Monday, September 24, 2012

Forced Family Fun

For those who want to know more...see the whole list of 45 Things I Know Right Now

#6 Quality family time together, known in our house as Forced Family Fun, is mandatory and will continue to be so, especially through the teen years.

I talk a lot about my kids and the fun we have. I always think we have lots of fun together, but I am not foolish enough to believe that my boys always think time spent with their parents is the best fun they could be having. As they are growing older, they are naturally looking to spend more time with friends and time doing things that mom and dad don't do. It's natural and needed progression for them to define their own lives outside the reach of our umbrella. And it is important for them to experience time away from us and their home, to be exposed to other families and the ways they do things.

My middle schooler and world-wise tween are making every effort to set their own social calendars. Between playdates or "hanging out" as it now know in our house and PVP (player vs. player) computer games, they would fill their own calendars completely if we allowed it. There would be little family time if these two keyboard wielding socialites were in charge. Not that they don't love us of course. We are just not as fun to them as their friends are. I get it. And it's only going to get worse.

During my own middle school through middle twenties, I really preferred to spend time with anyone other than my parents. I'm kidding; it wasn't quite that long. But there was a period when I tried to avoid my parents as much as respectfully possible. Maybe it was the confusion of hormones. Or the fear of possible social embarrassment and resulting ostracism from their mere presence. Regardless of the reason, I thought I was being sly.  But I am sure now that I am a parent, they knew exactly what I was doing. My brothers probably did the same thing. My parents are good people and they didn't deserve poor treatment from their spawn but I'm starting to think that's what you get to some degree as a parent of teens.

My parents fought back against us ingrates and they fought dirty. If we kids didn't want to spend time with them, they made sure we got exactly what we didn't want. They created the concept of Forced Family Fun. They didn't name it such or know it at the time.  But through their orchestration of activities that held us captive with our other family members, the tradition FFF was born. FFF usually included long car rides to remote places where there were no televisions or phones. The main attribute of an FFF activity was the impossibility of escape. Once you embarked on an FFF activity, there was no return, no way off the ride, no way to the end but to go all the way through it.

It sounds horrible and, for me as a teenager, sometimes it was. The only reasons it was horrible were my age, post in life and accompanying teen attitude. But it was not as bad as all that. Now I look back fondly on those FFF times with Mom, Dad, some mix of siblings, and my grandmother thrown in from time to time. We spent many a Sunday afternoon driving the loop road in Cades Cove, picnicking under one of my mother's favorite trees, counting deer in the Cove. We skipped rocks at the Y and ate dinner at The Pioneer House. Back then, I would have much rather been hanging out with my friends or watching TV, but today those times are priceless to me. Most of those times are not even crystal clear memories for me but the cumulative effect of all those FFF times created a backdrop of my challenging teen years. My family was always there, forced or not.

The benefits of FFF are varied. For the parents, it is time spent with your kids that you may not always enjoy in the present but will remember lovingly years later, magically forgetting the groans of disdain and surly looks hurled your way. At least that's what my parents say.

FFF unites siblings. They may be united against the parents in their dislike of the FFF use of their time, but at least they are in agreement on something. For some sibs, this may only happen during FFF.

For the individual kid, FFF keeps the family thread winding out from the spool as they are making their own fabric of life. And you get to share the same view. Maybe it's slanted by your own perspective, but every one holds the same vistas in their mind.

Now that I have my own family, I am happily applying Forced Family Fun to this second generation. Just this weekend, we had a classic FFF activity: drove what seemed to the kids a very long distance away from their home (read far away from TV, video games, phones), entered a natural area replete with trees and mountains, drove a bit further, and forced them to walk WITH US in nature.

And we talked. It was a truly unforced, fun time. 

That's because my boys are still too young to be fully averse to spending time with their parents. Right now all they think is that they merely prefer to spend time with friends and handheld devices. It's nothing personal toward us. It's not that they don't want to spend time with us; it's just a preference, you see. But my husband and I know that day is coming when they actually won't want to spend time with us. So we are instituting FFF activities early (we actually have been since the boys were born) so as to establish a pattern. We'll be ready when that day comes that one of them says they don't want to go hiking (or some other code-named FFF activity), we will simply say that there is no opting out of FFF.

They already know this and we all laugh when we refer to FFF. It's all funny at these ages, but there may not be four voices laughing a few years and hormonal changes from now. My husband and I will have to keep our humor about us when hormones and, I shudder at the thought, girlfriends take precedence in our boys' lives. Until then and hopefully long after, Forced Family Fun will remain a tradition. And may it become one that my boys inflict on their own children someday.


  1. Sounds like so much fun even if it was forced! I will have to join you next time. Also, these last 2 pictures of "Helios". Are you kidding me? He looks even older than my last visit.

  2. I'm a big fan of FFF. I think the language of family is born there.


Whaddaya think about that?