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Recently my youngest daughter peered at the laptop where I was entering family scheduling updates into our calendar. She commented on all the different colors for the month. “You have a color too,” I said. “It’s your calendar. It’s how we keep track of what is going on with you.” She seemed impressed.
This moment made me pause and take a closer look at the calendar. Our family is busy! But conspicuously absent are the hours preserved for enjoying our time together. Like most six-member households, our primary mode of operation is task oriented. We live by to-do lists, calendars, and alarms to coordinate our lives. It’s easy to become stuck in this mode—and ironically, it can be exhausting!
So it was with a spirit of hope for inspiration that I read the latest work by husband and wife Tim and Sue Muldoon. Their book Reclaiming Family Time: A Guide to Slowing Down and Savoring the Gift of One Another provides a refreshing look at how families can navigate the rapid pace of life. The Muldoon family is much like ours, with three growing teenagers and two working parents. Yet they have discovered ways to intentionally slow down and enjoy one another.
Reclaiming Family Time offers wisdom and practical advice for re-orienting family life. In six chapters the authors present an attainable vision for families to nourish each other, strengthen their relationships, and share greater happiness. Each chapter also includes a summary list of points and questions to reflect upon alone or with a spouse, friend, or book club.
Called to Be Builders. The Muldoons start by explaining that to reclaim family time, parents need to understand God’s unique call for them: to build a rich family life. The authors visualize this project as the building of a cathedral. Parents build their family life over time, just as craftsmen devote years to planning and building their cathedral. In Catholic families, the mission to serve the Lord in all things becomes the center around which everything else flows. Parents should therefore spend time considering which choices build up the dynamics of their individual family.
The Muldoons realized, for example, that their children’s participation in a ski club would lend itself to the family’s enjoyment of the outdoors. It would also give the whole family a way to connect year-round. The time and the cost were therefore worth it. My own family has decided to eat dinner together regularly. This gives us a regular time when we can talk and listen to one another. Sometimes one of us even brings a short article or inspirational book excerpt to share. Like the Muldoons, we are trying to choose activities that enrich our family and help guard us from overscheduling.
A New Lens for Parents. Specific choices like these matter, but so does our whole outlook on family life. Instead of seeing our parenting as a set of stressful duties, the authors encourage families to see through a lens of contemplation. They describe this as the “willingness to hit pause and to see others the way God does.” So how does God see our children?
The Muldoons point out that God sees our children as lovable and as capable of responding to his promptings. He is already at work in them:
A sister who teaches a brother chords on a ukulele; a brother who goes out of his way to fill his sister’s water bottle; a sister who unexpectedly takes time to play basketball with a brother.. . . These are small actions, easy to overlook in the course of a too-busy day; but through eyes trained in contemplation they are windows to the workings of divine grace. And we wouldn’t want to miss them for the world.
The desire to be a family together, then, is not about wishing to escape from the tasks and activities that make us busy. It’s about seeing our responsibilities with a new set of eyes—eyes that see the Lord in all things. Of course, we can only discover this lens by spending time in prayer. Our prayer becomes the guide that shows us “what is worth doing and what is worth letting go.”
The Value of Leisure. In the mad rush of activities that can fill our family life, we sometimes leave little room for leisure. With this in mind, the Muldoons propose an alternate attitude toward time. They challenge their readers to make room in their family’s schedule for both spontaneity and intentional leisure. Not only does leisure include entertainment, but it can also mean doing active things together.
The authors suggest a few strategies for how to accomplish this: pay attention to natural times for rest, for example. Consider ways to honor the Sabbath as a family; plan family dinners; go to Mass together; do chores together; and take family vacations, if possible.
While these all serve the purpose of pure enjoyment together, they also help establish a vision for families. Valuing downtime helps children celebrate life for its own sake. It teaches families to revere the gift of each person. And it makes room for discovery and wonder.
Love Needs Time and Space. Reclaiming Family Time opens with a beautiful quote from Pope Francis: “Love needs time and space. All else is secondary.” These two simple sentences have taken root in my mind and heart. My husband and I are talking about how to make more time and space for love, with each other and with our kids. Together and with the help of this inspiring book, we are pursuing our deepest desire—to build a life-giving family culture.
Lucy Cunningham lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Reclaiming Family Time: A Guide to Slowing Down and Savoring the Gift of One Another by Tim and Sue Muldoon is available at wau.org and amazon.com.