I received the following question recently, and since this is something I have thought about LOTS and tried to make a priority, I thought I'd share some ideas.
This letter was from a young father and medical student.
"I was hoping I could ask for some advice on being a fun family. My wife and I do a lot of great things for our kids. We have regular family prayer and scripture study, family dinners together, and all that jazz. We're a strong family. I'm not worried about us. But I do worry sometimes that my girls won't have that many fun memories of growing up.
We are both pretty low-key people. We're not boring, per se, but we're not particularly creative or interesting either. I'm not unhappy, but I do feel sometimes like we should be doing more to create memories for ourselves and for our girls.
For the next six years of my training, I will have one day off a week and it's not often my choice as to what day it is. As such, I can't really have "weekend traditions" like my family did (like my dad always making funny pancakes while we listened to the Beach Boys). I never know what day I'll be off too far in advance.
You guys have some of the most fun family pictures and stories around. Your life screams "righteous family fun." We don't have personalities like yours, and that's okay. But I feel like you have a lot to teach, and I hope you might be willing to offer something."
*Letter edited slightly for brevity and to remove names
I LOVE this question! A few years ago, my husband was traveling frequently for work and really busy with church responsibilities as well. He was gone a lot. In addition to that, I had 3 kids heavily involved in sports and music, and as the only adult available most nights, I lived in the car, shuttling them here and there to their activities. Worse than that, I felt horrible that my two youngest lived in the car as well. Most nights, dinner was a sack lunch - you guessed it: in the car - as we ran out the door.
One day we were watching some home videos. We came to a picture of Ashley, Cameron, and Isaac roasting pretend marshmallows around a pretend campfire they had made in the living room. I bawled! Not because the scene was THAT touching, but because I realized that I could not remember the last time my kids had done anything like that: just played together. I also realized that I was constantly in "Manager Mode". Rushing here and there, barking orders, keeping the ship running.
We were seriously lacking in the FUN department, and things needed to change - fast. Furthermore, I wasn't quite sure how this had happened to me, because I had always been pretty good at "fun."
After lots of thought, prayer, and trial-and-error, here are some things I think can help make home a fun and happy place to be.
1. Don't underestimate the power of simple things!
When I think back on my childhood, I remember summers in the swimming pool and singing karaoke with my family. Those are my happiest memories! You mentioned making pancakes and listening to the Beach Boys - again, a simple tradition. Take the things you are naturally doing and enjoying, and build a tradition around it.
When our kids were little, we would “hi-ho” them into bed. It was mostly a trick designed to get them into bed in the first place! We sang a modified version of the hi-ho song from Snow White while Greg held their arms and I held their legs and we swung them. At the end of the song, we gently tossed them into bed. They loved it. The other night, we hi-hoed little Kate into bed. To our surprise, Ashley peeked around the corner and said, “Can I have a hi-ho?” So – we hi-hoed our 18 year old daughter into bed! Hilarious! She was barely off the ground, and we weren’t sure the toss was going to be successful, but it was SO fun and a happy memory from when she was little.
So - what do you like to do? Do you bake? How about starting a tradition of baking something together on your day off? You can eat it, doorbell ditch it on someone's front porch, take it to someone that could use a friend, etc. The time together will be meaningful. We have a Friday night tradition of Pizza Movie Night. We make (or buy) pizza and watch a movie together - sometimes it's just us, sometimes we include the kids' friends. Simple, yet lots of fun.
The simple things are the things your kids will remember most, and carry on with their own families after they are grown.
2. Take a personal inventory every now and then.
Are you leaving enough time for fun, or has it been crowded out? I told you about our fun crisis a few years ago. For us, the answer was to scale back on sports for a few years. I TREASURED those unstructured evenings at home! Unstructured time is when creativity happens and when relationships deepen. My kids started playing outside together and going on bike rides. It was really good for them. These days, my teens can be found hanging out together and laughing around the kitchen table.
3. Take your kids on dates!
Greg tries to do this with each of our kids at least once a year. It's a rare treat that they look forward to. He lets them set the agenda within a budget. Sometimes they want to go to a movie, or the park, or to dinner, or fishing - whatever they want.
4. Feel free to tell your kids "no" when you need to, but at least know why you're saying it.
When I was in "Manager Mode", I said "no" to a lot of fun. A lot of the time, it just wasn't necessary. Ask yourself what will happen if you say "yes" instead.
For example, this little cutie was playing with a hose in his nice clothes after church one day. By the time I found him, he was already muddy. I was about to spoil the party when I realized that he wasn't going to get any dirtier than he already was, and he was happy! Big deal. We'll wash the clothes.
Similarly, my teenage boys recently asked if they could demolish and burn an old cabinet I was throwing away. Ordinarily, destruction sounds like a bad idea to me, but they know the difference between old furniture and good furniture - there was really no reason to say "no". The piece was no longer usable. So I let them have at it. They had a ball and thought I was the coolest mom ever. Win win.
Obviously - some situations warrant a "no". One of my boys wanted to go kayaking in 28 degree weather yesterday. He tends to capsize. "No" was a good answer! To quote one of my favorite parenting authors, Barbara Coloroso, if something is life threatening, morally threatening, or unhealthy, say "no"! Otherwise, at least think it through first. Lots of times we kill the fun without even knowing why.
4. Every now and then, throw something unexpected at them.
This is how our cupcake launch tradition started! Our birthday celebrations were kind of boring, and I wanted to surprise the kids with something different. Well... it stuck! Not only has the game expanded, as some of the kids now go out with pizza pans to catch those babies as they fly, but Ashley even took a date out to launch cupcakes into the lake recently. Good times!
When my mom was a young girl, she and her brother had a rare gift for getting themselves into trouble. They had done something wrong, and were in my mom's room, preparing for a spanking. Both kids stuffed their pants with magazines to soften the blow. My grandpa came into the room, called out both children, I'm sure noticing their bulging behinds, and took them out for ice cream instead (magazines and all)! The story is legendary. The lesson was learned, relationships were strengthened, and memories made.
I remember being young - probably around 4 - and calling to my mom from my bed. Looking back, she was probably worn out and done with me for the day. My dad poked his head into my room, and in a high voice - his best imitation of my mom's- asked me what I needed. He probably doesn't even remember doing it, but I do! That little bit of the unexpected can be magic.
The other day, I found this little Mike Wazowski toy turned inside out. I stuck a sticky note on him and left him on the breakfast counter. EVERY ONE of the kids commented on it. Similarly, I have been known to text my older kids random pictures every now and then... just for fun.
In all - I think the key is to remember to enjoy your children. It is all too easy to get lost in the demands of life. Do something that shows you are present and that they mean the world to you. You may just have a great time in the process.
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