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 other 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 20 years, Saturday
night is still Family Night.
During this time we have tried many different kinds of activities. Some
work better for than others. Sometimes we play cards, letting younger children
be on teams with adult if necessary. Occasionally we play board games,
such as "Chutes and Ladders" when the children were younger;
"Clue" is the most popular choice today. At time, 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 tree or four participants shares one bag. Each group prepares
a short skit using all the items in their bags 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 heave 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
We have enjoyed many other activities in the 20 years we have been doing
this, but these indicate the range of activities 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
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 they 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 and their children are members of Washtenaw
Covenant 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.