What are your memories of your family growing up? Some of us have treasured memories of joy and connection. Others have memories of challenges or stressful experiences. Most of us have some mixture. It turns out that childhood memories become the foundation for our adulthood. They influence how we relate to our parents or caregivers and also how we relate to the young people we care for; be they our own children, nieces or nephews or children of other people we love. You can think about how you decided to be “like” your parent and recreate some of the memories you cherish – or perhaps be “different” to avoid some of the things you didn’t enjoy. Mary Pipher, in her book In the Shelter of Each Other talks about the importance of creating structures that invite healthy memories. In her work as a therapist she noticed that her clients found strength from memories in three big areas: family meals together, time out of doors together, and family vacations. None of these need to be expensive endeavors, but about opportunity to connect and build relationship. Before you begin the school year, think about how you might be intentional about creating times that will be sources of strength for the children in your life. Try:
- Family meals where everyone sits down together. It doesn’t have to be dinner. What would it take to do this at least 3 times each week – without interruption from the television or cell phones? Could it be starting out the week with a special family breakfast (even if it just cold cereal)? A short evening picnic in a local park? Shifting schedules to have more dinners together? Invite your children to help you plan and work together to make it happen. Use your meal time to talk and connect with each other. You can ask open ended questions or allow each person in the family to share a challenge from the day and something they feel grateful for. If you need help with questions or want your teens to lead this box of questions is a useful resource.
- Time out of doors. Time in nature changes our brains – so we aren’t talking about a dance party on the balcony here (though that might be fun too). Even in urban areas there are places to take short walks and if you have access to transportation you can go a bit further. Young children are incredible observers. Go at their pace and learn with them. Many teens would prefer to stay connected electronically than go outside. Could they bring a friend? Set up a challenge together?
- Vacations really means time when the adults are not focused on work or other responsibilities, and can relax into some play. They are times for adults to let go of projects and lists and make space for connections. They are a time for kids to do something out of the ordinary and relax and learn from life experience. Some families go on trips or excursions – and other families create “staycations” interrupting the usual routine, but staying in the same place. What do you do?
- Dreams and hopes. Your children and you probably share lots of dreams and hopes – and sometimes they get lost in the busy-ness of our days. Consider making a list of 3-5 things you would like to do together before schools starts. We aren’t talking here about the “to-do” list of things like school-shopping but rather playful or connecting activities that would be fun together. It might be running through a sprinkler, a picnic at the park, ice cream Sundays, a home movie night, baking cookies together, visiting a zoo, going to a pool. What would your children’s list look like? Make a plan and try to do at least one thing on the list. Take pictures. Invite your child to write or draw about the experience.
- Hold your plans gently. Human beings are unpredictable. Even though you plan something to be fun, sometimes it can turn into a mini-disaster. Be careful to manage your disappointment so that it doesn’t make things worse. Later it might be a great story. With a bit of humor and connection, unplanned messes can be great memories too.