family time

6 Special Ways to Celebrate YOUR Family

Would you like to (mostly) guarantee your kids will still want to join you on a family vacation when they’re in their 20s? Or at the very least, will think of their childhood fondly – and repeat some of your best parenting practices? If so, you need to celebrate the sacredness, quirkiness and downright fun of your family unit from the second they’re out of the womb.

If you already missed that boat, it’s not too late to start today.

I happen to believe families are extraordinary – no matter how you define them or what the particular make-up of yours happens to be. In the best of circumstances, a successful family is one in which everyone is respected and can be authentically themselves. Values are shared. Inside jokes abound. You “get” each other. You feel seen.

Like most enduring things of value, creating a solid sense of family takes effort. As I said in a previous post, mindful parents are those who make the time to create, articulate and honor (repeatedly) the core family values by which your family will abide. That’s the heart and soul of the work.

But healthy families are also about play! When you celebrate fun family traditions, you go a long way toward building a love of family that will be central to your kids’ experience. Plus, when you give your kids a role in creating them, these annual happenings can foster warm ties and memories between siblings that all the cajoling in the world couldn’t accomplish.

Fun family traditions are important for another reason. They create the story of your family, a narrative uniquely yours. Even in not particularly happy families there is something to be gained by observing special traditions. A friend of mine from a large family of daughters recalls that most of their non-school time was spent helping their mother clean, cook and babysit the younger siblings. But on birthdays, mom would decorate their place setting, let them choose the dinner menu – and take them off the hook for chores the entire day. Even though she claims her childhood wasn’t nurturing, she still fondly remembers that annual birthday tradition and the joy it brought her.

The internet is replete with ideas for special family traditions you can get ideas from. At the end of the post I’ll share a few links and you can take it from there. 

But first I’d like to share some Hirt family favorites that all three of my (now grown) children have come to cherish. And I’d bet that at least some of these things will be repeated with their own families when (and if!) that lucky day comes to pass.

1.  Establish an official Family Day.  When I was a child, I was annoyed that there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but no “Children’s Day,” a fact I made known to my parents. They generously went along with my addition to the holiday canon, inviting my siblings and me to plan the day from sunup to sundown. It was a huge hit and we celebrated it every year. Since I now recognize that every day is Children’s Day, I suggest creating an annual “Family Day” observance instead. Encourage everyone to play a role in planning a portion of the day and really pull out all the stops from a connections perspective. It’s the experiences you share – not the “stuff” you buy – that knit families together.

2.  Embarrass them (Lovingly).  Every time my kids returned from a school trip or camp, I’d great them at the airport or bus drop-off wearing a T-shirt that said, “Welcome Home [Insert name of child returning home]! My kids are all in or nearing their 20s and I still do this. (Now who’s embarrassed?!)

3.  Festoon the house on birthdays.  Birthdays are built-in special days so take full advantage of it. In addition to letting my children choose the food and cake flavor for their special day, I used to decorate the house with birthday posters every year. They loved waking up to a house full of them. Even when they were teens they’d ask, “Are you going to do posters for me again this year?” For my birthday, I ask my children for the gift of their time. Especially now that their lives are expanding, nothing give me more joy then getting to spend an entire day with them.

4.  Create a crazy family outing and give it an acronym, say, HFCDTTTGSAOCSOTC!

This is a true-to-life “day” devised by my brother-in-law. It stands for “Hirt Family Christmas Day Trip to the Gas Station and/or Convenience Store of Their Choosing! (The object is fairly self-explanatory!) They’ve been doing this since the kids were tots. My guess is that when the oldest goes to college and comes home for winter break this will be an activity on the agenda!

The following two ideas take a bit of advance planning, but they’re oh-so-meaningful:

5.  Create a T-shirt quilt. Every year I put aside a couple of each of my kids’ favorite T-shirts. At year’s end I made my final selections and put them in boxes labeled for each of my children. Before each left for college, I had a company create a quilt of the T-shirts for their dorm room. It was my way of sending them off to college with a “blankie” that looked cool enough to leave on the bed.

6.  Publish an 18-letter book. Another annual tradition of mine was to write a letter to each of my children on their birthdays. In each letter I noted their successes…what they struggled with…who their friends were…and some of the funniest things they said. And, of course, all the ways in which they were loveable. I would bestow the bound book on their 18th birthdays.

Time to get started! There’s a plethora of ideas in books and online for ways (and reasons) to celebrate your family year after year. When everyone participates, you’ll be on your way to creating a story only your family gets to tell.

The Importance of ‘Family Time’ When College Kids Come Home For Break

Last year your junior successfully completed the college selection process I blogged about, survived the college campus visits during senior year and has been happily ensconced in his or her ideal-fit university since September.

Then came Thanksgiving break. Prior to their arrival, you’d imagined leafy walks arm-in-arm with your offspring or, at the very least, looked forward to seeing their shining face across the Thanksgiving table laden with their favorite foods.

What happened? They graced you with their presence for 45 fleeting minutes during the entire four-day weekend! And you had to share that time with the family pet who was greeted with more enthusiasm.

No more, you promised yourself. Come Winter break, that wayward child is going to spend time with the family – and love it!

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

What could be satisfying, though, is a negotiated two-party solution. Your newly independence-loving college freshman agrees to a set amount of family time in exchange for the freedom to catch up with their besties and do everything else that college kids long to do during their month off.

Getting there will take more than a wish and a prayer – but not much more. Here is what I recommend:

Communicate your needs and expectations.

Begin a conversation before Winter Break so everyone fares better between semesters. Naturally, every family is going to have different needs and desires about how much family time is enough. No matter the amount, the tactic is the same: Clearly communicate exactly what it is you and your co-parent want and need from your kids. That’s critical, because they won’t have any idea what we’re expecting if we don’t tell them. For example, I typically ask my home-for-the-holidays kids for one or two family dinners per week, as well as their presence with our extended brood on the actual holidays. Any other family time (and it turns out, there’s plenty) is a bonus.

Articulate the “Why.”

Saying what we want isn’t enough. Parents need to communicate why family time matters. This is a values conversation, and I never miss an opportunity to tie my values into my conversations with my kids. I happen to believe spending time together is one of the best ways to strengthen our family community. So I make sure I remind them of that.

Manage unreasonable expectations.

Rein in on asking for the moon. Once our kids are in college, it’s not appropriate for us to hold them hostage 24/7 when they’re home. When you carefully examine your own expectations of them and make reasonable requests, you model for them how to navigate differences and be respectful others. For example, while my college kids don’t have a nightly curfew, per se, I tell them that when they come home at 3 am it’s disruptive to me. Let them know you understand their needs (to see their friends; lounge in their rooms; paint the town), too.

Acknowledge when they do as you’ve asked.

The power of “Thank you” cannot be overestimated. Don’t take it for granted that you asked your kids for something important to you and they did it! Not only does it make our kids feel appreciated for making the effort, subsequent visits home are much more likely to go better too. 

So, if Thanksgiving wasn’t everything you hoped it would be, make sure you wrap up this all-important conversation sooner rather than later. Once they leave, email me and let me know how it went!