Monday, September 6, 2010

The Gift of Family Time

Throughout the 40 Days of Giving project, I realized that one of my biggest issues is with giving time. I am fairly self-sufficient, so don't need a lot of time devoted to me in order to feel needed, nor to feel a connection to others. A few hours here and there, and I'm honestly good.

I just don't need to go through the sorts of rituals that most people go through to establish their emotional ties to each other. Surely my friends know that they're my friends, and I don't need to invite them over to make that clear. If they wanted to see me, they could just as easily ask me over. The fact that they don't doesn't mean that I don't think they like me. I assume they do, unless something happens which indicates to me that they have stopped liking me.

Because of this willingness to have my relationships by mutual understanding rather than through actual interactions with people, I sometimes joke that I have Asperger syndrome.

Having a family, of course, doesn't quite allow for that. For reasons that I don't quite fathom, Amber and the kids like having my direct attention for more than just an hour or two a day. It's really quite baffling, since I'm not that interesting.

But there's where the conflict arises, because I'm something of a workaholic. I always have a bunch of projects going on (and, in fact, at present am approaching something of a train wreck as many deadlines approach all at once), and while I'm happy to schedule time for family events and activities, just planning generic family time that has no real point has never made much sense to me.

However, with schedules and family life growing more hectic - my elder son in kindergarten, my freelance work, my day job, Amber's school, Amber's internship, Amber's new job with Lia Sophia, a 10-month old baby who's closely approaching the walking stage, and so on - it's becoming more crucial to set time aside.

So we've begun setting Monday evenings as Family/Date Night. We haven't quite worked out what this entails, other than that we are not allowed to schedule any non-family event for Monday night. So far, it's been nice.

We also set this weekend aside in a similar fashion. On Friday, when I finished work, I came into the back yard and set up two tents. We camped out the last three nights, and have spent most of the weekend outdoors. We considered going out to a nearby campground but, frankly, money is kind of tight these days.

It's been a great weekend, filled with a continuous campfire, sleeping bags, s'mores, roasted hot dogs, bugs, and other outdoor adventures.

And, in the midst of all of this, I've still gotten some things accomplished. I wrote a blog post for About.com on multiple universes and one for Black Gate on a possible The Sandman television series. I've cleared over a hundred pages of Cherie Priest's Boneshaker (quite good so far, though not as action-packed as I was expecting from a steampunk zombie tale). I'm also making my way through the pile of role-playing games that I have to review for the upcoming issue of Black Gate. And now this blog post.

In short, I've actually gotten about as much done during a camp out weekend as I normally get by hectically holing myself up in the basement for a couple of hours and getting as much done as I can. But instead of being a frantic rush of activity, it's been nice and leisurely, interspersed with time spent around the campfire with Elijah, roasting marshmallows. Even Amber commented that watching me work yesterday was a lot different from how I normally seem to work, and it looked (and felt) more relaxed, while I got just as much accomplished.

Back in February, I reviewed The Generosity Factor, which listed the Gift of Time as one of the many ways to give. This strikes me as one way of doing that - focusing on the here and now, and detaching a bit to give some time to those you care most about.

Or, to put it in a more intellectual way, consider this interview with William Powers, author of Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. In it, he suggests (as many others have done over the years) that our modern society is not built to adequately embrace the connections among people that we desperately need for happiness. Like Thoreau, he believes in building a bit of space for contemplation. His family practices disconnected weekends - Internet Sabbaths - which is something of a sacrifice in this connected age.

I'm not sure if I've quite reached the point of embracing weekend-long Internet Sabbaths, but it seems to me that putting tents in the backyard every once in a while is a good place to start. It's a gift not just to your family, but to yourself.

What other ways have you found to really set some good quality time aside, especially when life is at its most hectic? How do you make sure that you can give the gift of family time?