November 2006 - Vol. 1


"Family Night"

by Howard Distelzweig

A family with several children can find themselves so busy with sports,
clubs, lessons and meetings of all sorts that they spend little time doing
things together. My wife and I adapted a pattern we saw others using and
made every Saturday evening "Family Night".

One of the great challenges that parents face in our society is maintaining family cohesiveness in the face of the many influences that tend to pull families apart. Besides the forces that are directly hostile to family life, there is a hidden danger in the multitude of activities available for people of all ages. Even activities that are good in themselves often damage families, thereby upsetting God's plan for human life. A family with several children can find themselves so busy with sports, clubs, lessons and meetings of all sorts that they spend little time doing things together. And the older the children get, the greater the demands. In order to combat this tendency, my wife and I adapted a pattern we saw others using and made every Saturday evening "Family Night".

We begin with our main meal of the week, which we consider the beginning of the Lord's Day, and then we play games or have some other entertaining activity. When we started this tradition, our first child was a toddler and we had several single adults living with us. Over the years more children came and we no longer had extra adults, but after almost 25 years, Saturday night is still Family Night.

During this time we have tried many different kinds of activities. Some work better for us than others. Sometimes we play cards, letting younger children be on teams with adults if necessary. Occasionally we played board games such as "Chutes and Ladders" when the children were younger; "Clue" is the most popular choice today. At times, especially if we are all exhausted from the week, we rent a video, often from the Classics section. (We have seen all the Abbott and Costello films our local superstore stocks). What we enjoy most, however, are activities that require a little more creativity.

Bible charades was probably our most frequent choice for a long period, and it is still a favorite. Instead of movies and books, we use categories such as biblical persons, events and quotations. The story of David and Goliath was acted out many times when our children were little. "Machines", in which one or more people mime some kind of machine, is a very entertaining variation on charades. We found that the younger children enjoyed working with older children or adults to portray mixers, pianos, and even computers.

One of our most ambitious and creative activities is "Grab-Bag Dramatics". One person gathers bags of common household objects; a group of three or four participants shares one bag. Each group prepares a short skit using all the items in their bag as props. This activity requires a fairly large number of people and a high percentage of adults or older children, but it is a lot of fun.

The local Christian bookstores have provided us with games which we simplified slightly and have enjoyed immensely. "Bible Pictionary" is one of our all-time favorites. The essence of the game is to make the other participants guess the biblical person, place, object or event you have in mind by drawing. Speed, not high art, is the goal. We use a large newsprint sketch pad and crayons instead of the small pad that comes with the game. "Bible Baseball" is another game we modified and simplified. There are several books of Bible quiz questions available, supposedly divided into levels of difficulty, but we found some of the singles more difficult than some of the home runs. All these Bible-based games have the additional benefit of increasing interest in and knowledge of the Bible.

We have also enjoyed a number of seasonal activities that have deepened our appreciation of the liturgy and liturgical year. During Advent we have made Jesse tree symbols and Christmas ornaments. One year, for variety, we made an advent mobile instead of a Jesse tree. We have spent some Lent Family Nights decorating Easter candles - family-size versions of the Paschal Candle - which we then light for our Saturday dinners from Easter until Ascension Thursday.

We have enjoyed many other activities in the 20 years we have been doing this, but these indicate the range we have found helpful. Our minimum requirement in choosing an activity is that everyone is able to participate, although not everyone has to be enthusiastic about the activity. A willingness to do something occasionally that one doesn't especially enjoy is essential for Family Night to work indeed, for family life to work! The ability to accept others' limitations doesn't seem to be inborn in our children, but it also is necessary. Another problem we have had to deal with, especially when our children were younger, was competitiveness. We don't generally have teams when we play games like charades, and we keep score as little as possible. Noncompetitive activities are still our preference.

The biggest obstacle we face in maintaining our tradition of Family Night is the attraction of other activities. Our children's friends don't have the same Saturday night obligation our children do.  As our children have become old enough to drive, the pressure to skip Family Night or to let a family member go out instead of participating increases. We have never been completely rigid in observing this tradition, and we do let the older teenagers not participate on rare occasions. More often we let them go out afterwards, but this can result in very late nights. We are helped in dealing with this tension by the fact that our children have grown up with Family Night and really like it.

We have seen many side benefits from our Family Night activities, such as greater creativity and increased knowledge of the Bible, but the over-riding reason we maintain the tradition is simply to be a family. Almost always we have a good time, but even when our time together isn't of the highest quality, our familial relationships are strengthened. Years of Family Nights store up fond memories and forge bonds of love. The saying that "The family that prays together stays together" is indubitably true, but we have found that there are blessings also when the family plays together.

The father of five children, Howard Distelzweig has extensive background in religious education and has taught on the high school and college levels. Howard and his wife, Janet are members of Word of Life Community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This article originally appeared in The Family Magazine, Vol. 43, No. 8, September 1995, published by St. Paul Books & Media, Boston, MA. 
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