Leah Fisher and Chris Essex, co-directors of the Center for Work and the Family in Berkeley, Calif., offer these suggestions for making the best use of family time:
* Don't try to pack too much into family schedules. Children and parents increasingly want flexibility, rather than having everything scheduled. Consider blocking out four hours in an afternoon and saying, ''Let's just see what evolves in that time.'' Less is sometimes more. Try to savor each activity.
* Take steps to protect family time, which is easily encroached upon. Use answering machines to avoid interruptions during mealtime, family playtime, and bedtime rituals.
* With young children, be very clear about when you are available to play and talk with them and when you are not. When you first get home from work, try to give all children 15 or 20 minutes of very direct attention. The rest of the evening may go more smoothly.
* To create more family time, lower your standards in certain areas. Dinner can sometimes be soup and sandwiches. Or the house can be clean but not necessarily neat. Examine your priorities.
* Involve children in the everyday tasks of preparing dinner, setting the table, and getting laundry out of the dryer.
* Use driving time to good advantage. Many families find that the car is replacing the dinner table as the best place to have conversations, because there are no interruptions.
* Hold meetings to decide what each family member would like to do. These can also be used as a problemsolving time to see that everybody's needs are being met as well as possible.