Almost every magazine article, television or radio program you see talks about how busy the American family is these days, yet how important “Quality Time” is to the family. How the heck are you supposed to carve out quality time when there are so many demands on the family calendar? Some days get so hectic you may wonder if you have even spoken to your spouse or children that day. So, how much time is needed for it to be “Quality Time?” How about five minutes a day? What about just four minutes?
Yes, I’d say quality time can be created in only four minutes a day. In this month’s article, I explain how you can achieve this high efficiency quality time. Actually, I believe family relationships need MUCH more than four minutes daily, but these four minutes out of every day are CRUCIAL to setting a quality tone for everyone in the family. Think of these four minutes as the bare minimum but also the building blocks to daily maintenance of healthy family relationships.
These few important minutes occur at key moments throughout the day. Here are the key moments: When you see people first thing in the morning, when you say goodbye at parting for the day, when you greet each other upon reuniting at the end of the day, and when you say goodnight. Put another way, the four most important minutes of the day are how you say good morning, how you say goodbye, how you say hello, and how you say goodnight. The “quality” part comes into these moments by how well you handle these times. These are important junctures of the day because they set the tone for the family environment, and they impact each individual greatly.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these important four minutes. First, the morning is great if you are a morning person – unfortunately I haven’t run across a family where everyone is a morning person. Most families have one chipper morning person and one or two other people who are highly annoyed by the cheerful morning person. The morning person has an advantage here, in that they can infuse cheer with little effort. If you are not a morning person, you must make a concerted effort to send forth positive feelings to your loved ones and also be pleasant in receiving a good morning wish. Say “Good morning” to each other in the nicest, most genuine way possible. If you are one that wakes up groggy and grumpy, you will feel better if you attempt a good “good morning” to those around you.
Most families have at least one person who leaves for work or school on a typical day. Parting on good terms will allow positive feelings to carry over until you meet each other again. Some people have told me that their spouse doesn’t even say goodbye to them, they just drive away to work without a word. Kids will take off for school without any “have a good day” sendoff from their parents! It may not sound like much, but these sendoffs really do count for something. At the very least, your parting is acknowledged and you feel like somebody notices.
How you greet each other at the end of the day is probably the most crucial of these four minutes. Many marital and family fights can start at this point, especially when people are greeted with criticisms or harshness. It’s very important to convey you are glad to see each other at this point of reunification. Your day at work may have been stressful, or your house is a wreck, or school may have been terrible that day for your kids. Each person needs to feel welcomed back to the home in a way that says: “I’m glad you are here. Relax, and feel at home.” This can be done with a simple smile and a “hello, there.”
Lastly, how you say goodnight puts a nice ending on the day. It’s harder to feel alone or lonely when someone tells you goodnight. One client in couples therapy recently said he feels important to his wife when she makes the effort to come downstairs and tell him goodnight when he is staying up later than her. Remember the TV show “The Waltons?” Every show ends with everyone in the house calling out a good night to each other – “Good night, John Boy.” Saying goodnight is a meaningful ritual in the family.
That is why these are important minutes in daily family life – they are packed with meaning. It may not always be possible to interact face to face at these junctures, but I believe it is possible to acknowledge these moments every day in some way. You may have to call a family member who is at work, or a note may be left for the last one to leave the house for the day. Or, when in a pinch you can pack all four minutes into one as Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carrey) did in the movie The Truman Show by saying “Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!