Just before my oldest left for college, our family sat around the dinner table, lingering after our meal. My three teens were joking about all the “mom-isms” from when they were little, as we reminisced about their childhoods. A question came to mind, so I asked them: “When you think back on growing up in our family, what stands out to you the most?”
Within their answers, I discovered five simple ways we can create magical childhoods.
Create a Magical Childhood in Five Simple Steps
- Read to your children. It seems rather simple and even obvious, but the regular rhythm of gathering your littles in your lap or climbing in their bed with a bedtime story creates far more than just a lifelong love of reading and higher test scores. Reading to your children creates connection. It conveys your full attention, engaged together in a simple activity. My children’s fondest memories of their great-grandmother are the hours they spent being read to as she cuddled them.
- Have regular family dinners. Sitting around a table to enjoy a meal has been a path for connection since ancient times. Being fed and nourished literally is a means to being fed and nourished emotionally. It’s an important practice to make time for family meals, no matter how elaborate the menu. Whether it’s frozen pizza or cereal, the connection built by gathering regularly around the table is proven to be one of the top deterrents to issues children and teenagers might face.
- Build a family culture with rituals, traditions, and language. Most of the “family culture” we’ve built over these 20 years of parenthood has been quite by accident. Noting that we’d kept our baby alive for six months, we inadvertently began the tradition of half-birthdays. Being lovers of movie quotes and sarcasm, we’ve built a family language that includes inside jokes from the humor we use to cope with life. While dating, my husband and I took time to dream of intentional ways that we wanted to parent, from holidays to everyday routines. Intentionality is the key, with no need to be elaborate.
It’s as simple as our annual Christmas Eve “Eve” tradition of getting on jammies, taking the dog, grabbing Starbucks, and looking at Christmas lights. There’s often bickering, and the night isn’t over until I’ve snapped at least once for everyone to get it together and have fun, dang it. But guess what tradition was missed the year it didn’t happen?
- Take trips together. The simple act of taking a trip is far from simple with little ones. While my sons now carry my bags, I well remember the days of juggling an infant with all the gear just to enjoy a weekend away. Traveling with little ones is never a vacation for mom. The effort will be worth it in the long run, for these are the memories my children most cherish. They don’t remember how we accidentally gave them food poisoning from poorly chilled chicken, or how stressed dad was trying to set up the tent in the dark while I wrestled three small children. They remember the camp fire and the magic of being away from home. Family trips do not have to be expensive or long to be remembered as childhood highlights.
- Have margins in your life. I’ve saved the most important one for last. There’s a danger in being busy and distracted. Because while we wear our busy schedules like a badge of honor, our culture’s frenzied pace and pressure to achieve is killing the childhoods. The rising rates of youngsters experiencing anxiety and depression is pointing to a problem. Children need wide open afternoons and weekends to imagine, play, and relax.
Leaving Childhood Behind with No Regrets
Because I lost my dad when I was 19, guarding our time is important. My time with dad was cut too short, but he died with no regrets for the memories we made. Sure, my kids might have been on a better team or had a longer resume for college applications if we had put them in more activities. Our avoidance of overactivity literally made us unpopular along the way. We’ve all lost out relationally by not being involved in all the things. As a mom, I’ve wrestled with worry that I was failing as I looked around me.
But that night around the table, my teenagers emphatically agreed they were glad to grow up with margins and down time. Every failure and doubt was silenced when our oldest declared, “I feel ready for college. I don’t feel stressed out like a lot of my friends. I feel well prepared for the next thing, and I love the childhood I had.”
Gold. The millions of tiny simple steps you take now are pure gold. They will build a lifelong connection with the ones you are raising, and it’ll all mix together somehow to create a memorable childhood.