When I was growing up, my dad worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, and my mother's job often required travel. When they were home, they didn't have time to go to many of my swim meets or other functions, and family vacations were short and few. I admired their hard work, but I missed their attention.
Fortunately, things changed when I was a teenager. My parents bought a boat, and suddenly the family was spending time together. The memories of those weekends are special.
I've lived both sides of the family-time issue and I know which side is better. I'm convinced that the purpose of a family is to be together. My wife is my best friend and my three kids follow close behind. Best friends are supposed to spend time together, so I decided that we'd do as many things as possible as a family.
Doing things together always felt right, but splitting up seemed traitorous, almost selfish. Even though some gender division is natural, it bothered me that I usually ended up with our son, Carson, and Nancy ended up with the girls. The desire to spend more time with our daughters reinforced my stand on doing things together.
But with each passing year our forced togetherness caused more tension. Our kids became adept at voicing their opinions. Yet the realization that they didn't want to be with us as much as we wanted to be with them was hard to accept.
When our kids were little, living life en masse was a necessity. Where we went, they went. They watched me perform in musical theater and saw Mark play softball. They were shown some of life's options—the options we had chosen for our lives.
But eventually the kids started having opinions about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. One of the most exciting things about watching them grow up is seeing how different they are. I never encouraged Emily to be a great organizer, or forced Carson to play baseball, or insisted that Laurel like Victorian costumes.
But Mark often ignored their preferences and said, "We're going. Together." It was five or nothing. When he forced the issue, the results were often less than pleasant. We ended up snapping at each other and I'd be exhausted.
Mark also tended to plan outings that involved his favorite pastimes, such as going to baseball games. Our daughters and I would rather go to the dentist than watch baseball; and Mark wasn't thrilled about attending concerts and theater productions.
I realize people often need to go places and do things they aren't excited about—otherwise how would we ever experience new things? But there had to be a better way. I felt Mark was trying to force all of us into the same mold, and I resented it. In trying to do things together we were pulling our family apart.
What Mark and Nancy Did
As the kids grew older, it was often impossible for all five of the Mosers to synchronize their schedules. Nancy didn't mind, since it reinforced her preferences. It was Mark who felt the brunt of it. His loss of control made him frustrated and resentful, which caused more conflict.
He and Nancy tried to figure out how they could hold onto their sense of family. They started by talking about their different interests—and their kids' different interests. The next step was to pinpoint interests the entire family shared. It turned out they all liked college football, movies, dining out and vacationing in the mountains. That was a starting point.
Mark stopped forcing the issue of family togetherness and tried to approach opportunities for one-on-one outings with a positive attitude. When there was a baseball game, he took Carson. He and Emily went car shopping. When there was a chance to attend a Victorian festival, Nancy and Laurel donned period costumes and enjoyed themselves. But movies, football, dining out and trips to Colorado remained family ventures.
The Mosers discovered that small-group outings created memories just as special as the ones shared by the whole family. "I like sharing my interests with one child at a time," Nancy says. "We feel a special bond, and we open up with one another far more than we did when half of us didn't want to be there."
Also, since family members are now free to feed their passions with those who share their enthusiasm, Mark and Nancy find everyone more willing to make an occasional sacrifice—just because they know it will make another family member happy. They all shared a special evening at "Phantom of the Opera," and Nancy spent a Saturday with Mark at a coin auction.
"It was nice of her to come with me," he says, "especially when I know it isn't her favorite thing to do. I realized she did it just to be with me."
The Mosers found that "together we stand, divided we fall" is not entirely true. As long as a family stands together on the big issues, other pastimes can be divided to everyone's satisfaction.
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or email@example.com.