Between theater rehearsal and homework, soccer games and piano practice, every family knows the challenge of getting everyone in the same room on a given night. And even on the days you achieve the impossible — actually having a sit-down dinner together — digital distractions can interfere. In fact, more than a third of parents in a Northwestern Mutual survey say their kids spend more time on tech devices than they do connecting as a family every day.
But missing out on even the most ordinary family experiences can come at a cost. “Experiences constitute a big part of who we are,” says Tom Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University, who spoke with Northwestern Mutual. His research has found that people get more enduring satisfaction from experiences than material goods. “What seems to be key is your experiences connect you to other people more,” he adds.
If you’re inspired to share more family experiences, you don’t have to go far. We tapped our Northwestern Mutual family to ask how they carve out quality time at home.
WE NOMINATE A 'FAMILY MEMBER OF THE WEEK’
Once per week, when we're all at the dinner table together, our family of five nominates a "family member of the week." Each one of us secretly makes a selection, and then we go around the table and share who we nominated and why. A few recent examples of achievements we celebrated: my daughter was elected president of the elementary school’s “Leadership Club,” my son played great in his first high-school volleyball game, my wife organized a hectic week of school and after-school activities — and held us all together, and my daughter was especially kind to everyone at home that week. The family member of the week gets to decide what we’ll have for dessert that night. It's a nice way to keep our blended family together, automate kindness to each other and grab delicious desserts.
— Shawn Rolland, Communications Strategist
WE PLAN AND COMPETE IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD OLYMPICS
Every Labor Day weekend, the families in our neighborhood do an all-day “Olympics” where we compete in silly games to crown the winning team. Think “Survivor” or “Amazing Race” with backyard challenges at each of our houses. Parents discuss event ideas with the kids throughout the summer, and the kids help run the event, build it from scratch and serve as the judges. This year, eight families competed in our fourth annual games, which included timed relay races, kayaking, frisbee, archery and fastest time at solving a 24-piece children’s puzzle. We also dress up in team uniforms — my family and I were the “Incredibles” this year (and have won for the past three!). It’s a special time everyone looks forward to each year.
— Brian Bock, Assistant Director of Digital Marketing
WE MADE SPACE FOR PLAY
We converted our garage to a family living space to entertain and have quality family time with our kids. We added a chess table, dartboard, Xbox, karaoke machine and a basketball hoop, so it functions well throughout all four seasons. It’s a great space for our kids to play with friends that has fostered a lot of imaginative play.
— Lee Hurley, Vice President of Marketing
WE MAKE SCREEN-TIME EDUCATIONAL
Sometimes screen-time can actually help with family bonding. Before we go on trips, we always include our two boys, ages 10 and 12, to do some learning together, and we find that it’s best if that happens through videos. We’ve watched YouTube videos on the geology of Yellowstone, the history of Rome and bass fishing techniques, just to name a few. It takes some parental previewing, but there is a ton of good documentary material there once you sift through everything (we like BBC and Nova). It gets us excited about the time together, and we all start the adventure feeling capable of digging in to learn more!
— Sarah Schott, Chief Compliance Officer
WE WORK THROUGH A FAMILY BUCKET LIST
Each year, we write a list of 100 things we would like to do during summer break. Our kids are ages 6, 5 and 2, so some are pretty simple, but it has all been a lot of fun. Some activities we checked off this year: eating a picnic lunch, learning to ride bikes without training wheels, completing the library summer reading challenge, building a fort, roasting s’mores in the backyard, making slime, writing letters to last year’s teachers, building a backyard obstacle course, staying up late to star-gaze, and creating a household treasure hunt — among many others. Looking back, I am elated when I think of how many memorable family experiences we had this summer. We've since decided the list can be completed over the rest of the year, on weekends or evenings, because 100 things is a lot of stuff to accomplish in a summer!
— Carrie Honeck, Senior Disability Underwriting Specialist
WE COOK — AND DANCE — TOGETHER
All three of my boys, a 7-year-old and twin 4-year-olds, gather around the kitchen counter while we test out both new recipes and tried-and-true favorites — from making muffins and cakes, French toast or even pizza. We play little math games by counting out the measurements to pour and mix ingredients. They eagerly watch the food cook and try what they make. Sometimes we also switch off the lights, fire up our LED disco ball, turn up the music and have dance parties in the living room. "Cha-Cha Slide,” “Can’t Stop The Feeling” and “Cheerleader” are on our playlist right now. The kids love it!
— Dimple Anderson, Assistant Director of Compliance
WE GET OUTSIDE EVERY NIGHT
My son loves to play sports, so almost every night when I get home from the office, we head straight to the driveway to shoot hoops or the baseball field to play ball. We love it. Another one of my favorite things to do is go on family bike rides. During the summer, we’ll shut off the iPads or iPhones and ride around the neighborhood or bike for quick ice cream somewhere nearby. Many of my favorite memories are these nights with the family.
— Scott Evans, Financial Advisor
WE MAKE DINNERTIME SPECIAL
When my children were younger, I bought a plate that was different from the rest of my dishes. Anytime one of them did something special, they got to eat off of that particular plate. It didn't have to be a big thing. There were many occasions to reward them: They may have gotten a good grade on a test or stuck up for a kid being bullied. I always looked for opportunities to make them feel special. Now that they are grown up, their faces still light up from the fond memories of the special plate — it opens the door to a special trip down memory lane, which never gets old.
— Suzanne Jackson, Administrative Assistant
WE END EVERY NIGHT WITH ONE-ON-ONE TIME
Each night, we start the bedtime routine an hour before our boys’ "lights out” time. They brush their teeth and get pajamas on, and then mom or dad goes to their room and reads books and talks with them until it’s time for bed. We have two boys, so one night one gets mom, and the next night dad pops in. Each boy gets one-on-one time to relax, read or just talk about their day. It has been a great time to connect with each child as an individual. We have been doing this since they were babies, and now at ages 9 and 11, they still love it — and so do we!
— Sheri Dierks, Senior Product Manager