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Ten Ways to Make More Time for Your Kids

The Frenzied Family
As you head into the back-to-school year, you wonder: Can you really do it again? Pack lunches at dawn, dash from carpools to business meetings, apply mascara at stoplights, help with homework, race to piano lesson pickups -- only to return home, rush everyone off to bed, and then wake up to a go-go weekend of hockey practice, soccer games, and birthday parties?

Talk with your kids about limiting their activities. A growing number of concerned parents are thinking seriously about the enormous costs of frenetic living. The flipside of the economic boom is a time famine, and while adults pay a price, its biggest victims are our kids.

Determined to put the focus on family, a group of moms and dads in Minnesota has organized a community group, Family Life First. Its mission: To get all the folks in Wayzata, Minnesota, to rethink their hyperactive lifestyles. Try the group's ten hints on avoiding a frantic fall.

1. Limit Kids' Activities
Just say no to overscheduling. Limit your kids to one afterschool activity. Period. This may be harder for some parents than kids to consider. You want Johnny to continue with piano; he really wants to make the hockey team. How to choose?

Think of it this way: Teaching kids to make choices is an essential part of your job as a parent. All these activities build skills, giving children a sense of what they can do, but time spent with family gives them a sense of who they are. Try using this approach: "You have to give up something (piano or hockey) to get something (peace of mind or time to breathe)."

2. Limit Yourself
As a parent, you too have your limits. Basically, you get one evening out during the week. Period. Mom has a book club or a yoga class. Dad's playing squash. Simply put, you can't "be there" for kids when you're not around. The rituals that build closeness -- bedtime stories, cuddles in front of the fire or a favorite TV show -- can't happen when Mom and Dad use the front door like a revolving door.

P.S. Mom & Dad: This doesn't preclude a "date night" for you guys! Keep the Love Train on track by scheduling a quiet evening for two now and then.

3. Kill the TV
Or at least dismember it. Members of Family Life First tell us they turn off the TV during meals. The result, not surprisingly, is better table talk and a less circus-like atmosphere at dinner. Sitting down to watch a particular show or video can be a great way for families to relax together, but having the tube on in the background just adds another level of noise and stress. Or consider this: No TV Monday through Thursday nights. More time for homework, reading, talking, playing.

4. Candlelight Dinners
Hats off to Bugs Peterschmidt of Family Life First for this excellent idea. When Bugs' husband started coming home later and later each night, the couple had a chat about "Disappearing Daddy," MIA at the dinner table all too often.

They agreed on a 6:15 p.m. standing mealtime, and Dad went in extra early each morning to make it work. Prompted by a Greek friend who said, "You Americans don't know how to dine," the couple decided to light candles each night for its "calming effect." House rules while the tapers flicker: no discipline issues are discussed and no phones get answered. Bugs reports that her family of four is enjoying its food and each other more, now that dinner is "an oasis in time."

5. Brunch!
Make brunch for your bunch every Sunday. Gina Coburn of Family Life First liked the idea of having one mandatory, everybody-must-show-up meal of the week, but it wasn't until she and her husband went off on their own one Sunday that she discovered what their weekly brunch meant to her teenaged children.

"They called on my cell phone and said, 'What about us? What about our family breakfast?'" Gina recalls with a laugh. "And I realized that they would never have missed it if we hadn't gotten so intentional about it."

Brunch is now such a tradition that the Coburns' oldest daughter, a college student, returns home many weekends just for pancakes, eggs, and hash!

6. A Reading Tree
Make a "Reading Tree." This is a great idea from Steve and Ruth Bennett, parents and co-authors of numerous activity books (including 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child.) Find a tree in your backyard or local park; claim it as your own. Bring a book and a blanket, and make it a regular spot for story time. A great way to savor fall foliage or the warm breeze of an Indian summer night.

7. Cook Double
Cook double, and save time and trouble. Bugs Peterschmidt of Family Life First doubles every recipe and freezes half for another night. Makes mealtimes a snap. "Like last night: We had tamale pie and I made two of them. Add salad-in-a-bag and dinner's done!"

8. Pick Your Own
Go apple-picking with your family (or any fruit or veggie, for that matter)! If you've got kids of different ages and temperaments, it's sometimes hard to find a movie everyone wants to see, or a game everyone has the skills to play. Picking apples or pulling carrots is something everybody can do well and do together, and these outdoor activities provide another chance to savor the waning warmth of the fall season.

9. Catch Some Winks
Not kidding with this one: Get some sleep! Lights out by 10 p.m., 11 o'clock at the latest. When you feel rested, you feel calm. Period. So pay bills in the morning, and turn on the radio to catch the news you missed from the night before.

10. TGIF Fun Night
This is another variation on the Sunday brunch theme. Friday night, heralding the end of the work-week, is one of the best times to focus on family. While others wait in line for tables at overcrowded restaurants, grab a takeout pizza and head back to the ranch. Let kids take turns each week setting the agenda: Video? Monopoly? Scavenger hunt for loose change? Whatever...it's a time to remember that our home is not just our castle. In the 21st century, home and family is our fortress, our best protection from the onslaught of the 24/7 world.

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