A household with two working parents and two children consists of many things but is largely defined by two: routine and chaos.
This juxtaposition informs most days, as specific routines are punctuated by bursts of chaos. They’re often interrupted by them as well. While getting ready to depart for school, the nine year-old may suddenly decide to change her entire outfit. When dinner is served, the younger one will determine that it is the perfect time to have an epic, Game 7-esque meltdown.
The goal is to have less of this chaos. We are far less scheduled than some other families I know — it’s not uncommon for us to have a weekend day (or two) with no plans other than hanging around the house — but I thought one more routine wouldn’t hurt.
After all, life gets in the way.
Between our careers and all of the demands of keeping up a household, it’s easy to lose track of time on a weeknight — sometimes it will be after nine o’clock when we finally start to wind down. The evening can slip away. If we’re not vigilant, my kids could easily spend those three to four hours after our family dinner in front of screens.
So I decided to implement a house-wide family reading time every evening at 7 PM.
My wife and I both love to read. But it’s more than that. It’s everything that surrounds reading — that feeling of cracking open a brand new hardback; the quiet vibe of a library like one found on an old college campus; the smell of the pages; the languid browsing of an independent bookstore; feeling enveloped by the coziness of large shelves full of books; the fact that you can become so engrossed that when your eyes move away from the words, your brain has to readjust to the reality outside the book.
Despite our shared love and our best attempts, our oldest daughter has not completely fell under the spell of books yet. She has a couple of full bookcases in her room and when she was a toddler, she would pull me down and demand I read to her at the very spot, even if we were in a hallway or the middle of the kitchen. She likes reading; in fact, she told me today that she’s liking it more and more. She just doesn’t love it yet.
But we know something she doesn’t: it just takes one. She just needs to encounter that right book at the right time for it all to fall into place, to transform her life forever.
So shortly after this school year started, I instituted the nightly reading time. I did it to instill a bit more structure, to give our neurons a bit of a break from all the constant sensory overload of modern life, and to ensure that she’s still trying to learn and improve even after she’s left school for the day. But mostly I did it because she needs to give reading the chance to overtake her the way it did for us. We didn’t have iPads and Netflix and YouTube and channels that catered to children 24/7, so we had more of an opportunity for books to work their magic on us and I want her to have that same opportunity as well.
In truth, it’s not the idealized Rockwellian portrait that we would like it to be, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes my wife will spend the time catching up on work and there are nights when my older daughter practices math during our reading window. My youngest one will be celebrating only her third birthday as you read this. She can’t read on her own just yet, so sometimes one of us will read aloud to her or she’ll spend the time doing a puzzle or building something with her Legos.
I would love it if everyone cracked open a book the moment the clock struck seven and no one made a sound for a half-hour or hour, but that’s not realistic. As I said, life gets in the way. Moreover, it’s not important. What is important is that the TV is off, distractions are minimized, and a conscious effort is being made to set aside this time. We have an Alexa timer so that when the time arrives, I stop doing the nightly kitchen work (washing dishes; packing lunches; preparing coffee), shut off all electronics, and enjoy the stillness.
It most likely won’t be an everyday thing — again, life gets in the way — but good habits are formed over time and there are few habits better for one’s well-being or the world at large than reading.
After all, books have the power to change lives.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.