Every parent knows the magic of those transcendent moments when one of your children will say or do something so sweet, or the family will be having so much fun, that it temporarily swells everyone's heart several sizes. But let's be honest: parents also know quite well the drudgery—or worse, an ongoing state of low-level annoyance—that can come with shuttling kids to activities, quelling the constant drone of sibling bickering and negotiating schedules and chores.
If you often find yourself wishing that everyone could just get along, that you could somehow tap into those moments of family harmony, but then the ebb and flow of life carries you along before you can do anything about it, take heart: You don't need to wait for the next family vacation to recapture the magic. Try working these five ideas into your life and make the most of your family's time together.
1. Unplug, unplug, unplug
Yes, we all know we should do a little less staring into our phones, but recent studies show that the very sight of screens (even if switched off!) can result in more shallow interactions between people who are spending time together. So silence your phone and stash it out of sight whenever you're with your family, unless you’re expecting an urgent message. You can then encourage your partner and/or kids to do the same.
2. Divide and conquer
In their bestselling book Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish warn against the trap of "togetherness," especially if the kids are going through a bickering patch. One parent taking one child out while the other stays home with the other—or splitting up on a family outing, then coming back together for a meal—can give everyone a break from a dynamic that they might be stuck in. Similarly, parents should prioritize regular date nights where they can catch up with each other.
3. But…maintain family routines
Family rituals, like special weekend meals, movie or game nights, religious worship or even the smaller everyday ones like a regular family dinner or a shared sibling storytime before bed, provide a predictable framework for being together that is comforting for everyone and that makes them feel happy at being a member of the group.
4. Don't get caught up in what everyone is doing wrong
"Our habits shape our perception of our partner (or kids), so that if we start to think our spouse is sloppy, for example, we will always note when the socks are on the floor, but we don't notice how many times the socks are not there," says Marko Petkovic, author of The 5 Little Love Rituals. If you find yourself trapped in a loop of frustration at something one of your family members is doing, stop and remind yourself of a time recently when that person did something good.
5. Greet with a hug and part with a kiss
Hugging produces happy neurochemicals such as endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. Plus it is always a good idea to start and end the day on a loving note. Take the time to give your family a warm hello and goodbye even if you are in a hurry or may not feel like it at the moment. It will increase your well-being and stimulate good feelings all around.
Lesley Porcelli is a freelance writer living in New York.