You’ve heard it before—“don’t sweat the small stuff”—but when life gets hectic, it’s hard to keep from stressing out. As both your personal and professional to-do lists build, everyday commitments—even the ones that are supposed to be enjoyable, such as a girls’ night out, your daughter’s ballet recital, or a dinner date with your hubby—seem like so much effort. Add to the list a meeting with your boss, grocery shopping, a morning run, and that phone call to your mother, and suddenly a 24-hour day seems too short to accomplish much of anything. Those daily stressors continue to build until one day you explode because you’ve burned the dinner rolls or misplaced yet another one of your socks.
Sound familiar? You can’t do it all—and the good news is that no one expects you to!—but finding the balance between work and play is essential to building healthy relationships with your family. Adopt these five habits to strengthen the bond you have with those you care about most, and you’ll be well on your way to building a healthy, stress-free family.
>> 1. Cook, Bake, and Eat Together
Designated family meal times provide loads of benefits: increased communication, better manners, improved grades and behavior among teens, etc. But rather than yelling “dinner’s ready!” and watching the mad scramble for food ensue, encourage the whole family to get involved. Divvy up the duties—one person bakes the bread, another person stirs the sauce and boils the noodles, someone else mixes a salad. Young kids can help set the table. Include everyone in the creation of the meal to foster that family bond. Get goofy with food, too—make breakfast for dinner, serve smoothies as the beverage, or try muffin tin recipes to make everything bite-sized.
>> 2. Keep the Door Open
Rather than sending your kids to a friend’s house after school, invite those friends into your own home. You will not only create a welcoming environment, but also get to know who your children choose to spend time with; you can learn a lot about your kids by observing how they act around their friends. Install a basketball hoop. Get nets for street soccer or hockey. Encourage bike riding around the neighborhood. During cold months, have game night indoors. Provide healthy (but tasty) snacks to promote nutritious habits. Meeting and forming relationships with your children’s friends will allow you to log more time with your children while they get to hang out with their friends—it’s a win-win! This open-door policy works with your spouse, too—volunteer to host book club or the fantasy football draft.
>> 3. Take a Staycation
Vacations don’t have to be time-consuming and expensive. Plan an all-day adventure to give the whole family something to look forward to. A school break, holiday, or even any old Saturday is a great day for a getaway. Visit the mall in a nearby city, go on a hike, or try that new Italian restaurant. Volunteer. Have a spa day, tour a winery, or visit a dog park. Pack an overnight bag and take the whole family to a relative’s house. Anticipating a mini-retreat is stress relief in itself! Disrupting your everyday routines and simply putting your bodies in a new place releases those feel-good chemicals in the brain, which makes everyone feel closer together. Giving yourself something to look forward to—and knowing that you get to reap that quality time with your loved ones—provides a distant reward that will help you overcome those daily stressors.
>> 4. Tackle Chores as a Group
Cooking, cleaning, washing, folding, scrubbing—whatever the chore, make it a group effort. Getting stuck with the same household responsibilities contributes to that feeling that you’re expected to “do it all,” and that’s simply not realistic. Rotate who loads the dishwasher, hangs the laundry, and vacuums the rugs. Take turns scrubbing the toilet and cleaning out the litter box. Time for a top-to-bottom house cleaning? Designate a time—Sunday morning, for example—and give every family member a chore (dust furniture, wash windows, sweep floors, etc.), then crank up some music and get to it!
>> 5. Be a Positive Role Model
What better way to teach kids how to grow up to be both happy and healthy than to lead by example? Exhibit responsible money habits; talk to your children about savings accounts, credit cards, and creating a budget. Fight fairly and discuss differing opinions; don’t slam doors, name call, or play the blame game. Be affectionate, both with your spouse and children; never be too busy for a hug before you run out the door. If you can talk the talk and walk the walk, your whole family will be on the same page—and you’ll be better equipped to deal with subsequent stress and struggles in a healthy way.