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  • Elder Aaron Tan (PSPC)

Playing Together, Praying Together, Staying Together

Eld. Aaron Tan of Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church

It has been said that a family that plays together, stays together. However, in today’s context, it appears that families are facing increasing difficulty in even making time for a family meal together, let alone play together. This could partly be due to the fact that there are now more families in Singapore where both parents are working – more than ever before. The Straits Times reported on 18 June 2021 that dual-career couples have increased from 47.1 per cent in 2010 to 52.5 per cent (among married couples) in 2020[1].

Factors driving this trend could include the fast-rising cost of living, and also the changing societal attitudes that are shifting away from the traditional view of “father goes out to work and mother stays home to look after the children”. Women are now better educated than the time of my parents and now have equal opportunities to succeed in the corporate world as their male counterparts. Globalisation has pushed companies to establish offices across different parts of the world which has in turn changed the working hours for many, and it is not uncommon for business meetings to be held at night to suit colleagues from another time zone. The list could go on, but it should be clear by now that all of these have potential to eat into the time we should be having with the family.

To make things even more challenging, many of us do not want our children to lose out to their peers so we are willing to spend huge amounts of money for early learning programmes, language classes, music classes, dance classes, and so on, from as young as 6 months old! Many are also pushing their children into tuition classes way before they get to Primary school. In a recent report in the Straits Times on 22 June 2022, it was reported that tuition centres are taking in students from as young as 4 years old to ensure these children can be ahead of their peers when they go into Primary One[2]! Because both parents have to work, it also means that many have to leave their children to the care of grandparents or domestic helpers during times when they are not in classes. In a sense we are outsourcing our time for our children to others on weekdays and weekends, which means we have even less time with our children.

We could shrug our shoulders and say, “What to do? Such is the world we live in and if we don’t keep up then how?” True as that may be, I would like to propose that we should also consider what cost we would be willing to pay – and I don’t mean in the monetary sense. With all the above taking away our family time, what is the remaining time that we have as a family? How much time have we set aside to talk to our children to teach them about God and to be role models for them? What are they learning about parenting from us? Could all this lead to increasing alienation between children and their parents leading to fragmented families?

Before things go awry, I think as Christian parents we need to take a step back every now and then to weigh things out – what are the things we need to do that are really important to disciple our children in the way of the Lord, the non-negotiables versus those that are good to have. The following are some suggestions on how to intentionally build in time for the family for consideration.

Begin with a plan. I was coaching someone who was struggling with the feeling of guilt because he felt he was not spending enough time with his family. He shared that his workload has been very heavy and he hardly gets to see his family during the weekdays but he does bring the family to attend Mass during the weekends. I asked him how he would define “enough time”. He thought for a while and said that if he could adjust his work schedule and take advantage of the option given by his company to work from home at least once or twice a week - that would be progress for him. He said this would allow him some flexibility to help his son in his school work in between Zoom calls and run errands for his wife. I congratulated him for being willing to take that step. It may not seem to be much, but it was a step taken to intentionally claw back some ‘visible’ time for his family to know he was with them. What might you want to do to claw back time and build in some family routines into your weekly schedule?

Play together. By play I mean doing things that the family enjoys together – doing fun things, and sometimes a spontaneous fun activity can go a long way. When my children were young, my wife and I would declare “Ice Cream Time!” when they completed their homework and we would all run to the neighbourhood ‘Mama store’ to choose their favourite ice cream. As a family we love going to the movies, especially on the opening night of our favourite superhero movies. My wife and I would get the tickets and drag the children away from their study desks to go for a late night movie. We like playing games together too, especially during the school holidays, and as they got older, they were teaching us new games! Over the years we have built up quite a collection of board games in our games cabinet which we now share with our young adults in church (our children have all grown up, married and have their own families).

Holiday together. When I was growing up, my mother would bring us on a vacation together at least twice a year – during the June school holiday, and at the end of the year. We did not have much money because my Dad passed away when I was very young, and my Mum’s salary as a teacher was not much in those days. But that did not stop us because she could book government bungalows in Changi at very low rates, and we also had an Aunt who owned a beach bungalow. We enjoyed many memorable holidays together with our cousins during those week-long holidays. When I had my own family, I continued that practice as much as I could to make sure we had family holidays together. When the children grew up, they could even chip in to help plan the holidays and they added a lot more excitement and nice places to find food in the various places we visited. The idea is to do things together – not like fly everybody to somewhere and Dad goes to play golf, Mum goes shopping, and the children stay in the hotel to watch Netflix. That wouldn’t work at all!

Pray together. I have mentioned in an earlier article about praying together as a family. This was something which we intentionally built into our family routine from the time the children could speak. My wife and I used a children’s devotion book where we would read a short passage of Scripture and the lesson for that passage, then we would lead them in prayer with them following after us sentence by sentence. When they grew up, we worked out a roster so each one of us would take turns to lead in the prayer time. Those were precious times when we gathered in our bedroom and we would talk about our day and share prayer points and prayed for each other. We kept this routine till they finished university.

Celebrate together. As a family we were also big on celebrations. Ever since the children were young, we celebrated every one of our birthdays. It was a simple ritual – I would get a cake, light the candles at midnight, have the rest of the family gathered at the dining table while we invited the birthday girl/boy to come and we would sing the birthday song, open presents, and say a prayer for God’s blessings and take a family picture. This was also a reason for us to have a celebration every month starting from August which is my birthday, September for my son, October for my wife, November for my Mum, and December for my daughter. This was another routine that carried on till they got married. We also made it a point to celebrate after each exam when the children were schooling – even before the results were out. This was us making sure that the children know that we celebrate the effort rather than the results.

I have shared a little of what my wife and I have tried to do for our family to claw back time and not let the world take it away, and I am very sure that there are already many of you out there who have many more ideas and have been doing great things with your families too. Each of these do not take a lot of time, but if done regularly I think they do add up to something. I pray that this article has somehow been an encouragement to you. May the Lord grant you much joy and fulfilment as you seek to glorify Him through your families.

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