With six people in the family, vacations usually mean a road trip. I don’t mind. Road trips remind me of traveling the USA with my grandparents when I was a kid. We drove 10 miles per hour under the speed limit and stopped at every scenic lookout between Oklahoma and the coast. My grandpa was fun. He would sing along to Tom T. Hall and the Statler Brothers, sometimes making up silly lyrics to make me laugh. My grandma organized and played games with me. Some of my best memories were made in the cab of his truck.
That’s not the first place I learned to be creative on a family trip. My parents kept up the tradition as well. I remember one family trip in particular in which each day started with an envelope of cash. If I remember right, one person was in charge each day that person had to plan all the activities and meals using only the cash in the envelope. As a teenager, I most likely thought it was dumb. As an adult, I now remember it as brilliant.
I have four sons. That means conversation, interaction and all the feels of a road trip don’t always get verbalized well. What’s a mom to do? I rely on coercion and bribery. For many (not all) of our family trips, I create a travel-brochure for them. It has the daily agenda so I’m not asked “What are we doing today?” six hundred times, and it also includes where we will eat. If you have boys, you know how important it is to provide assurance we are going to eat. (Click to see the example)In order to get them interacting and talking with each other, I write one or two questions for each day of the week. Some are serious and some are funny. In the beginning, all my questions were serious and deep but when I realized they weren’t going to sit around and pour out their hearts over hot tea and crumpets, I began to add a few knee-slapping funny questions. My children are funny and I love to hear them laugh.
Finally, there is one section dedicated to an activity that spans the length of the break. One year it was a photo scavenger hunt which was hysterical. I offer a prize at the end for the winner. You’d be surprised what an 18-yo is willing to do for a $20 Chick-Fil-A card. (Actually, you might not be surprised…especially if you have sons.) This year, the competition involves earning points for activities. Clean the kitchen after a meal – 100 pts, read a book in the car – 100 pts per hour, no crying on the mountain – 50 pts. (I have never qualified for this on a ski trip!) And I give points for each day you participate in the family discussion questions. See how I get what I want? #momskills
I’m highly administrative (which doesn’t always mean organized). This is one of those things they somewhat roll their eyes at, yet always embrace with great attitudes. I know they enjoy knowing what comes next and having something to fill in the gaps of a 10-hr road trip.
If you’d like to see my trip plans, here are some samples. (Email me for a Word doc you can edit.)
San Francisco with the big kids
Anniversary trip with my guy
Christmas ski trip with my family
I love traditions. The older I get, the more I see the inevitable. I’m turning into my mother…and my grandmother…and probably some other old lady with a wild chin hair before them. I find myself doing the same things, the same way, year after year. My grandmother always made the same simple stuffing at Thanksgiving. My mother sewed matching clothes for my dolls. Me? I prefer a tradition where everyone helps fold the mountain of laundry but the holiday spirit is pretty weak for that one… so I have a list of other fun and simple holiday traditions to enjoy.
In a life of constant, exhausting (and sometimes unwelcome) change, I need a few steadies in my world. Enter traditions. Old and new, dumb or classy, meaningful and pointless – and combined, the things we do together, intentionally and repeatedly, tell the story of family.
Traditions provide a sense of identity. Traditions teach family values. And traditions create great memories.
One of my favorite traditions is to let my little kids play with a nativity set or even build one. This year my younger kids made a Lego nativity set. It was pretty amazing. It had a moving star and everything. Proudly I asked them to tell me about their creation. “Baby Jesus…angel…manger…Moses and Sarah…”
<Insert sound of record needle being pulled across a vintage vinyl at 165 decibels.>
What? Did you really just say Moses and Sarah? As in THOSE are supposed to be Jesus’ parents? Oh-no-you-did-not. I grounded them to their room to pray and lament over their horrible mistake. And then I flogged myself with a wet kitchen towel for not making sure my kids know the Christmas story. It’s like I don’t even know the most important birthday in the history of the world…
Which brings me to the most important tradition. It’s one we simply cannot afford to miss. No, it’s not decorating the Christmas tree or even sharing a family dinner at Grandma’s house.
The most important thing this season is to point our children to the heart of God and to a deeper understanding of His love for us. Nothing else really matters.
I’ve put together a few holiday traditions and included some family discussion questions and scripture references. If you’re looking for a new twist on familiar activities, check this out. Strengthen your traditions by rooting them in the truth of God’s Word. Let me give you an example:
Set out a puzzle between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Encourage family members to stop and work a few pieces throughout the week. You’ll find interesting conversations occur over 1000 tiny jigsaw pieces. I like to make a comparison. Ask your family, “Do you ever feel like pieces of your life just don’t fit? Or you can’t figure out what should happen next? Are you ever convinced something is missing?” Our life is just like this puzzle. It’s full of tiny events that sometimes don’t make sense or seem like a big mistake. Romans 8:28 assures us in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. Just like this puzzle, we can be assured God has a plan for each “piece” of our life.
Tying scripture to traditions this year can be quite easy. All it takes is a little creative effort. You don’t have to have grand events and spend oodles of time preparing. Start small. Start with one thing. Just start.
Download the list of holiday traditions with scripture reference and discussion questions here
Eventually, all kids reach an age when they know more about driving than you do. In my house it happens around age 4. From the confines of his car seat, Kid Four instructs my every move. I pretend I’m not annoyed at his shouts of correction.
“The wight is not gween, mom!”
(It’s somewhat tolerable when he says it with his “almost-four-year-old articulation.”)
I know full well he uses /f/ when it should be /sp/ but sometimes I can’t help myself, because he is so cute…and ‘assertive.’ When he began to critique my driving one particular morning, I poked the bear. I admit it.
Kid Four: Mom, you’re feeding!
Me: What? I’m feeding?
Kid Four: NO! feeding! Swow down!
Me: I’m feeding?!? (egging him on)
Kid Four: feeeeeeeding! You’re feeding!
Me: Oh! I’m speeding?
Kid Four: yeth.
I was amused by his inability to pronounce the word correctly, coupled with his irritation that I was not saying it properly. A familiar quote from my pastor pricked my heart. We judge others by their actions and we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions.
How many times have I become irritated by something done to me yet I excuse my own actions because I intended to do good? Kid Four knew I was saying the word incorrectly with no regard for how he said it. His irritation was completely focused on my error.
I have a tendency to do the same thing to others. I can hold people to a higher standard than I’m willing to live up to myself. For the follower of Christ, the double standard divides relationships and weakens the body of believers. The only acceptable standard for us is Christ, alone – not merely the good intentions of our sinful, human mind. The Holy Spirit enables us to live it out and empowers us to extend grace to others.
Father, let me not be a woman who sees only the fault in others and ignores my own shortcomings. I want my actions to mirror the posture of a heart surrendered to You.