Happy New Year, and Happy Month We All Get to Slow Down and Recuperate From Months of Busyness. Okay, I made up that last part, but you know I’m not wrong. January is like the Sunday evening of life. You’re exhausted from being busy Friday night, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and all day Sunday, and now it’s time to prepare for the upcoming week.
That’s January in my life. I’m beat after months of holiday activities. Being the Kris Jenner of my own household is a lot of work, and January is the little bit of time I finally get to relax, unwind, and bond with my family.
Being the mother of four kids in three very distinct age ranges is a challenge. I’m fortunate to have the world’s most amazing husband who takes 90 percent of the burden off my shoulders, but it’s tiring. From the first of August until the first of January, we don’t slow down. We have a ninth-grade varsity cheerleader. A sixth-grade golfer. We have eight year old twins – our son golfs, and our daughter tumbles. Sports take up six of our seven weekdays and nights. Our social life is active, and our calendar is full – especially from August until December. By January, we are the walking dead.
January is my favorite time of the year for family bonding activities. It’s not that we don’t spend plenty of time bonding in the months before – the holiday season is all about family togetherness, after all. But that time is often rushed, focused on the holidays, spent with many other friends and family members, etc. It’s family bonding, but it’s not the little moments – the ones that end up being the big ones – that I crave.
What Does Family Bonding Mean to You?
There is no right or wrong answer. Just think about it. What memories have you made with your family that stand out the most? For me, there is no one singular type of memory that stands out. It’s just a feeling and a moment, and they all count. Sometimes, it’s the carefree vacation days we spend together away from home and everyone and everything else that distracts us that we laugh the hardest and have the most fun together. Other times, it’s the simplicity of a Friday night dinner out, sitting around a table together, joking and laughing. Sometimes, it’s a quiet night spent watching a movie together (with popcorn because they talk a lot and we need their mouths full so they can’t interrupt).
If you are having a good time with your family, you are making memories. If you are making memories, you are bonding. So sit back, ask yourself what family bonding activities look like to you, and see if any of these on the list might inspire you to make some core memories with your kids. Some family bonding activities are as simple as can be. Others are more elaborate, but they’re all up to you.
1. Create a Family Goal
It’s January, so let’s stick with the theme of creating a family goal. I’m not a resolutions fan – I don’t respond well when I ‘have’ to do something. It seems like a chore, and I’m out. Goals, though – those speak my language. Our family goal for 2023 is to have two family dinner nights per week around our own table. It’s not always easy with everyone’s activity schedule, but we miss family dinners like this.
2. Make Dinner Together
I don’t cook, but I like to help my husband cook. The kids enjoy it, too. Just last night we cooked dinner together, and it was such a sweet night. They helped set the table and make plates, they worked together with us, and it was lovely. Our son asked if we can do this every night. That’s a successful bonding moment, no?
3. Start A New Tradition
New traditions are so much fun. I don’t know what your traditions are like at home, but this is a family bonding activity that gives you free reign. We have many family traditions we love – such as baking cookies for Santa together on Christmas Eve and going on very specific vacations every year. Kids love tradition, and you have a chance to make a new one as a family.
4. Plant A Garden
So…I’m as good at gardening as I am cooking, which means I kill faux plants. Don’t ask me how, but it’s as if they see me and know what their future has in store, so they just die even though they’re not real. My husband and our middle daughter love to garden. They plant things and tend to them together, and the bond they have is so sweet. It’s also a win-win for everyone because we have all their fresh herbs and citrus and flowers, so no one loses.
5. Movie Night for the Win
I am a huge fan of movie night – and I’ll tell you why. Sometimes, I feel as if we spend so much time with the kids running them here and there and everywhere, but it’s not always quality time. When I find myself realizing we haven’t spent much time together just to be together but I’m also really over the kids and all the noise they make and I just want to put them to bed and pretend they don’t exist until morning, I suggest movie night. Mom guilt that we haven’t spent much quality time with them, but movie night because it’s quiet. Add popcorn and snacks to fill their mouths, and you’re guaranteed two hours of quality time together without anyone talking. It is a winning situation. Will it win me a mom of the year title? Not with my motives, no; but we don’t judge here.
6. Take a Family Walk
Side note – bring your patience. Kids are slow, easily distracted, and you’ll spend the entire walk telling them to move, slow down, get out of the middle of the road, and do not touch that. But kids love a family walk, it’s exercise, and it wears them out. You’re welcome.
7. Take a Family Vacation
We travel often, but I’ve come to love our family-only vacations more than any other. In the past, I always enjoyed the vacations we took with friends and their kids so all the kids keep one another entertained. Now that all four of ours are at good ages, though, I love the time when it’s just the six of us. It’s a rule in our house that our annual Spring Break vacation is just us – no friends – and we take at least one long weekend trip per year in which it’s just the six of us. The best memories come from these trips.
8. Create a Family Book Club
Not everyone in my family loves to read – but I do. I can’t do this because it’s a club for just me, so I’m encouraging you if you are a family of readers. Choose a book every 6-8 weeks, read it, and then have your own family book club meeting. It’s amazing.
9. Get Competitive at Family Game Night
I like to win. My husband likes to win. Our kids like to win. We are good sports, otherwise, this would not be fun. Cards. Yahtzee. Board games. Whatever. We all like to win. We are big fans of hooking the Nintendo Switch up to the family room television and engaging in a dirty Mario Kart battle, and it gets ugly…but it’s so much fun.
10. Spend One On One Time with Each Child
Okay, so it’s not family bonding, but it is family bonding. If you have more than one child, spending time with each is so important. The bonding you’ll do with each of your kids when it’s just you is second to none. Let them choose what you do. Listen to them. Be fully engaged and very present.
11. Make Dessert Together
Dessert is everyone’s favorite, and we like to make it together. Whether it’s my grandmother’s famous chocolate chip cookies or simple rice krispy treats, getting everyone in the kitchen to bake is a good time.
12. Play a Game Outside
Our kids are outside kids, and that means we own every outside toy imaginable. We have a baseball net, a basketball hoop, soccer goals, a trampoline, a volleyball net, a golf net so we can all practice our swings without losing our balls…you name it, we have it. Get outside and play a game. My son and husband spend a few minutes outside every evening throwing the football or playing basketball. We all play volleyball – in fact, we had neighbors watching and clapping for us on their family walk last Easter when we got our parents and extended family outside to play a heated game. The kids loved it!
13. Go Swimming Together
If you don’t have a pool, find one. Since we had our pool constructed, we’ve found that some of our favorite bonding nights are the nights when it’s dark, hot, and the pool lights are on. My husband turns on the music on the pool deck, we do cannonballs, shoot each other with water guns, and just play. It’s such good exercise, and it’s such a good time.
14. Try a Daring Activity
All right – daring is subjective. Pick something you find daring, and go for it. Our kids love to visit the mountains every year after Christmas and take part in snow activities (hey, we are Floridians, after all…snow activities are not a daily thing for us here). Tubing, sledding, skiing. But you can do anything. Our kids also love jet skiing and being pulled on the tube behind the boat (a very common thing here). You can go zip lining or white-water rafting. Whatever. This is your daring activity to try as a family.
15. Try Family Golf
My husband loves to golf. Two of our kids take private golf lessons and one plays for her school team. I enjoy golf for the first six holes and then I enjoy golf cocktails on the golf cart while spectating – but we ALL love Top Golf. It is the most fun family bonding because it’s competitive, fun, and the kids always look forward to the injectable donut holes.
16. Let the Kids Choose
I’m going to let you in on a little secret – Friday night is almost always family dinner night. What we do is let the kids each have a week to choose where they want to go. They all get to pick at least once a month, and it makes dinners so much easier. Why? Because everyone knows that they get to pick their own restaurant eventually, so they’re more amenable to eating at someone else’s when it’s not their turn.
You see, our twin girl loves pizza and always chooses a restaurant with good pizza or a flatbread on the menu. Her twin brother loves filet and chicken wings, so he’s more likely to choose that. But he’ll also choose a restaurant he knows has one or the other but also a flatbread so his sister is happy. All of them do that, and it’s just so much fun for us. My point is that if you let the kids choose what you do, where you eat, how you bond, they may surprise you – and that is part of the bonding experience.
17. Go to Dinner Together
Dinner at home is nice, but dinner as a family when none of you have to cook, clean, shop, or decide is much better. Try to have at least one dinner out together a month, and you’ll see how nice it is to sit down and really talk to one another.
18. Ice Cream Dates Are Always A Bonding Experience
The Raiford children will tell you that ice cream is the answer to everyone’s problems. For a while when our middle daughter was in fifth grade, she went to tutoring every Wednesday immediately after school for an hour. I’d grab the twins and we’d head to the local homemade ice cream shop and have fun until we had to pick her up. Some of my favorite moments with the twins are in that ice cream shop. They are so much fun, and so engaging, and we bonded.
Other times, it might look like your average run of the mill night at home and someone will comment that they wish we had ice cream (we don’t eat a lot of sweets, so we rarely have them in the house) and we’ll find ourselves breaking our routine and piling in the car to go find ice cream. It almost feels like we are breaking the ‘rules’ and it’s more fun that way.
19. Have a Family Meeting
Family meetings in our house never start well because I’m the one calling them. I’m calling them because everyone is on my last mother you-know-what nerve, and I’m about to explode. However, they always end well. I’ve said my peace, they’ve all agreed to stop being assholes, and then starts the over-the-top conversations about all the ways in which they will all be more helpful and kinder and more responsible, etc. We end up laughing, everyone ends up in a lighter mood, and they really do improve their behavior – for a week or so.
20. Go on A Road Trip
Full disclosure – I hate road trips. Hate them. I hate the car. I hate being the passenger. I hate driving more than an hour. But sometimes it is necessary. You don’t have to go on a long road trip, but pick a place that’s driveable and go. I might despite a road trip, but I really do love the time spent in the car with these crazies and my husband. Everyone sings along to the songs we choose, there’s a lot of laughter, and a lot of memories are made. At the end of the day, family bonding activities are about the laughter, the memories, and the sense of closeness we feel after all is said and done.
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