Families that PLAY together STAY together! I’m going to admit up front, this post is not my most spiritual, but it may be one of the most valuable and practical.
Our “little kid” family years flew by like they strapped on a jet-pack! Much faster than I would have ever anticipated, and at a ridiculously “young” stage of life, I’m a grandpa. Wonderful? Yes. Strangely sobering? Yes. There are large beings now roaming my halls, consuming my food, driving my vehicles, and carrying on adultish conversations, who were once small—they grew up awfully fast.
Now, a lot of the time, I sit around remembering stuff we did when they were little—and thinking about how few hairs I have left to cut, and how badly I need to get prescription lenses. (At least my teeth are still real—for now.)
So, for all those whose “house-roaming beings” are still small enough to wrestle without fearing your own injury or long-term traction—here is a list of stuff we did with our kids over the years, that we now cherish! We made plenty of mistakes—but here are a few things we are glad we did:
1. Praying Together—This simple thing has been very consistent. We pray together as a family. On the way to school, and at the day’s end just before bed, we wrap our arms around our kids, and bring them before God’s throne—thanking Him and praying His grace into their hearts. This was awkard to start, so many years ago, but it quickly became a daily habit that we all cherish!
Do it. 25 years from now, you will be glad to see your kids doing this with your grandkids.
2. Visiting Parks—Have you ever come into a budget crunch when you didn’t have the resources to do something “big and expensive?” We would randomly load up the whole family, with whatever athletic gear we could find—baseball gloves, footballs, kick-balls, frisbees, bikes—whatever. We would find a park and just hang for a while.
These times were so simple, and so unplanned, but always a blast—and at no cost! We climbed, hiked, tossed, teased, swung, and mostly laughed—at mom. Ironically, these are some of our best and most affordable memories!
3. School-Year-End Celebration—Kids work hard in school, and deal with a lot of pressure for nine months. By the end of May their brains are like burnt toast. We always felt bad for them and proud of them at the same time. So, we started a school-year-end tradition of honoring their work, applauding their efforts, and rewarding their endurance.
On the last day of school, we go out to lunch, and gave the kids gifts bags of goodies with a note of encouragement. Sometimes the gift was small—like books they could enjoy over the summer. Sometimes it was big—like a Kindle or an iPod. This past week, for Haylee, it was a day away with Dad just hanging out together, shopping, and enjoying each other’s presence. We anticipate this tradition for the whole school year.
4. Fast-Food Fun or Pizza Night—Does your family have a favorite “fast food spot?” In California, ours was In-n-Out Burger. In Connecticut, it’s Chick-fil-a! There’s something really fun about “calling an audible”, and spontaneously crashing our favorite place to enjoy good food and time together. Sometimes, for us, it’s finding and trying out a new pizza place.
The “place” became representative of an emotion and a relationship—family fun and joy. Whenever we are headed to “that place” it means we’re going to have a good time. So the place becomes significant and even symbolic of family closeness!
5. Short Get-Aways—This is another one in which finding and returning to favorite places becomes really special. Over the past 25 years we’ve had dozens of “quick get-aways” to nearby places with fun adventures. Again, our goal is to find “favorite spots” where we can return. We’ve had a good time in recent years coming up with a new collection of favorite spots in the North East.
Haylee and I found another one just this week, and we are already anticipating going “there” again. When the kids were little we called these destinations, “Secret Places.” The kids loved that!
6. Movie Marathons—This is great for bad weather days, and the most memorable for me was “The Lord of the Rings” marathon. It involved relaxing clothes, lots of pop-corn, and three extended-cut DVDs for a solid 12 hours of ork battles in one day! (I’m not sure how I feel about admitting that.)
We actually required Mom to watch them with us; and after frequent pauses to explain the story line, she actually enjoyed the plot (in-between the unbearably long segments of medieval warfare.)
7. Reclusive Vacations—Our family vacations have often been more reclusive than adventurous. Why? Probably because ministry is a public life, and we wanted vacations to be restful, quiet, private, and restorative. We wanted to reconnect with “just us.”
Our best memories seem to be those when we planned the least activity—lots of swimming, relaxing, playing board games, taking walks, enjoying sun, reading, and resting together. The down time allowed us to reconnect at deeper levels in uninterrupted settings. We always rediscovered how much we really like each other as a family. How quickly those times flew by!
8. One-on-One Days Together—As a dad, I wish I had done this more. About once a year, I took each child away for an entire day or overnight (not including preaching trips.) We planned something fun—like a theme park or museum—and we spent an entire day (or more) together, without the family.
Each child responded to this with deep delight. These days are some of my favorite parenting memories, and always served to reset our relationship amidst the busyness of life.
There have been many times in over the years that Dana has said, “That child needs to spend a day with you…” She was right. Having just completed a day like this with Haylee, I’m reminded how special each day away with each child truly was (and is!)
9. Capitalize on Their Interests—For instance, Lance and Larry loved the NBA, so that translated to some great NBA traditions—attending a game, or better yet, eating chicken-wings while watching a game on a big screen. Haylee, on the other hand, loved Build-A-Bear (wonderfully affordable) or American Girl Doll (take out a second mortgage!) Dana loves walks on the beach, collecting shells like they are going extinct.
Some of our best memories trace back to blessing one family member with something special they enjoy!
10. Favorite TV Shows—There have been seasons in our lives when we had no TV. There are other seasons when we found a family show that continued to draw us back with laughter and rest. During the most difficult transition of our family history, “Good Luck Charlie” was our “go-to-show”—as well as Christian comic, Tim Hawkins.
In the midst of very difficult emotions, we would often crash together, watch a show, and laugh our heads off at the family humor. This is not a “Disney endorsement”—just a note that clean humor can provide great restoration to a weary family.
11. Buying Books—As soon as our kids could read, I made this commitment to them. “I will always afford to buy you books—if you will commit to reading them.” It was my strategy of trying to help them develop a love for reading. They accepted the challenge, and to this day one of our favorite family traditions is a trip to Barnes and Noble, a Christian bookstore, or a used book store to look for “the next book.”
In time we moved a lot of our reading to Kindle, but I have to admit—spending an Amazon gift card just doesn’t match the great experiences of slowly browsing through a bookstore as a family.
12. Reading Books Outloud—this is another one I wish we had done more. During a few seasons, we got into sitting around the family room and hearing Dad read a book outloud.
When the boys were in Elementary, we read classics like “Where the Red Fern Grows” and “A Wrinkle in Time.” When Haylee came into elementary years, we started through “The Boxcar Children” series—and often the older boys were drawn into the story as well.
Within seconds, they were riveted, and would always beg me to keep reading beyond bedtime. There was something wonderfully healthy about this investment of time and focus.
13. Shopping with the Girls—Now that my boys are grown, Dana and Haylee are retraining my NBA brain. They are bound and determined to transform me into a shopper. It is a delight to delight them. There’s sweet joy in taking them for a periodic shopping experience—so long as I can have my iPad, a chair, and a cup of coffee! They love when I walk a mall with them without rushing them. (It’s a learned skill… give it time.)
Of course, in addition to this, there are birthday events, Christmas cookies, Thanksgiving trips, Easter treasure hunts, Chuck E. Cheese trips, and other special things. The list goes on.
Time hurries. Age comes quickly. Little kids become big kids, and then parents. You don’t have long, but you do have now. What will you do THIS WEEK that you may really cherish 25 years from now.
Do it. Make it happen. You won’t regret it!
PS—I would love it if you would take time to share some of your favorite family traditions in the comments below!