Forced Family Fun serves its purpose
By Cindy Hoedel
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) I'm a big believer in "FFF": forced family fun. A girlfriend of mine coined the term when we were in high school. She, like me, had two siblings who were close to her in age but could have come from Ork for all the interests they shared. Her parents, like mine, periodically tried to promote familial bonding through domestic field trips.
As a teen I found FFF tedious. But, guess what, it worked. Because now, as a parent of teens, I love the concept. Sometimes our agenda is no more ambitious than walking the dogs at a nearby for a couple of hours; other times travel is involved, like a daytrip to the state fair.
But usually, what I'm really trying to force into our family time is culture. The closer our kids get to leaving the family nest, the more urgently I feel the need to infect them with a passion for ballet and opera, theater and film.
An appreciation of the arts is an essential tool for dealing with life. Your family is always there for you, sure, but they can't put on a 3½-hour spectacle that alters the state of your soul like seeing Olga Borodina sing "Carmen." Who needs therapy when $200 gets you a prime orchestra seat at the Met?
Even when I was in college and broke, I can't count the number of crises I sorted out by staring for hours at a painting by Pierre Bonnard or watching a borrowed library copy of "La Dolce Vita ." I want that for my kids. It beats Jell-O shots.
Over the years I've discovered ways to increase the kids' receptiveness to cultural activities:
Divide and conquer. Siblings often have entirely different tastes in music, fashion, art and humor. It's important to take those into account. Over spring break in Las Vegas, we hit the jackpot and all four of us enjoyed "Phantom of the Opera" and "Spamalot." But I would never inflict "Mamma Mia" on our 17-year-old son or "The Santaland Diaries" on our 13-year-old daughter.
Expand the tribe. Letting kids bring a friend along on "family outings" can entice them to agree to an activity they would otherwise reject, such as a visit to an art fair or a silent film festival.
Name that event. Until our son got a job, every Friday night at our house was Family Movie Night. We would darken the room, pop popcorn, bring in pillows and throws and - the best part - watch old classic films with Audrey Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart instead of "Pirates of the Caribbean" for the 900th time. The kids used to jokingly call it "Old Boring Movie Night," but recently they said we ought to watch "Key Largo" again because it's been so long. Success!
Bribe them with food. Here's how I sell a visit to the art gallery: "Let's have a picnic on the lawn of the Nelson then walk through the museum - what kind of desserts should we bring?" My girlfriend and I suspect the traditional pre-show dinner at Lidia's may be part of the reason our daughters continue to insist on seeing the "Nutcracker" year after year. Who cares? Whatever it takes, I'm in.
Compromise most of your principles. In a perfect world, my kids would choose to wear a suit or party dress to the theater or concert hall. They would sit in rapt, silent attention throughout the performance. On the ride home they would make perceptive comments about choreography or the interpretation of the score. Instead I settle for clothing that is clean and un-rumpled, a few whispered exchanges during the show and post-show commentary along the lines of, "Huh? It was OK. Can we go to Taco Bell?"
I figure if I don't sweat the small stuff, the culture bug will sneak up on them and one day they'll drag their kids to "Aida."
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Cindy Hoedel is a columnist for The Kansas City Star.. Send a note by clicking here.
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