I have never heard my father talk about his views on family but it is easy to see how important family is to him and how important it has always been.
First, despite being a professional, he moved our family to a hobby farm just outside of the city limits so that, as a family we would have chores to do together. We raised chickens, pigs, cows and grew a substantial garden each year. And our driveway was long enough that I have vivid memories of being woken up early to help shovel the driveway so that my dad could make it to work on time. It took our family of five close to an hour to shovel the entire driveway and it had to be done first thing in the morning. And our lawn took close to three hours to mow by hand. We could afford a lawn tractor, a snow blower, to buy our groceries, and to live in an easier environment but my Dad knew that a family that worked together grew together. I suspect that he fabricated work for our benefit.
Second, he discouraged my mom from going back to work until all his children were in school and then he still ensured that we would never need a babysitter by juggling his schedule with that of my mother. I can only occasionally remember being home alone with my brothers and I have no memories of ever having a babysitter.
Third, and perhaps most impactful, every holiday we ever took, except for the cross county road trip, was designed around visiting relatives. We lived thirteen hours from our nearest uncles and aunts and yet every time we had vacation time we headed to our relatives. Despite the physical distance from my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, I grew up being emotionally close and have a strong attachment to them still.
Fourth, much to my chagrin, my father opted out of television, cable and movies which ensured that our time spent at home was not spent fixated on an inanimate object. I am grateful to my father for being a living example of a family focused man. He wasn’t perfect but he was present. And when it comes to influencing children presence is the primal essence.
Honestly, I don’t know the statistics (and even if i did, I understand how easily manipulated they are and therefore don’t care to research them), but I do get the sense that most school age children are not spending enough time with their family.
From my experience, school age children spend about:
- 9 hours sleeping
- seven hours at school
- 1 hour commuting
- 2 -3 hours in front of a monitor (TV, computer, cell phone, gaming…)
- 1 hour doing homework
Leaving 3 hours to spend elsewhere. Depending on the child the 3 hours are spent:
- with friends
- with family
- participating in extracurricular activities (such as hockey, soccer, dance, or music)
- watching more TV
I would argue that all of these activities that fill the remaining three hours, except for watching TV, are of utmost importance. My father was able to ensure ample family time by cutting screen time and limiting extracurricular activities. My brothers played very few community sports and watched little to no TV. Being the youngest, I was put into a lot more community activities and can easily see their value but they do take time away from family. If you have to choose between family and extracurricular, family wins hands down.
Family is the building block of society. Through family, we pass down value, ethics, morals, culture, and religion. Subjects where public schools are eerily silent. It is usually family that are present through all transitions in life. Friends come and go but it is only family who attend your birth, death and every significant event in between. Family is an abundant well of joy (birth of children), your most crippling source of sorrow (death of a loved one), and the foundation on which your life is built (childhood experience). It has taken several decades but I finally understand why my father was so concerned about family life.
Growing up, my father took steps to ensure that my siblings and I had about four or five hours of family time on most weekdays. On the weekends we had substantially more. What we did with that time was up to us, except for the chores, but we didn’t have anything scheduled (community activities) and we didn’t have an easy out (television). Society has changed but I agree with my father that four or five hours a day is enough time to develop a healthy family life. That can still be achieved by sending your children to school and, like my father, cutting out screen time and extracurricular activities.
But, unlike my father, I think that extracurricular activities are extremely beneficial. Arguably, more beneficial than school itself. My wife and I can teach our children to read, write, and do math as effectively as any other educated adult. And while we teach them the skills that they would learn in school we can easily disseminate our families culture, value, and morals by simply spending time with them as my father did through his chores. We don’t have to concentrate on morality, we simply have to live it, while in their presence.
What we can’t do as effectively is to teach our children dance, gymnastics, music, and the resiliency that comes through team sport. There is a lot of value in each of those activities. Schools attempt each of those activities but for children to get the full experience most parents enrol their children in community organizations, as they tend to do each of them better than schools do. If your child wants to be a musician, you don’t depend on the public school system. You sign them up for lessons. If your child wants to play in the NHL, you don’t depend on public school PE class. You sign them up for minor hockey. Community organizations tend to do the activities better than the school system so proactive parents enrol their children in those opportunities but those opportunities come after school and therefore cut into potential family time.
Based on my experience in school, I wouldn’t argue that schools set out to undermine cultures and family health. In fact, I know a lot of great teachers, who make values, morals, relationships and traditions a priority in their classroom. But no teacher is able to know your own family’s personal background. And the amount of time that school separates parents from children and siblings from each other, over the course of childhood, ensure that families must be proactive about spending time together. Relationships, no matter what type, take time. We live in a multicultural world, filled with all sorts of amazing families, that are rapidly losing touch with their own traditions.
Our society has recognized the value of ecological biodiversity, even if only at an cerebral level, it is time that we also recognize the value of genuine cultural diversity and stop killing cultures through mass media and the mass education system who work in tandem to undermine culture through their relentless attack on family time.
Like my father, I have opted out of television and have chosen to live in a place where chores are a part of life. Presently we have a small garden, a few chickens and a long driveway. But unlike my father, I plan to home school my children so that when they want to participate in community sport, art, and music, it doesn’t come at the expense of our few hours of family time. By keeping them home, rather than spending the six hours at school, they will spend it with grandparents, each other and my wife, who will be able to pass on what it means to be a part of our family during the day so that when the time comes for community activities to start, our children will be able to make the most of them and we won’t have to decide between the value of these activities and the value of spending time with family.
Like my father I want to be a living example of a family focused man. Not perfect but present. And present enough, to be able to let them pursue their interests through organized activity without fear of losing precious time together.