A few years ago, I read about an interesting study in the New York Post. The destination marketing organization for the city of Anaheim, California surveyed 2,000 parents with school-aged children across the U.S. and found that American families get just 37 minutes of quality time together per day. According to the New York Post article:
The top things to blame are, inevitably, long hours at work (67 percent), weekends spent doing chores, and the kids' school schedule.
Wow, I definitely related! We spent the majority of our family time in the car driving back and forth to school and afterschool activities. But we were usually distracted by thoughts of our upcoming work or school day, sports practice, or other things we needed to accomplish. That meant we weren't in the right mindset to soak up some good conversation. Our drive counted as together time, sure … but there wasn't anything quality about it.
Why is connecting with your family so important?
When I was raising my eight kids, it felt like they'd be little forever and I had all the time in the world. But when people tell young parents that the years fly by so quickly, they aren't kidding! It seems like my kids graduated from high school in the blink of an eye. Then, they were off to college for the next phase of their lives.
Once my kids started kindergarten, I feel as though I spent nearly half the time with them that I had before they reached school age. And that time got even shorter as they got older and more involved with friends and outside activities.
That's why, when I read that article in the Post several years back, it really resonated. Before long, our kids are grown and living lives of their own. Family together time is the best time to connect with your kids, engage with their daily lives, and learn more about the passions that drive and motivate them. It's a time to teach life lessons and help them build the foundation for successful adult life.
Creating a connection with family challenges
Although our busy 21st Century lives seem like they're custom-made to interfere with family connection, there are still creative ways to sneak in a little quality time. One of my favorites is family challenges. I love the idea of family challenges because they not only give us a structured way to work together toward a goal, but they also give us purpose.
Here are four fun challenges to encourage your family to come together. Not only is participating in these challenges as a family rewarding, but their outcomes are, too!
Money savings challenge
When my kids were younger, I loved to create games and challenges with myself for ways to save money. My favorite one was the coupon challenge.
As the mom of eight, I had to become very savvy at clipping coupons for my weekly grocery haul. (Keep in mind, this was about 20 years ago before we had digital coupons and savings apps like Fetch and Rakuten.) Each month I set a goal to save money for things like treating us to a couple of dinners out or for a new piece of playground equipment for our backyard. I took the money I saved with coupons and put it into a special savings account each week. Through the years, I saved thousands of dollars. My coupon habit even paid for a summer vacation to Disney!
Saving money for a big family reward is a perfect way to encourage cooperation and connection.
Technology has evolved since my couponing days, but saving money for a big family reward is still a perfect way to encourage cooperation and connection. Start a family money-saving challenge of your own! First, gather everyone together to brainstorm an item or experience you'd like to save for together. Once you've decided on something everyone's excited about, talk about different ways you can all work together to meet the challenge.
Pinterest has dozens of creative money-saving challenges to fit any family's needs. I love this article I found on MoneyProdigy.com: 14 Money Challenges for Kids. It encourages your children to think outside the box and tap into their inner-entrepreneurial skills. Everyone can work together to realize your common savings goal. And when you reach it, the entire family can enjoy the fruits of their money-saving labors.
When saving money is your goal, my Quick and Dirty Tips colleague Laura Adams has plenty of fantastic advice to offer on the Money Girl podcast! Check out the Money Girl archives for inspiration.
One of my family's favorite challenges is to tackle something physical, so we just started a springtime fitness challenge. Each family member set a specific health-related goal. I decided I wanted to increase my steps from 10,000 to 12,000 each day. My daughters enjoy biking and have challenged each other to visit five new bike paths during April and May. And two of my sons are following in their father's footsteps—they're taking up golf. They'll be enjoying some friendly competition with their dad when they hit the links for the next two months.
We'll all be tracking our goals each week, and the family member who comes closest to staying on task will win a $100 gift card (everyone donated $20 for the prize) to our favorite retailer.
There are also plenty of family fitness challenges to choose from on YouTube. The 7 Minute Fitness Challenge is one of my kids' favorites because we can work out together in the family room. Mostly without laughing too much!
For more fitness inspiration, follow my QDT colleague, Brock Armstrong, the Get-Fit Guy!
Random act of kindness challenge
My eight kids and I have been practicing family challenges for several years, and my hands-down favorite is delivering random acts of kindness. Bringing happiness to someone by doing something nice and unexpected is personally rewarding, of course. But engaging your kids in brainstorming creative ways to help and boost others is even better.
You can find age-appropriate ideas to inspire all kinds of fun and unique ways to brighten someone's day unexpectedly. Once again, Pinterest has dozens of suggestions, from simple to outrageous. You create a Pinterest board as a starting point and then let your kids fill it in with tons more ideas that will put your family's personal spin on the project.
Not only do we all feel great when we participate, but we also get to spend time together making the plans.
Keep track of the feedback your family notices throughout the month as you all take turns practicing your random acts of kindness. My kids and I write a month's worth of ideas on slips of paper and place them in a jar. We then take turns drawing from the jar and make notes on the back of the slips of paper about our experience. Not only do we all feel great when we participate, but we also get to spend time together making the plans.
Our most gratifying experience was at the beginning of the pandemic last year. My kids volunteered to do grocery shopping for some of our elderly neighbors. Two of my kids teamed up and shopped for several seniors. Over the past year, they've formed close friendships with them. Pretty cool!
Host a family cookoff
If your family's meals are getting a bit boring, a cooking challenge is just what you need to spice things up. Literally! Your family can also add some thrill and excitement to a ho-hum menu by having a friendly cookoff.
I'm a die-hard meal planner. The idea of having a cooking challenge appealed to me because the entire family can get involved! I found a helpful article full of great ideas and inspiration on hosting your own family cooking competition on the Tom's of Maine website. One of the suggestions is to have a surprise dip ingredient contest. Whipping up an interesting dip for veggies, fruits, or crackers is an ideal project for younger kids who aren't ready to use the stove. But it's also fun for tweens and teens who want to kick things up a notch.
We're planning on having Saturday night cookoffs this spring using themes such as a 5-course menu from the grill, a raw foods menu, finger foods, and anything else that tickles our fancy. One of my kids works for a caterer who will do the judging. Fun!
Not only do we get kitchen experience, good food, and family together time for collaborating on this challenge, but the winner doesn't have to do dishes for the entire summer. Now, that's a goal to look forward to!
I just shared four family-friendly challenge ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Don't stop there! Join forces with your own family and see what other fun contests and challenges you can contrive. Don't forget to share your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page!