July 19, 2020
Three weeks ago, someone commented to me that I ought to “make every moment count” with my kids, because 99% of the time parents spend with their children occurs before those children are eighteen years old, after which our precious offspring are theoretically out of the house, out and about living their own adventures, starting their own families, and largely inaccessible for the rest of a parent's lifetime to be available to spend quality time with that parent.
After being told this, in addition to me quickly recalling the fact that 87% of statistics are made up on the spot (heh), I found myself reminiscing on a verse from Harry Chapin's “Cat's In The Cradle” song…
“…when you comin' home son?… I don't know when…but we'll get together then Dad…you know we'll have a good time then…”.
Furthermore, I found myself calling bullsh*t on this entire “scarcity-of-time” with kids concept.
I mean, really?
We really need to feel the pressure that 99% of the hours we’ll ever spend with our children will have been spent with them by the time they’re eighteen years old? Really?
I'll tell you one thing I know for a fact: If that skewed time curve of quality time occurs between generations of Greenfields, and if my twin boys simply pop in every once in a while to say hello, for a total of 1% of the time I'll ever spend with them after they're eighteen years old, then I would highly suspect something had gone terribly wrong with the Greenfield family model.
The Problem With “Making Every Moment Count”
You're no doubt familiar with the concept that to truly make your life meaningful and impactful, you should live each day as if it was your last. Future thinking. Deathbed thinking. Write your own obituary thinking. Make every moment count, and I-mean-every-last-one-darn-it thinking. You know what I'm talking about.
Walk to your mailbox as though it were your final stroll to retrieve a package.
Go hit the gym as though it was the concluding moment of your life and the last chance with which you'll ever be blessed to move your body.
Have a family dinner as though it were the very last supper of your lives together.
Live your entire life as though your deathbed waiteth, just around the corner.
Now don't get me wrong, we should not—as John Piper so eloquently teaches in his book Don't Waste Your Life—waste our lives. We should not spend the day neglecting our life's purpose and instead whittling away at sticks, drawing paintings in the mud with our toes, and staring at the clouds—all while waiting for the next night of sleep to arrive before rinsing, washing, and repeating in a kind-of productive Groundhog Day scenario. That's, of course, the polar opposite of living as though each day were your last.
But neither should we feel the intense magnitude of pressure that arises from a constancy of death-bed thinking.
That walk to the mailbox? Maybe you need to check the weather on your phone while walking, it's not the time to breathe in every last rose petal particle that wafts into your nose as you pause slack-jawed to watch a beautiful butterfly, and you instead need to be back in the kitchen in two minutes to help your spouse clean the dishes.
That trip to the gym? Maybe you don't need to act as though you'll never get a chance to sweat or lift heavy things again, you feel no urge to shout a Braveheart-esque “FREEDOM!” at the top of your lungs as you bench press the heaviest weight of your life, and maybe you simply desire to crank out a few push-ups and intervals on the rowing machine before you jet back to the office. Sure, you can be fully present and mindful during that time at the gym, but there's a difference between presence, mindfulness, and the creation of every second spent exercising into an epic battle movie.
And that family dinner? Well, that brings me to perhaps the most important point and the main thrust of this article: perhaps you don't need to spend every family dinner solemnly discussing the family trust, legacy, and constitution, while raising eloquent toasts to your children with the finest of wines and engaging in an Epicurean feast of masterful cookery and magnificent proportion because…who knows? You gotta make every moment count, right? This could very well be your last dinner, after which you will crawl up to bed, wiping chicken skin and gravy juices off your face, and pass quietly away of a heart attack in your sleep at 1 AM.
No doubt the issue with this kind of thinking is as clear to you as it seems to me: It threatens to make life just a bit too dreary, a bit too dark, a bit too dramatic, and a bit too skewed towards a stressful scenario in which every moment must not only count, but also be so absolutely epic that you have no clue how you'll top it in the next moment—but perhaps it can include purchasing a new Harley-Davidson to motor out to the mailbox, finally having the courage to wear that yellowish cheetah-themed leotard suit to the gym, and celebrating the next family dinner with the governor, on a spaceship, wearing top hats.
What Is Better Than Making Every Moment Count?
So if you shouldn't shirk your duties in and the joy derived from fully engaging in your life's purpose, including being with your children, and you also shouldn't feel the pressure to transform every last second into an epic movie moment—how should you approach this concept of “spending quality time” with loved ones (because, after all, as we've established from somewhat sketchy statistics, you just never know how long they'll be around)?
I'll tell you the answer, and it's quite simple: don't feel the pressure to make every moment count. But do try to make every moment memorable.
That's right: make every moment memorable.
Here's what I mean…
…your children will appreciate and get just as much value out of building their new Lego kit with you on the patio for an hour every Saturday as they will a random summer weekend afternoon based upon a jam-packed itinerary that includes a trip to the zoo, ice cream cones, the arcade, and a movie, culminating with a sleepover in the backyard tree fort.
…they also care more about gathering as a family to sing the doxology before each dinner and eat Dad's famous eggs and waffles breakfast-for-dinner for the weekly Tuesday night feast than they do a trip to a fancy steakhouse for which you mortgaged your car so they could each order a bone-in ribeye…
…they aren't going to value a tricked-out Tesla road trip to the coast as much as they value you singing at the top of your lungs every single time a Lady Gaga song comes on the radio when you drive them to the park to play on Wednesday afternoons…
…they'd rather go on the monthly family hike to a camp spot 20 miles from your house than they would hop on a last-minute flight deal to Cabo to live in a resort for five days…
…they'd rather play the thrice-weekly game of cards (ours are Exploding Kittens, Unstable Unicorns, and, my favorite Bears vs. Babies) at the dinner table, than they would help you plan out your final will or testament or have a serious family-planning chat about bank accounts, corporate structure and your grand vision for their future…
…and they'll remember far more fondly that tiny chocolate they always got to munch on ever year, each morning, during the 24 day Advent calendar leading up to Christmas day than the fancy iTouch wrapped in gold-flecked wrapping paper under the tree.
Do you spot the distinct difference between the “memory” examples I just gave you? The fancy, expensive, epic moments certainly count but the simple, reliable, fully present, and traditional moments are more memorable.
I'll say it again: don't feel the pressure to make every moment count. But do make every moment memorable.
Tradition Makes Moments Better
The traditions, behaviors and actions your family engages in again and again and regular rituals that you perform at the same time or in the same way on a dependable basis, will serve as the lifeblood of your family. They are the strong fabric that fortifies the knit canvas of your relationship with your children. They are the rocks upon which families and legacies are built.
Traditions can be big, such as an annual trip to the coast, or small, such as Sunday afternoon family tennis. But each is ideally calendared and designed with forethought, intentionality, and purpose. In The Book of New Family Traditions, author Meg Cox defines these types of traditional rituals as “any activity you purposefully repeat together as a family that includes heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.”
The benefits of traditions abound.
They offer children dependency, comfort, and security—such as the card game with Mom and Dad that they can rely upon at the end of a stressful school day or the breakfast date with Dad on Wednesdays to get an Acai bowl and go for a walk. They strengthen family bonds by forcing repeated connection and unity in a unique and special environment—such as a monthly trip to an Escape Room. They bestow a sense of identity—tying families to more rich cultural and religious history as traditions become embedded into generation upon generation.
They create fond memories of historical or traditional events that have shaped the family and serve as conversation pieces for future times together as you reminisce upon past family pig roasts, trash-talking Scrabble matches, and song-singing expeditions to the local nursing home. They help your children get through tough times—perhaps when the entire family has been uprooted to a new city or state so Dad could get a job, but yet even in this new place, the family can still have their Wednesday night bike rides around the neighborhood. They instill a strong sense of morals and values, especially when centered on spiritual discipline activities such as family prayer, meditation, Bible reading, journaling, and a nighttime bed song.
They create rhythmic, dependable seasons through a child's life—including seasonal activities such as the Spring garden-planting, the Summer morning paddle-boarding trips, the Fall pumpkin carving festival, and the Winter snowman building on the first day of each December. Perhaps most relevant to the idea of your children “disappearing” as you grow old, traditions cultivate the continued involvement of parents and grandparents into a child's life, since they often involve regular excursions, get-togethers, meals, hobbies, events, and activities that engage an entire family together.
In her book, Ask the Children, Ellen Galinsky describes a survey in which she asked children what they thought they would remember most about their childhood. The majority of the children responded by fondly recalling simple, everyday traditions like family dinners, holiday get-togethers, and bedtime stories.
Although I didn't personally see all the survey results, I doubt many of the kids expressed fond memories of “…how Dad took us on a shopping spree to the mall and gave us each a credit card because he thought he might die the next day…” or “….when Mom made us stay home from our best friend's 13th birthday party because she was sad that she wasn't going to get to see us when we got older…”.
So moments can certainly count, but they don't need to be epic. They just need to be memorable. Simplicity is OK. Consistency is a must. Dependency is fantastic. Presence is crucial. Weaving these memories into family tradition is more consequential than you may think.
Create simple, consistent, dependable, present moments based on deep-rooted tradition in your family, and you won't need to worry about not seeing your kids once they've flown the nest.
So you can think about the fact that statistics and “they” say that your child is going to grow up and move out soon, so you better make every moment count. You can dwell on that, feel a bit sad and depressed about it, and paint yourself into a guilty corner as you constantly try to figure out how to ensure no moment is wasted and every moment is supremely epic…
…you can create a future where you and your family are frequently together until the day you die, including your children, and your children's children – because you made it so good that everybody wants to stay. They want to keep coming back—for Easter; and Christmas; and Thanksgiving; and Sunday afternoon tennis; and Tuesday night eggs—because you and your family created traditions. You created reunions. You created communities. You created meaning. You created love. You made it so good that everybody wanted to stay.
If you build your family upon the firm foundation of tradition, then you won't need to worry at all about old age abandonment, long distance, extended, torturous separation from loved ones, or rarely seeing your kids again after they move out.
Make every moment memorable.
And to finish, a blessing to you and your children, and your children's children from one of my favorite little YouTube channels right now: The Yun Family. Enjoy.
What do you think? What are your favorite childhood memories and traditions? What memories and traditions are you instilling in your family now? Leave your questions, comments, and feedback below and I'll read them all!