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Forced Family Fun: How to Make it Work for Your Family

Close-up photo of a board game with a die in the foreground and three plastic ducks in the background.

> Visit my Resources page to download the Forced Family Fun Idea List. <

Forced Family Fun. Most people see it as a well-intentioned, but terrible idea.

Mostly the term is used pejoratively, like it's a punishment, though no one is sure who suffers more: the child who is forced to comply, or the parent who is fighting to just have a nice time together (said through clenched teeth).

This makes me sad.

In our house, Forced Family Fun is actually fun. Honestly. We started forcing activities together a couple of years ago, when we had pre-teens and teens in the house, and I’m not giving it up until every last one of them has launched.


We just sent our oldest son to college. He’s gone. Even when he was still here, those last years of high school were full. Our FFF activities were the only times outside of dinner that our whole family just spent time together doing something recreational. That intentional time was good for me as a parent, and I believe good for my children's relationships with one another.

Sometimes FFF is mundane and unmemorable, but other times, it results in stories and memories that are strengthening our sense of family, much like this mom was pleasantly surprised to discover.

If you're ready to start your own FFF tradition, here are some strategies to help:

Schedule FFF regularly.

We try to do FFF every Sunday. We miss some weeks, but then I make sure we get back on track as soon as possible. Sundays are generally the least busy day of the week for us, so sometime between lunch and bedtime, we make sure to set aside an hour for FFF.

I know that starting a new habit can be tricky. If you think it might help, put FFF on your calendar and set a reminder on your phone until you’ve established a routine.

Limit the time.

As I just mentioned, we generally expect FFF to last an hour. An hour is enough time to experience something together, but not so long that anyone feels like they’re giving up their whole afternoon for something they don’t want to do.

There are occasions when FFF might be a hike or a movie, and those may run 2-3 hours. But the vast majority of what we choose is only an hour.

Take turns choosing the activity.

In my mind, this may be the most critical piece of success. In a lot of the articles I read online about other family's attempts at FFF, it was the parents either deciding the activity, or trying to get consensus on the activity. Nope.

Here’s a better idea: rotate through the family so one person is choosing each week. We simply go in age order, so we can always figure out whose turn it is.

Sometimes, the chooser may be uninspired and need ideas from the rest of us. However, other times, when someone makes an off-handed comment about wanting to do something, we’ll say, “Make that your next Forced Family Fun,” and they’ll at least know that they’ll get to see that happen within the month.

Before we started the tradition, we brainstormed a list of ideas that we refer to when we get stuck. You can download a list of Forced Family Fun ideas on my Resources page.

Remember that FFF doesn’t have to be earth-shattering every time.

As you read through the ideas, you’ll see that some are simple: have a fire in the fire pit, bake cookies, play a board game. In fact, making the FFF something big like camping can backfire, as this mom found out.

Like most disciplines, when it comes to FFF, the frequency is the most important thing. If FFF activities are always huge events, they won't happen as often. Regular recreational time together is more valuable than an occasional big trip.

Be prepared.

If you’re reading this, then you're probably the one in your family who wants to see this happen. In that case, I suggest you proactively get some of the things you might need to be able to do a simple FFF.

  • Keep cookie ingredients stocked in the pantry.

  • Consider buying a pickleball, croquet, or badminton set.

  • Make sure you've got a complete deck of cards or buy a couple of board games that seem like a good fit for your family.

  • Make a list of movies you want to show the kids or create a watchlist specifically for FFF.

Alternatively, you could also ask the chooser to let you know their idea sometime before the day you’re doing it, so you can get anything you might need in time. Nothing will take the wind out of the FFF sails like repeatedly telling your kids "No," to their suggestions. (Although, it is completely appropriate to set dollar limits if you need to. Plenty of fun can be had for little to no money.)

Don’t give up too quickly.

If you’re meeting resistance, don’t give up too quickly. There may be a learning curve to figure out what works best for your family. There may need to be some warming up to the idea. You may need to decide on different terms than the ones I laid out here. If you’re serious about creating intentional time together, do what you need to.

Our days with our children at home are numbered. Do something that counts with them.

You can read some of my specific stories about our family's Forced Family Fun.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pixabay.


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