Last year I shared a “to-do list” of seemingly insignificant things that I’ve found made a significant improvement in my life.
This year, I’m extending it to the next generation, with little things to do with kids that have made a big difference in our family. Here’s my list of some things I encourage others to try as well over the course of the next year:
Laugh together every day. This first one actually ended my “to-do” list last year. It’s leading this year’s list, because I agree with the “expert opinion” that laughter has great, underestimated health benefits for body and soul. Nothing has helped us through tough situations like mutual laughter. Not laughing at each other (that will go horribly), but with each other at the ridiculous actions of others, at inside jokes, or at the remembrance of a favorite movie line.
I’ve noticed laughter is the common bond on softening hurt and bad situations. When my younger daughter is sad, scared, or feeling under the weather, my 12-year-old has perfected Buster Keaton-worthy prat falls that never fail to cheer her up.
Likewise, when my older daughter is feeling sad from the middle school drama that tends to be ever-present among tweens, her little sister places two dolls in front of her and says, “Hello, welcome to Standing Up School!” She drops one of the dolls and announces “…and you failed!” Inane, I know, but this little inside joke they ran across on a meme or YouTube video always produces a chuckle from both of them.
Kids want to be happy, unlike us adults who sometimes want to wallow in our anger or resentment at times, and laughter is often the trigger. Laughter can’t take the bad situation away, or keep sadness at bay indefinitely, but it cushions the blow a little. It gives us a way to gather some strength, inhale the fresh air of grace and joy, before facing a tougher reality.
Never underestimate it.
Find a mutual fandom. As a contributor to GeekMom, I am most likely preaching to the choir on this one, but it never hurts to reemphasizes the importance of a silly, fun geeky passion that can be shared by the whole family.
I’ve been pretty vocal about—and written about—encouraging my kids to keep celebrity worship in check, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be passionate about a movie, show, genre, book, or fictional character, particularly one the entire family loves.
I see too many of my fellow parents take on the attitude that kids’ interests are beneath them, while they pursue more mature fandoms (although some “grown-ups” wouldn’t dare call them that).
It’s okay to have separate interests, but your entire existence doesn’t have to be in the “Game of Thrones” vs. “Disney Channel” vein. Taking in interest in a kid’s favorite show is one thing, but really genuinely sharing in the excitement of a fandom is another.
When the whole family gets pumped to go see the final Hobbit movie, grabs a take-out pizza to catch up on the latest season of Doctor Who with shared enthusiasm, or flips a coin for who gets to read the first Marvel Star Wars comic before everyone else, that makes a kid feel validated in their interests.
This extends beyond the silicon sets and silver screens. Get out and build a rocket or small robot together, see who can create the tallest Lego tower, or work on a mural for the garage walls. Make it mutual, and celebrate it!
Take a walk! If we’re having trouble finding something to talk about, or opening up about something that’s hard to address, my family gets outside and gets a new perspective on things.
It’s also great exercise for all ages, without being too strenuous, gives us a chance to be outdoors, and conquers those afternoon bouts with ennui that sometimes occur on the odd weekend or extended vacation period.
In addition to our neighborhood, we’ve found the local farmers’ market, the zoo, street festivals, and comic conventions have provided us with opportunities to stroll, and get a conversation going. Sometimes, important topics can be better approached, and awkward questions seem less threatening when shared away from the familiar intimidation of the home.
Even if you can’t get outside, hit a mall or recreation center. There’s just something about putting one foot in front of the other that clears out the cobwebs in the head and heart.
Go someplace new. I have a quote from author C.S. Lewis on my wall that states: “When a ship sets sail I will travel to a place I have never been before.”
Lewis set a pretty high standard with this, but heeding his advice doesn’t necessarily mean taking a huge, exotic excursion to faraway lands each year (although that would be awesome). Instead, find a local tourist destination you’ve never taken the time to visit, or pick a day trip out in a direction you might not have tried.
I would love to be able to spin a globe, stop it with my finger, and go to the place nearest to where it lands, but I realize that isn’t always practical or possible. Sometimes, family, work, and budget obligates you to visit a similar location for most family vacations. If this is the case, find a new place in the community you usually visit. My in-laws live in Dallas, and there is a huge list of places there we haven’t yet seen. Each trip could be an entirely new experience, regardless of the initial destination.
Try out that local diner or shop you always pass up. Picnicking in an unfamiliar park across town. Anything can be an adventure, if you play it right. It’s all about discovery and breaking out of the routine. New surroundings can be rejuvenating for everyone.
It’s always a comforting feeling to visit favorite spots and see familiar sites, but every now and then share in the spirit of discovery together. People often say there is no place left on Earth that hasn’t been found or explored, but that doesn’t mean we’ve all seen it.
Take a different path once in a while and see what’s out there that you haven’t seen before.
Play a video game together. I’m going to share a little political opinion. You don’t have to agree with me, but I do believe that excessive, isolated playing of violent video games can numb sensitivity to the real feelings of others, and effect behavior in some people—kids and adults. I am by no means saying that we should get rid of violent video games (I hunt the occasional zombie, myself), but I don’t like the idea of letting any kid holing themselves up in a dark room for hours having an online shooting spree or sword fest, just so parents can get some “down time.” Anyways, that’s my little rant, and the inspiration of this list item.
Like many parents, I’ve pretty much limited my own girls’ play to the living room, with definitive time limits… for the most part. One thing that has really been enjoyable, however, is everyone settling in together for a couple of hours of good-hearted (and age-appropriate) trash talk over a sports or driving game, a rainy day dance-off or Rock Band jam session, or setting off together on an adventure through in the worlds of Disney Infinity, Middle Earth, or Lego Gotham.
We’ve always enjoyed tabletop games as a family, why should video gaming always be a loner event? The back-and-forth conversation helps keep the line between real and virtual worlds separate, plus it’s always fun to leave Dad and Mom behind in a cloud of dust during Mario Kart.
That’s my little bit of advice for the new year. No resolutions. No expert opinions, just some tips I have discovered have helped bring our family together through good times and bad, as well as opened our minds and communication.
I hope at least one of these list items is useful, or at least worthy of talking points. Either way, I hope everyone, and their families, has a wonderful 2015.