I cannot remember when it happened, or how, or if it just developed naturally. But somewhere in the few years that we have been parents, we decided to focus on celebrating experiences with our children, above stressing over things.
I don’t know if the loss of a mother at an early age influenced that (for me).
Or perhaps the experience of growing up with a father who is a quadriplegic (for my husband).
Or, seeing that after a few
months, weeks, days, hours, of playing with things, the things are broken, lost, neglected, or buried beneath the sea of other things.
Now, don’t misunderstand, we aren’t Scrooges. Our children have toys, plenty of them (if only you could see this playroom). And, we buy some of them – because seeing their responses brings us joy. However, we came to the conclusion that whenever we talk about times growing up with our families, very rarely do we talk about the stuff we received (unless it was long-term desire fulfilled – like my husband’s Erector set). Most of the time our discussions are about experiences – trips that we took – be it Wisconsin Dells or Disney World, or “down south” to Mississippi or Arkansas or “up” to Michigan. I recall bike rides to the corner store with my parents, trips to museums. Reggie talks about gatherings at his grandmothers’ homes.
I think, in the back of our minds, we also realize that life is short…and unpredictable. A 32 year-old can go to the doctor for a lump in February, and be gone by November. A mom can go to the hospital for stomach pains, and be diagnosed with cancer. A dad can take a fall, and end up paralyzed. A ride to school can end in tragedy. Life is short. And unpredictable. And when the unpredictable happens, the things aren’t what we talk about – it’s the experiences – the conversations, the jokes, the laughter, how they made us feel.
So, for the last few years, instead of expensive birthday parties for Enoch, we did simple celebrations with friends, then took family trips – to Monterey, CA and San Diego, CA. Without question, these are some of our best memories as a family to date. This year we traveled to Tennessee so that he had a chance to see grandparents on his birthday for the first time.
Before we had children, we were intrigued by one family’s Christmas gifting tradition. That family had six children, so you can imagine the stuff they would accumulate. Over time, we have heard several iterations of it, but we landed on…
- Something you want (a requested toy – within reason and budget)
- Something you need (could be clothes, shoes, etc.)
- Something to share (this year will be a membership to the zoo, because experiences – although we bought a keyboard in the past, because music and experiences)
- Something to read (books – either favorites read throughout the year, or favorite topic or series).
Nothing is permanent, as life and family dynamics are, well, dynamic. We still have a young family, so I am always curious to hear from others. I have seen fun, and thought-provoking traditions over the years – pajama nights, Advent readings, activities and celebrations, family projects, Christmas Eve traditions, etc.
I do believe, that it is these traditions, these experiences, that help bond families. These are the things that children pass on, the stories they tell their children. I’m realizing that healthy families and relationships do not develop haphazardly. They are fought for and hard won. They are prepared for, thought through, worked out and developed. And, a lot of this happens through…experiences.
So, in the spirit of learning and sharing…
What traditions do you have (or have you had)?
What things did your family grow up doing that you have incorporated into your own?