiner is president and chief executive officer of Stamford, Connecticut–based Bottom Line Inc., which publishes books and the consumer newsletters Bottom Line Health and Bottom Line Personal.
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