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“Pawcone and cookies tonight Mommy?” My two-year-old daughter looks up at me with eager anticipation in her big blue eyes.
I laugh and shake my head. “No baby, we had popcorn and cookies last night! We’ll do it again next week.”
Her face droops and so does my heart in response. She repeats the question, as if saying it again might somehow change my mind.
While I feel a little guilty that a week feels like an eternity to a toddler, I’m happy to know that my child cherishes our weekly ritual enough that she wishes we could do it every night.
Every Monday night, we all return from work and whatever activities we are involved in and sit down to dinner together as a family. We don’t make any plans other than being together. After dinner I make chocolate chip cookies and my husband pops popcorn. We get drinks and head on down to the basement, where we watch a family movie. We put our phones away. Sometimes we watch Disney; sometimes it’s one our favorites we watched as kids back in the 80s like The Land Before Time or An American Tail; around Christmastime it’s usually a holiday classic like How the Grinch Stole Christmas or even Home Alone. We try to mix it up and enjoy a lot of genres that both grownups and kids can enjoy.
It’s our favorite moment of calm that we get together during the week.
My husband grew up with this same tradition and believed firmly in carrying it on to our own family. We didn’t really start practicing it its current form until a couple of years ago, particularly setting aside the same day each week. But now that the kids are older and our schedule has gotten busier with activities outside the home, I am so glad that we’ve kept up with this practice.
In fact, I now strongly believe that a weekly family night is something every family will benefit from.
Here are the advantages we’ve experienced:
1. The security of ritual
The benefits of family rituals—including psychological and emotional well-being—are well researched. My daughter finds security in the fact that each week she knows exactly what to expect. My sons, ages five and six, also get excited whenever “Family Night” shows up on our daily schedule, written on a whiteboard. Through adoption education we’ve learned that these types of rituals will also be important for the adopted child we hope to welcome into our home in the near future.
2. The necessity of rest
We are a busy family. I work from home and homeschool; my husband manages a small business; we have church and ministry commitments throughout the week; our kids are starting to participate in sports and other activities more and more as they get older. More often than not our Sundays are packed with church and other meetings and then we launch into the new week already feeling tired. Having time set aside that is intentionally lazy is something we desperately need if we are going to thrive at the busy pace we set and not burn out. My husband and I refer to it as “Sabbath time” (see this book for a very interesting presentation of this concept).
3. Fun memories
I confess freely that I am not one of those moms who creates lots of magical experiences for her kids—not in the “Pinterest Perfect” sort of way, anyway. But I do believe that it is important for kids to have special family memories. This is one of them, and it is super easy to put together. No planning involved, except for preparing the food and choosing a movie. This is more than enough work if you ask me!
My kids often crowd around the mixer as I make the cookie dough and take turns adding in the ingredients. Then they crowd around the popcorn popper while my husband makes the best popcorn known to mankind (this popper is essential—we will post a recipe at some point 🙂 ).
All five of us squeeze onto one couch and we snuggle under blankets. We leave popcorn everywhere and smears of chocolate and butter all over the cushions. Sometimes if we’re watching a musical the kids will get up and dance and sing or pretend to be ninjas. I know this dynamic will change as they get older, but it’s such a special memory that I cherish already.
4. Habitual connection and communication
Sitting down for family dinners is beneficial for kids’ emotional and physical health. As already mentioned, kids benefit from the ritual aspect of it. They also benefit from the chance to connect. We eat together almost every night, but on Monday nights the pace feels slower. We have opportunity for conversation, for the kids to open up about their lives naturally. This will be an especially important habit to be in as they get older. My husband can attest that when he was a teenager it wasn’t unusual to engage in open and honest conversation with his parents because he had been doing it his whole life. Family night isn’t the only opportunity to do this, but I believe that the more natural places we provide for family dialogue, the better.
5. Quality time = love
We often seem to just glide past each other in our busy lives, even when we’re all in the same place; scheduling quality time helps us to put the brakes on the busyness and prioritize simply being together. This is one powerful way to communicate that we love each other, and I hope it sticks with my kids throughout their childhood. Quality time might not be everyone’s first love language, but when done consistently it still speaks volumes.
Do you do a weekly family night? If not, I encourage you to try it out for a month and see what happens. Not everyone likes to watch movies; you don’t even have to do the same thing each week. Some families I know do a game night, a crafting night, or something else everyone enjoys. We sometimes mix it up with board games; in the summer we might go to the park together or out for ice cream.
Let me know what you do and how it goes! Have fun!