Our favorite family matriarch Madea returns to the big screen in April and this times she’s bringing the whole family. Even with all the dysfunction and drama family brings to our lives, there is no denying the unconditional love that comes with them. As someone who recently participated in my own family reunion and as a wife and mother of one (with another on the way) I value my blood ties more than I ever have in my life. I am constantly striving to balance the stress of work, putting meals on the table, being an active parent and at the end of the day finding the energy to keep a smile on my face by the time my husband arrives home. It is through my faith and the support of my family that have allowed me to cope successfully, at times. Like Madea, I am the matriarch of my own household so it’s important that I adopt and practice a set of core values to ensure we stay connected. It’s what I call the ‘Happy 9’.

1. Unplug and shut down

As parents and professionals we are constantly wired. Allow home to be the electronic-free zone. Shut down your mobile device and have conversations with your spouse and children. When the kids see that mom and dad can lock up the Blackberry there’s less argument when you ask them to unplug the PlayStation or turn off their own cell phone.

2. Visit your local park and have a picnic

With warmer weather approaching there’s no excuse to not pack up the car with your family’s favorite foods and head to the local park. Grab a Frisbee or football while you’re at it. By removing yourself from the house, there’s no temptation to turn on the television or check your Facebook profile on the laptop.

3. Go for ice cream

When was the last time you broke the rules and grabbed a cone with the kids before dinner? Not only will you earn a little parent points from your children but you may enjoy sitting outside and indulging in a sweet treat with great company and conversation.

4. Have a date night

It seems ridiculous to schedule a date night with your partner but between the office and running a household it becomes necessary or it will never happen. Enjoying time away from the kids should be a guilt-free evening for parents to put themselves first, have an opportunity to listen to one another without breaking up fights, and even remind yourself what first attracted you to one another and led you start a family. Remember to turn off your cell phones and keep the conversation about the kids to a minimum. Tonight you’re his girlfriend, not the mother of his children.

5. Play together

You don’t have to be an arts and crafts teacher to accomplish this task. Simply find something that can involve the entire family. Finishing a puzzle, playing a board game or even setting up a chalkboard in the kitchen with a weekly game of hangman or a riddle are all simple non-expensive ways for the whole family to get involved and have fun.

6. Show love towards one another

It may come easy for some, but it’s a task for others. A simple kiss or expression of love can make a difference to a spouse before they’re off to work or before dropping off the children at school. In addition, it’s healthy for children to see their parents express positive emotions towards one another.

7. Eat meals together

If your house is anything like mine, eating together as a family can be challenging. Work schedules and homework can make grabbing a quick meal from your local fast food chain extremely tempting. It also robs you of the chance to have a conversation with your family and keep an open line of communication.

8. Ask family for support

Don’t look to extended family members only when you need a baby sitter. Grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc. can offer valuable, knowledgeable advice from child-rearing to how to keep a marriage strong even during hard times.

9. Pray together

My son is only two and while he can’t say the Lord’s Prayer, he knows how to say ‘Amen’ excitedly. A prayer in the morning or evening reminds us to be thankful for what really matters, especially when the stress of the real world is constantly knocking at our door.

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