News: work life

How Busy Parents Find Creative Ways to Bond

By Gen Cohen

Use your skills, your kids' talents or pair up your interests to find ways to spend time together,

By Sarah Raymond via

These days, a lot of parents are so overwhelmed with the daily grind that they don't have the energy to think of creative ways to bond with their children. But we talked to some busy parents who are connecting with their kids in a variety of inventive ways. We hope these parenting tips for working mothers and fathers inspire you.

Use Your Talents

Amy Reyes is a senior graphic designer for a major corporation, an illustrator and all-around talented artist, but she is also a single mother of one. To her, the hardest part of being a mom was admitting that it is OK to do something for herself; especially if it helps her to be a better parent in the long run. Her solution for creating a bond with her son combines her need to work on her own art and her desire to create something special for her son. So she has started utilizing her skills as an artist to work on her lunchnotes series. Every night, instead of writing a traditional note for her son to read the next day at school, she draws him a character to greet him during his lunch and remind him that she is thinking of him.

"As an artist and a single mom, there never seems to be enough time to fit my art in. It gets so frustrating, and it's something a lot of people don't understand. If I don't draw, I get really depressed. So the lunchnotes were kind of born out of necessity. I wanted to let my kiddo know I was thinking about him during the day, and I also wanted to draw every day," Amy says. "At the end of the evening, I have 45 minutes to myself. This way it's a win-win. I get to draw and he gets a special hello from Mom every day."

Amy realizes not everyone can draw, but anyone can get on board with the main purpose behind lunchnotes: making a connection.

"Artistic abilities aren't necessary to connect," Amy says. "Don't set up a long list of rules for what you have to do in order to connect. There are endless ways to connect, and every parent has their own special something to contribute."

Besides drawing lunchnotes, Amy goes dark on electronic devices from Friday evenings until Monday mornings and makes Saturdays strictly fun days. She and her son don't do chores and do activities together.

"Put your phone away. Disconnect from your world and meet them in theirs. Allow yourself to be silly-hearted and to have fun. All they want is your time. That's it. It's up to you to decide what to do in that time," Amy says. "Childhood is short. Make that connection early—when you are in their world. And you'll still hopefully have it when you aren't anymore."

Take an Interest in Your Kids' Passions

Maria Singleton, mother of two, credits her connection to her two daughters to being "creative individually and as a family unit. I think it's important to know what your children love to do and explore those areas for deeper connections."

Her oldest daughter, a teenager, enjoys reading, cooking and sports, so Maria participates in those activities with her one on one. Her youngest has a passion for playing dolls, so Maria makes time to play with her.

"Any time I make the time to initiate the invitation to play dolls, her little face beams with joy," Maria says.

Like Amy, Maria agrees that it's important to take time for herself. She meets once a week with a group based in faith-driven studies, and she leaves each meeting "refreshed and filled with creative ways of handling the busyness and stresses of life."

Share Hobbies

Christopher Watson, a graphic designer, musician and father of three, enjoys working on creative video projects with his 9-year-old son. They enjoy creating worlds within the video game Minecraft together, and it inspired a project: a video walk-through of one of their creations. They planned out the tour, and his son did an ad-lib narration while Christopher filmed. They edited it on the computer and even composed some custom music. The end result was a fun video that they posted on You Tube.

"I think this was a great way for us to bond and complete something legit and meaningful. It was also a ton of fun for both of us. We have some other video and building projects in the works—some quick and easy and some that are more complex," Christopher says. "I think it's good for him to see the benefits of keeping at a project that takes some time to complete. I think it shows that some of the best rewards and accomplishments don't happen instantly."

Christopher spends time with his daughters a bit differently. The youngest is an active 2-year-old who enjoys playing and physically interacting with her world. Christopher isn't afraid to jump in and play at his daughter's level.

"Our time together is spent doing much simpler activities compared to the other two kids, but the connection comes from being active and involved instead of just sitting around inside," Christopher says.

Time with his eldest daughter is spent drawing or taking trips to the store together.

"I think the value of my time spent with her is the opportunity for us to talk and communicate in a relaxed setting, as opposed to the usual prodding conversations surrounding getting ready for school or bed," Christopher says.

Read more

7 Reasons to Eat Family Dinner Together

By Gen Cohen

Research shows that sharing dinner as a family improves teenage behaviors, increases toddler vocabulary and teaches kids to eat healthier. Check out these benefits of eating with family:

By Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D. via

Over the last 20 years, dozens of studies have confirmed what parents have known intuitively for a long time: Sitting down for a nightly dinner is good for the spirit, the brain and the body. Research shows that shared meals are tied to many teenage behaviors that parents pray for: reduced rates of substance abuse, eating disorders and depression; and higher grade point averages and self-esteem. For young children, conversation at the table is a bigger vocabulary booster than reading aloud to them. The icing on the cake is that kids who eat regular family dinners grow up to be young adults who eat healthier and have lower rates of obesity.

As a working mother, who has learned by trial and error with my two sons and husband, and as a family therapist, who asks every family about their dinners, this is what else I've learned:

1. It doesn't have to be daily.

You don't have to have dinner every night to reap the benefits. It could be breakfast, a weekend brunch, a take-a-break-snack at night or a combination of these. And there's no magic number. The point is to make a commitment to a family meal where everyone sits down to share food, have fun and talk about things that matter.

2. Play with your food.

With so much of our play now conducted online, adults and children have lost the opportunity to play with real objects that can be touched, smelled and transformed. So play together. Cooking is an activity that still involves our senses and our hands, and it is something we still can do together. You can set out salad fixings and have everyone choose vegetables to create faces, trees and cars. Play with taste by slipping in a new flavor or spice and asking everyone to guess the ingredients.

3. It's doable.

Despite parent's hectic work schedules and kids' busy extracurricular activities, it's very doable to have nightly dinner. The whole process of cooking and eating together can take just an hour (less than 30 minutes to cook and the average meal is 22 minutes*), and that hour is transformative. If we still planted vegetables, played instruments for our entertainment and quilted on the front porch, we might not need family dinners, but it's the most reliable time of day that we have to connect with one another. When kids feel connected to their parents, it's like a seatbelt on the potholed road of childhood.

4. Try new activities and share talents.

Dinner can be a great place to try out new behaviors. A family dinner is like an improvisatory theater performance. The family shows up night after night, and as a group they can try out new ways of interacting with one another. Or, one member's behavior can set off a cascade of others. For example, a family might agree to refrain from making any negative comments at the table and see what happens. Or, a teenager might be invited to make a family dinner or to create a musical soundtrack for the meal.

5. Share your family history.

The dinner table is the best place to tell stories, and kids who know their family stories are more resilient and feel better about themselves. Most inspiring are lemonade-from-lemon stories, stories about adversity where a lesson is learned, or negative events that transform into something good. Stories help us make sense of the world, and they help kids connect to something bigger than themselves. Tell stories about yourself and other family members when they were the same age as your children. Tell stories about romance, first jobs, immigration, how names were chosen, a childhood pet, a favorite recipe or kitchen disaster.

6. Stay connected.

Table conversation is one of the richest language experiences you can provide for your children. When else do we sit and talk for several minutes, offering lots of comments and explanations on one topic? Try asking questions that go beyond, "How was your day?" For example, instead ask everyone to tell a rose (something positive) and a thorn (something negative) about the day, as well as a bud (what you wish will happen tomorrow).

7. It's good for you, too.

Rituals like dinner, which punctuate a world that often feels frenzied and out of control, are good for adults, too. Knowing that one part of your day is going to unfold in basically the same way, day after day, is comforting.

So, I'm ringing the dinner bell and inviting you and your family to come to the table. Dinner is more than a feeding station. Food will bring the family to the table, but it's the conversation and stories that keeps us there. In an hour, you can create comfort, fun, play and meaningful conversation—one meal at a time.

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D., author of "Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids," is the director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate clinical professor of psychology at the Harvard Medical School. She is the cofounder of The Family Dinner Project and writes the popular blog "Digital Family" for "Psychology Today." You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*Ramey SL, Juliusson HK. Family dynamics at dinner: A natural context for revealing basic family processes. In Families, Risk, and Competence, Lewis M, Feiring, C. (eds.) New York: Rutledge, 1998.

Read more

Recent Articles