A typical Friday evening as a 20-something single dude:
Meet friends for greasy bar food. Drink copious amounts of alcohol. Sing karaoke badly. Dance even worse. Lose memory. Make decisions likely to become regrets the next day. Repeat as necessary.
A typical Friday evening as a 40-something father of four:
Transform the living room, starting with a mattress base, surround ourselves with the arms of our favorite stuffed animals, and top with no less than fourteen pillows and six blankets. Make a bucket of coconut oil and sea salt popcorn. Ensure steady supply of gummy cola bottles, Dots, and/or various forms of chocolate. Drape myself with a Snuggie. Gather and organize remotes, power up the television, close the curtains, turn out the lights, and make memories while cuddling my children.
Perhaps I’m biased (okay, I’m definitely biased), but in comparing these two Friday night traditions, separated only by two decades of life experience, I will choose the latter every time, offering apologies to those friends I may have abandoned in favor of a family movie night tradition.
A family movie night shows children that, as a parent, I am willing to set aside my other interests and busy schedule to spend time with them. By sacrificing the normal comforts and conventions of movie-watching in favor of intentionally making a mess on the floor and throwing out the usual rules dictating junk food restraint, I demonstrate to my kids that, once in a while, breaking the rules provides a necessary release from the stresses of everyday life.
This is but a small price to pay for memories to last a lifetime.
I’ve been doing movie nights with my children, as well as holding occasional all-family movie nights, for the last decade or so, and to this day, our Friday evening tradition is the highlight of any given week. Granted, there are exceptions, like going to Hawaii, marrying off my oldest son, or graduating from college, but for the other 51 weeks a year when things like that aren’t on the ticket, simply put, our movie nights rule.
When we watch these movies together, it isn’t a passive activity like some might assume. We don’t simply stare at a screen mindlessly and absorb whatever comes at us. Family movie night is an active affair:
- As movies unfold or during time between films, we often pause and take time to talk, including: discussion of more difficult adult themes, reinforcing important life and moral lessons, defining challenging vocabulary, or asking what we would do if placed in certain situations. Even uncomfortable sexual situations provide a great opportunity to talk to my kids about what consent means or how to nurture healthy relationships
- That bullet above almost makes it sound like family movie night is some cheesy after school special, but that’s not accurate; more often than not, we spend our time backing up to replay scenes particularly deft at hilarity, such as replaying the epic news anchor rumble from Anchorman or repeatedly enjoying Belch’s legendary thunderburp from Revenge of the Nerds (which, upon the third time viewing it, actually made my youngest son throw up from laughing so hard).
The point is, family movie nights provide a way to immerse ourselves and our children into the stories that movies offer us, for better or for worse. Those stories have value even beyond their intrinsic worth by giving us the gift of time spent together, savoring the moment and learning to build anticipation for those moments.
Every time my kids go see the latest Star Wars installment, they’re going to remember the time they watched the original trilogy with Dad.
Maybe when they get to high school, they’ll remember The Breakfast Club and what we talked about regarding learning to accept people as they are and avoid getting bogged down in the drama of cliques.
When my kids get their first professional jobs as adults and they’re setting up their desks, they will chuckle as they glance at the bright red stapler in their work spaces, and in their heads, they’ll recall laughing with Dad while they mutter in their best Milton impression, “I believe you have my stapler.”
Maybe someday, as my kids become parents themselves, I might be so fortunate as to see them get involved in a family movie night tradition of their own.
Who knows, maybe they’ll invite me, and we can make it generational.