Reader Question of the Week: Separate Lives

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: weekend I like to post a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week’s question comes from a reader, who wants to bring her family together:

I feel like my whole family is just a bunch of individuals under the same roof. We all do our separate things–the kids have their friends and their activities, and my husband has his friends and his activities. My husband is always on the TV or on his computer (I don’t let the kids have computers, and they’re too young anyway), but we don’t feel like a family. I feel like I do everything and no one helps, and then everybody spends time in their own rooms. My kids (they’re in grades 2 & 4 & 7) don’t even like to play together. How do you change things so you feel like a family unit?

What do you think? How can she encourage the shift her family from separate into a unit?

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  1. There is one small bit I’d like to address. She states her kids don’t like to play together, and she wants them to want to play together. Honestly, sometimes you just don’t like your siblings. My sister and I never really got along and had a hard time playing together. My parents never required me to ‘like’ my sister, but I did have to love her, treat her with respect and be kind to her. Once we both reached adulthood however, each living in a different places, and both matured a fair bit, we learned to be friends. This isn’t ideal, but sometimes that’s they way personalities merge.
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  2. If you can afford it, travel! Even if it is just small day trips or weekends camping, or checking out new things around town… we traveled a lot while my brother and I were growing up, and it made us very close. Bringing friends along on family outing/trips wasn’t something we did often, and so my brother became one of my best friends. He was the person I did new things with and had my best memories with. My parents made sure that my brother and I had lots of things in common other than our genes or living in the same house. I had great friends as well, but when I look back on the pictures of the moments I consider “life defining”, my brother is the person who was there in all of them. He’s the only one (not any of my friends) who also has the same set of experiences as me, and that is because we traveled around the country. Odds are, if your kids already have a decent relationship, they will really bond and become friends when the other options (friends, tv, etc.) are removed, and vacation is perfect for that!

  3. My mom used to take us to the video store on Saturdays and let us rent movies, we’d spend the morning cleaning and the afternoon watching movies together.
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  4. I feel like “family time” is something my family did a really good job with. So I will try to suggest some things that I can remember my parents doing. I think one of the main things was that family time was assumed. We had dinner together frequently, did activities (day trips, camping, etc.) together, had movie nights. It sounds like in this situation, having your husband on board for doing family activities would be a great first step if that is possible. In general – good luck! I think even if your kids don’t want to play together outside of times you intentionally spend together as a family, moving in this direction will be a great blessing to all of you. :) You are doing a good thing here.

  5. As far as doing something with her husband, why doesn’t the wife suggest activities they could do together? Think about the things they used to before having children, and try doing some of those now. This could include going for walks, bike rides, playing games together, etc. The 7th grader could certainly keep an eye on the younger 2 children with the ages the kids are at while the parents do a few things together.

    Also, as far as the kids playing together, I can honestly understand why a 7th grader might not want to play with a 2nd grader. However, you could suggest having a “family game night” and play games that everyone could enjoy (Monopoly, Life, Jenga, etc). Sure, the 2nd grader may need a little help, but they’ll still have fun.

  6. I really think fun activities can help bond a family. Some additional ideas (I like Pam’s game idea): hiking, soccer, skiing, skating, snowshoeing, tobogganing, badminton, swimming. These can be enjoyed by kids of varying ages and adults too. I’ve also heard of some Wii games that are more interactive, but I can’t comment directly because we don’t have one. The Wii might draw in your husband easier as it’s kind of a half-way point between the computer and something non-electronic.
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  7. I think my mom felt like this – no, I know my mom felt like this, as we got older. My dad, too, has always gotten immersed in computer stuff and whatnot. When we “kids” (now grown) were younger, we played together all the time, but as we got older we did start shutting ourselves in our individual rooms. (Originally we shared rooms, though.) Something my mom did that was really neat – she made our house the cool place to be for our friends. We had parties with sometimes up to 50-70 kids. She always cooked everything from scratch. Especially my brothers’ friends were always at our house for the food. The guys when they were in junior high and in high school (and now!) liked video games, of course, so they would have x-box parties, or computer game parties, at our house. There would be gamers in every room of the house, playing the same game (things like Call of Duty) as a group. My mom would cook her famous dishes – everyone’s favorite was her “football taco chip dip” or whatever it was called. During our parties, she set it up so that every room in the house had something that different kids may like to do – in one room there would be a movie playing, in one room music, in one room video games, in one room playing games or just talking, etc. She has always loved stuff like that, and it brought us together as a family and it brought our friends into our house, where we did things together and she could be involved (and also chaperon). We had a party for pretty much every holiday of the year, plus birthday parties, plus themed parties (like 80s), and of course the video games, etc. Again, we were in junior high and high school, so that’s a little far away from second grade – we were all very close together in age. When we were that young we did play together voluntarily, mostly outside. Anyway, she even made our house hospitable for when the boys built a half pipe in our backyard, and built a fort, and did really silly things, and shot off fireworks and so on. She never intruded, but everyone loved her.

    I know that she still felt like that a lot, though, because adolescents and teenagers will be adolescents and teenagers, and if you have a husband who just isn’t interested in being involved….well….I don’t know, like someone suggested, maybe try doing some of the things you used to do together, before marriage and kids?

    I try to spend more time with my mom now. I consider her one of my best friends. She would do anything for me, and I would do anything for her.

    I’m sorry that you feel so lonely. I feel so bad for my mom, too, how she felt lonely for years, and my dad still doesn’t speak her love language (acts of service) at all even though he knows it, he’s just too self-centered to get involved. She works full-time and he’s unemployed, and he usually doesn’t do anything around the house except make it messy. I’m pretty sure he has a tv addiction, too.

    Maybe also get involved in a women’s group, where you will have a support group and friends.
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  8. There are already some great ideas here! My siblings and I were homeschooled, so my family always spent a lot of time together. But we made it a priority to have supper together every single night of the week, and my dad came home for lunch one day a week, too. When we got older we’d also get up one day a week to have breakfast with Dad before he left for work (otherwise he usually left earlier than we got up).

    My first suggestion would be to get your husband on board with you. Talk to him, express your concerns but especially your hopes for what your family life could look like. Share ideas you have, and then ask him for input. You two are team, and you’ll want your kids to know that Mom and Dad are of one mind.

    Do some research to find out what sort of opportunities are available in your area. Do you have any state or national parks? A skating rink? A zoo? An amusement park?

    Take your kids to a video rental place and have them each pick one movie that you’ll watch over the course of a weekend. Make some yummy (and healthy) snacks to have with the movies. Maybe you could even do a “pajama party” and have breakfast on a Saturday morning while the kids watch one of the movies still in their PJ’s.

    Family game nights are also great, as others have suggested. Take the kids to the store and have them pick out some games they’d like.

    Also, suggest having family devotions every night before you go to bed, if you’re religious. My family did this starting when I was a baby (I’m the eldest) and it was a treasured part of our family life and routine. It doesn’t have to take long, and it doesn’t mean all the kids have to go to bed at the same time (although until we were older teenagers, my brother and I always went to bed about the same time as my sister). Once your seven-year-old is ready for bed, call all the kids in the living room. Have your husband read a Scripture passage and a devotion based on it, if you’d like (Portals of Prayer is pretty good, although your 7-year-old might not understand much). Have your husband pray aloud, and if your kids are comfortable with it they can say a prayer, too. Each of my family members would say a prayer, starting with the youngest child and going up to my dad.

    I hope these ideas are helpful!
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  9. My kids are younger – 6, 4 and 1 so I don’t know if these ideas will work as well with older kids. But perhaps you could start with a conversation with your whole family along the lines of “I’d really like us to spend some more time together as a family. Does anyone have any suggestions of things we could do?”. Maybe someone wants to go iceskating, so you could all do that. Or someone wants to go to the beach.

    Another suggestion is to build it into your family routine. And actually print out a calendar for the week so that everyone can see it and knows what to expect. I know if I decided to spontaneously say “tonight is family games night!” my husband wouldn’t be in it, but if he knew that’s what I wanted to do this coming Friday night, he could be prepared and record his tv show in advance or reorganise anything else he had planned.

    Sitting down to dinner altogether is part of our family routine. The next part of the routine is everyone has to say “thank you for the meal” (my husband isn’t a Christian so we can’t say grace) and then we go around the table and have to say the best thing that happened to us today.

    At the end of the meal, my six year old has to clear the table (once again that’s a routine that’s printed and pinned up in the kitchen).

    The rest of our evening routine includes a bit of a toy tidy (with lots of grumbling – this is a work in progress), and reading with our kids.

    An unwritten family routine we have is on the weekends our kids join us in bed for a play before my husband gets up and makes everyone “tasty things” (i.e. pancakes or eggs on toast).

    Do you kids share a bedroom? Maybe your two youngest could share for a bit – that would force a bit of togetherness :)

  10. I recommend scheduling time together. Kids that age WANT to be with their parents and hang out. If there are too many distractions at home (tv, computer, games) then go out. Libraries offer free or discounted passes to various places likes museums and zoos. You can even go to the play area at the mall in the winter. Otherwise pay for bowling, movies, rollerskating… in better weather get outside and into hiking and geocaching or letterboxing. I think it’s key to establish family time now at these tender ages. Mom and Dad need to lead by example and teach the kids how to get along better by first being together.
    Mary Newman recently posted…Speak LifeMy Profile

  11. As others suggested, traveling somewhere (preferrably without interet or cable tv) is a great idea to kick- start more family time. Our kids (ages 3,6 & 10) love when our whole family is together. Some of the things we do are: swimming, hiking, movies (usually just at home, buttery popcorn is a must!), toboganning, picnics, camp fires, skiing, listening to my hubby read a childrens novel, and we often have what we call “family dance party” where we pump the tunes and dance in our family room. Lol
    You could also try something new in your area like rock climbing or take a new class together ie. pottery etc.

  12. We eat dinner together as much as possible & have a family night once a week (games or whatever). One thing that made a huge difference in my family growing up was that we all supported each other’s events…plays, sports, band concerts, recitals, etc. We all attended together to support each other, it was just expected. I feel like that brought us closer. We still support each other as adults, with phone calls or however we can.

  13. We took a family vacation for three weeks in a camper. it was hard at first because we weren’t used to being just us. My one son especially had a hard time because he loves being with his friends, either at our house or theirs, it doesn’t matter. After a couple of days we actually had fun hanging out and exploring the sites together, we did have times when we would all be doing our electronics but do this day we all agree that it was the best time ever. We want to do it again. So maybe you can’t take a three week trip but some how you could just have a staycation where you do things together as a family as tourist. Turn off the electronics and no outside people. As the mom you need to get your husband on board and be intentional in making your house a fun place where your kids want to be. There are a lot of resources on things to do and games to play. Something I have to do often is stop feeling sorry for myself when things are not as I think they should be and be proactive in making it happen. Also note that we have four teenagers in our house so we also allow for time when we are not doing things together and they are doing “their own thing” That is needed as well.

  14. My brother,sister and I are all 3 years apart, so we were never close growing up and aren’t close to this day now that we’re 40,37 and 34. In my own family, my child is the only one so there’s no siblings for him to play with either. We do things like go to hockey games and last weekend we went snow tubing at a local resort. In the summer, we have a travel-trailer at a permanent campsite so weekends are spent there. I try to think of things that we can all enjoy together but it usually involves something the ‘boys’ will like, since I am outnumbered…even the dog is male! lol

  15. I’ve read the book, “The 5 Love Languages” and some of the things she has mentioned are discussed in this book. Perhaps that would be of help to her and her family.

  16. One reader emailed me this reply:

    I would definitely tell her that the most profound changes in my family have come when I have recognized a concern and have given it truly over to God. When I have noticed a new issue that has developed or something that was present all along, and I ask God to work. I pray more, step back more, stay quiet more….and watch as God moves in the circumstances. I don’t have to be the one to point out the “wrongs”, rather, God lets my loved ones learn of them by the circumstances that they end up facing. Or, God brings someone into my life to teach me a lesson about how to help my loved ones. Sometimes, God brings new friends into my family’s life and situations naturally change with new people to do things with. What I’m really getting at is that when I TRUST Him and keep myself out of the way, He will bring change. I am not suggesting she do nothing, instead, that she pray for guidance in HOW and WHEN God would have her speak into her family’s life. I would suggest she start with asking God to lead her in talking to her husband and about how much she enjoys being with him. I think that once those two are on the same page, the children will follow. :-)

  17. Here’s another reply that was emailed to me:

    They should try tent camping with no electronic devices allowed, board games and playing cards only.
    (UNO is great for the ages of the kids)
    Nothing brings a family together like being in each other’s breathing space all weekends.
    Or at the very least … Family fun night where the kids are responsible for making dinner ( like home made pizza) and then games…again..,, no electronics , tvs, or computers the entire evening.

  18. We have found that food tends to bring every body together. Try themed nights eg: Italy, China, etc, we did Turkey while my mother was there, the kids researched the food and each one made something and we would have a banquet, we have done all the mentioned ones a few times and also Japan. Another thing I did was try and make a special weekend breakfast. There was no rules that everybody had to be there, but I would try and make something special, not always heathy, but always yummy, sticky buns, egg and bacon muffins, even put the effort in to croissants, our favourite is sticky buns made with croissant dough, or I would make a jewish Challah for a weekend meal. So everybody would love being there. Find special things that everybody loves and sneak it in with out saying anything. I found that the more I stressed about having family time, the more stressful it became.
    I know this has already been said heaps but another thing we did was rent a movie and make homemade takeaway, pizza or hamburgers or fish and chips. We don’t get a TV signal and our budget is tight so buying takeaway regularly was not an option.
    Look around and make the most of opportunities, and give thanks for what you have.

  19. My hubby and daughter and I have recently started geocaching…it is a fun treasure hunt type activity, very popular! I did not realize just how popular until I went on the website,, and realized there were hundreds of hidden treasures all over my own town. Many of the hunts have a historical component or there are mystery caches where you have to figure out one thing to get the coordinates for another thing. The only thing that costs money is a GPS device, however if you have a smart phone you can download the app for free and then there is no cost!

    I once read a book by Gary Chapman (he wrote the Love Langauges) called The Family You’ve Always Wanted…you might try it, not a bad read at all!

    And the number one thing I feel is missing from the comments is prayer…covering your husband and children in prayer is crucial. They do not need to be interested in praying, but your prayers WILL make a difference.

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