Commander's Message
Garrison Commander
Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem

By this time next week, many of us will be enjoying our long Labor Day weekend.

We'll be celebrating America's work force as we've been doing since Congress granted the holiday more than 116 years ago: by enjoying cookouts, lakes, football and other forms of relaxation.

However, while you're thinking of "time off," remember to think of "Family time."

On Aug. 23, the last of the Atlanta-area school systems resumed classes.

Now that all of our youths are back in school, it's easy to get caught up in schedules.

Our mornings are busy getting ourselves ready for work and our children ready for school.

Evenings mean supervising homework, preparing dinner and preparing to repeat the process the next day.

Add sports practices and events, band and other extracurricular activities, and your evening and weekend schedules are suddenly full.

It's important that when you keep track of your Family's busy schedules on a calendar, you pencil in some down time.

This is time you can spend together enjoying each other's company and talking about what's going on in each other's lives.

According to Playing for Keeps, a nonprofit organization adopted by the Association of Children's Museums to promote children's playtime, the time we spend as a Family has dramatically declined.

For example:

Aca,!Ac Children ages 3 through 12 spend an average of 29 hours a week in school, which is eight more hours than in 1981.

Aca,!Ac The average amount of homework for America's youngest students has tripled since 1981.

Aca,!Ac Family dinners have decreased by 33 percent over the past 20 years.

Aca,!Ac Family vacations have decreased by 28 percent.

Aca,!Ac The average 2 year old spends more than four hours a day in front of a television or computer screen.

The average American home with a toddler has the television on for six hours a day. To spend Family time, you need not look any farther than your dinner table.

By making the effort to eat your meals together, without televisions and cell phones to provide distractions, you give your Family a chance to reconnect.

It's more important today than ever before to maintain that connection with your Family - especially your children.

An A.C. Nielsen Company survey showed the average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with his or her children.

It's easy to get so caught up in our schedules that we don't realize that the only chance we have to talk to our children could be in the car on the way to the next event.

It might take a real commitment to find the time to focus on each other, but by maintaining communication, you're more likely to know who your children's friends are and the problems your children may be facing.

You make yourself accessible so that when your children need someone to talk to about serious, possibly life-changing issues, they feel comfortable talking to you.

In a world where pregnancy, suicide, drug use and dropping out of school are common, that communication is vital and should be nurtured as early as possible.

Aside from the serious aspects of spending time together, Family time can be fun. If there is just no room for a dinner get-together on a weeknight, make a weekend morning breakfast a special Family event.

Family vacations - even just day trips or a few hours at a zoo or museum - provide the opportunity to share positive, quality experiences.

Setting aside one night of the week for Family game night or to do something - bowling, for example - together also helps build cohesion.

And with a little thought and creativity, you may even be able to make doing chores together fun.

As children see you put aside the time for what you value, it teaches them to do the same.

They see you find time for activities you enjoy, such as visiting with friends or watching a game.

Seeing you put aside time for them, too, shows children you enjoy spending time with them and they are important.

There is no such thing as a set appropriate amount of time Families should spend together - it varies by Family.

Traditionally, smaller children need more time because they have greater physical needs, while teenagers prefer to practice their independence and are more comfortable with less Family time.

These generalizations may or may not be true for your Family.

It's up to you, as parents, to find the balance so that everyone in the Family feels satisfied and secure. And of course, Family-time rules apply even when there are no children.

It's important for spouses to take the time to strengthen the bonds of their relationship, too.

After all, our loved ones provide our first line of support.

Enjoy your holiday weekend, spend some quality time with the Family and, above all, be safe.