Last week Dr. Daniel Mark, an Orthodox Jew and visiting fellow of the Department of Politics at Princeton University, spoke at a private Christian university emphasizing the need for “a family ethic in society.” Dr. Mark is also a faculty member at Villanova University in Pennsylvania where he teaches political theory, philosophy of law, American government, and politics and religion. His experience in law, politics, and religious freedom is well-documented and I appreciated his simple and timely advice to set aside “a family night for society.”
Mark was speaking to members of a Christian sect who strongly encourage a “family home evening” where one night each week is set aside from other activities to focus on spending time as a family. He correctly noted, “The family is not just an example for society; the family is also the primary building block of society. The family is the first place where children learn the virtue necessary to be good citizens.”
If the idea of spending a family night focusing on family ideals and values appeals to you, here are some ideas so get started.
1- Pick a day. This needs to be as concrete as possible, while of course still allowing for outside contingencies. If your day is always changing it is more likely to be pushed aside for other activities. Sit down as a family and, for example, say, “Wednesday is a day with little activity and a great time to re-connect in the middle of the week. So no one plan anything for Wednesday nights because that’s family night.” Obviously things will come up but do everything in your power to make sure those Wednesdays are sacred.
2- Get everyone involved. Do you have little kids? Let them help decide what you’ll do or what you’ll eat. (They’ll especially love it if there are treats involved!) Do you have older kids? Let them each have a turn taking the reins and being in charge of the evening. (Bonus: they’ll benefit from the responsibility of being in charge and directing other people on what to do.) Are you a couple with no kids? Don’t neglect your family just because it’s smaller than others. Make a list of things you’d like to do together and begin checking them off each week.
3- Make it personal. Fun nights are a great idea but don’t forget to bring in a spiritual aspect. Whatever your faith this is the ideal time to teach precepts and fundamental principles to your kids. Turn it into a game or a lecture, whatever works for your family, but they need to hear what you believe. This is also a good time to set goals as a family to be better. If you don’t practice a faith find something that connects you to the universe or something greater than yourself and use this time to focus your family in a single direction.
4- Commit. Life changes, goals change, activities change, even people change. It is easy to get out of the rhythm of spending time as a family when circumstances don’t allow it, but don’t give up! Our families are our most precious possessions and they are worth the extra effort to nourish them. Whatever gets in the way commit and re-commit as necessary to keep your family night sacred. The benefits may be seen immediately or far in the future, but, as Dr. Mark noted in his address, “Cultivating a family ethic is especially difficult, but commensurately important, when it comes to religion and religious freedom.” You are doing your part to build the bedrock of society and the extra effort will always be worth it.