Finding Meaning In Your Evening

By Roscoe Lilly

Isn’t it interesting how our routine is perfectly designed to get the results we are currently getting? If we don’t like the results, we simply need to change our routines. We already have a routine in these areas and a few small changes could create dramatic results.

Today, I want you to think about the most meaningful part of your day—your evening. I say it’s the most meaningful part because, chances are, you are spending that time with the most important people in your life—your family. They are the very reason you are working so hard, and the evening is when you have the largest block of time to spend with them on a daily basis. You already have an evening routine; but consider whether it promotes harmony or more stress in your home.

Here are some helpful routines to establish:

Leave work mentally, not just physically.

Remember how the object of many games you played as a child was to “get home”? It’s still true in baseball today. You score when you get home! When you played freeze tag, you were safe when you got home. No one could get you. Creating a home that is an oasis from the world starts as soon as you leave work. What is your typical routine when you leave work? Return calls you didn’t get to during the day? Dictate e-mails and messages? That’s great for your company, but not so great for your family.

I’ve found that when I try to return calls on my way home, many times the call doesn’t finish by the time I pull into my driveway so I bring the call inside and push off the hugs and greetings of my family so I can “finish.” The times that I’ve finished the calls before I got home, I found that my mind was still engaged in the conversation and the new tasks I now needed to do in response to the call. Many times the calls revolve around emotionally draining topics, so when I walk in the door, I need some time to decompress. The problem is that my family needs me to engage when I want to disengage.

A helpful routine for me is that when I physically leave work, I mentally leave work on the commute home. I mentally change the channel from work to home. It takes some time to do that. I think about my children and something fun I would like to do with each one of them that evening. I picture my sweet wife. An evening of meaning starts on your commute home. (This takes for granted that you’ve managed your energy throughout the day so that you still have something left to give to the most important people in your life.)

Turn off your phone before you walk in the house.

I’ve found that when I don’t do this, I can receive an e-mail or a call that will take me miles away from my family emotionally. My mind starts engaging with that new issue instead of with those I love. You are probably thinking, “What if an emergency happens?” or “What if someone needs me?” How many times has a true emergency happened? I bet those cases are extremely rare and in most instances, there isn’t anything you can do until the morning anyway, so why stew about it all night?

Establish a family dinner time around your table.

Having dinner as a family around a table is becoming a rare event, and research shows how damaging that can be. Here are some other stats I found online:

  • Teens who experience fewer than three family dinners a week were twice as likely to use tobacco and alcohol and one-and-a-half times likelier to use marijuana (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University).
  • Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40 percent more likely to say they get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University).
  • More frequent family dinners are related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction (Journal of Adolescent Health, April 2012).
  • Family dinners are more important than play, story time and other family events in the development of vocabulary of younger children (Harvard Research, 1996).
  • Adolescent girls who have frequent family meals and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders (University of Minnesota, 2004).
  • Frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking, and using drugs; a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts; and with better grades in 11- to 18-year-olds (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2004).

We have a simple routine at my home where we ask each person one question: “What was the best part of your day?” This is one of my favorite parts of the day.

Some days we have to look hard for the good. It’s easy to find the negative of the day, but we want to train ourselves to focus on the positive. This one simple routine gives us insight into each other’s hearts, hurts, values and daily life. If we forget to ask this question, one of our children will quickly speak up and say, “Let’s do the best part of the day, Dad!” Sometimes when I come home, one of my children will even say, “I can’t wait till dinner to share the best part of my day with everyone, because I had a really good thing happen!”

The goal isn’t eating; the goal is building relationships.

Give focused attention to each person.

Do you know how many evenings you are actually with your family and how many you are working late or away? If you have young children, it might be helpful to calculate how much time you actually spend engaged with your kids. A.C. Nielson Co. found that the average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week (not day) in meaningful conversation with their children. What would your average be? You may be around your children while you are cooking dinner, checking homework, or watching them at athletic events, but that is not the same thing as being engaged with them.

Maybe you want to push back a little and say you make up for it on the weekends. That’s where you spend quality time with those you love. Your weekend routine matters, and we will look at that in an upcoming post, but remember the most important things in life have a cumulative effect. Your family members face some difficult challenges every day and they need you to be there for them. They shouldn’t have to wait days for your encouragement, support and love.

So how can you spend more time engaged with every person in your family each evening this week?

Roscoe Lilly serves as Lead Pastor of NorthStar Church in Albany, New York. This article first appeared on his website, Follow Roscoe on Twitter @RoscoeLilly.