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7 ways to protect time with family.

My son is learning to juggle. He’s mastered scarves and is now juggling up to 3 balls. Sometimes I feel like a juggler, trying to complete many tasks and to fulfill all my roles, keeping everyone in my family happy, healthy and on the right track. More often than not, a ball gets dropped. In order to keep life from crashing down around me, I have to prioritize my time and eliminate some things. One of the most important balls I’m juggling is time with my family. This one cannot be dropped! If you want to protect time with your family, implement these seven ideas in your own life.

Schedule family time. My to-do list is full of tasks like: mop kitchen floor, clean bathrooms, pay bills and go to library. What it needs to have more of is: read to girls, teach son to cook, take kids on hike, talk with spouse about future plans and family game night. If you’re not having enough family time, schedule it in. Our family tries very hard to set aside one evening a week as family time. If you put it on the calendar, you won’t schedule other activities during planned family time.

Learn to say, “No.” I have 4 children who attend 4 different schools. I can’t go to every parent meeting or school activity. Saying, “No,” to less important events leaves me more evenings at home with my family. You might also need to say no to children who want to spend too much time with friends, skipping out on time at home. If Friday night is family pizza and movie night, expect your children to join you.

Take advantage of small moments. My oldest daughter is gone from home most of the day. After school she often has sports practices, and her time at home in the evening is full of homework. If I don’t make a special effort, I hardly talk to her in the course of a day. Finding small moments to connect with family members is important. Turn off the radio and talk as you drive places. Chat for a few minutes at the end of the day as you gather for family prayer. I try to look each of my children in the eyes every day, give them a hug and tell them I love them. My son squirms, but I hope he’s listening.

Prioritize. If you truly want to protect time for your family, you will be willing to give up other things. I rarely watch television now, even though I do miss a few shows I used to watch. My husband and I like going to sporting events and boating with friends, but we can’t go as often as we’re invited because we don’t want to leave our children. We know the day will come when they’re grown up, and then we’ll do some of the things we’re choosing not to do now. Prioritize time with your spouse as well. Staying connected will impact your family life in positive ways.

Use technology wisely. Technology can be a great help in protecting family time. Text your teenager to remind him to be home in time for dinner. Put all family members’ activities on one calendar that can be accessed by everyone’s devices. I email my older children occasionally as a fun way to communicate. Put your smartphone or tablet down during family time, and make sure your children have your complete attention.

Get away occasionally. As a family, we often take trips to visit other family members and friends. While it’s great to maintain relationships, it’s also important to spend time alone as a family. Day trips are a great way to have a fun adventure together. We like to go to the Oregon coast or to the Cascade Mountains and explore new places. If time and budget allow, plan a family getaway.

Eat together often. Much research has been done about the benefit of a family dinner hour. Protect this important part of the day and plan to eat together as much as possible. As you enjoy your meal, make sure each family member has a chance to contribute to the conversation and talk about his or her day. Family meals are a great time to have discussions about what’s going on in the world, problems family members may be dealing with, or upcoming family plans. I enjoy preparing meals for my family and eating them together.

Protecting family time is up to you. There are many good activities we can participate in, but the best thing we can do for our families is prioritize time together. Time spent with family is time well spent.

Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.