Creating Beautiful Family Memories

Contributed by Myrna Lapres -

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through some boxes of photos that I hadn’t touched since our move to Georgia three years ago. It was just before Father’s Day and I wanted to include a few memorable pictures in the card I was sending to my dad. Memories flooded back over me as I look at the snapshots of my life--going camping as a family, visits from my grandparents who lived on the other side of the country, Monday morning pancakes made by my dad on his day off because he was a minister, my dad’s patience as I learned to drive a stick shift in the parking lot of our school next door, celebrating Christmas and my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary in Puerto Rico with my family giving my children a chance to get to know their grandparents as young adults and so much more.

One memory that came back to me was an early morning train ride when I was only four years old. It sticks out in my mind because it was special—the trip was just me and my dad and the purpose was not to get to a destination. I asked my dad to refresh my memory of this event. My grandparents had come by train to visit Oregon where we lived and somehow, there were two unused portions of the tickets. My parents had decided that my dad would use his day off to take me on an adventure. I remember getting up early and leaving the house while it was still dark out. We drove to the train station and boarded. Having breakfast in the dining car with the linen tablecloths, we watched the landscape flow by.

I don’t remember much else about the day. My dad says that we went to a nearby city, got off the train and walked around visiting a book store and then headed back home on the train. I am sure that the reason that this memory has stayed with me is because of the gift of time and presence that my father gave to me that day. It reinforced the belief that I am loved and worthy.

Strong families are built on a foundation of love, and love, as we know, doesn't simply happen. Love takes work - especially when the details of the day-to-day grind seem to crowd out everything else and leave us short on time and sapped of energy. "Making memories" is one way to create a lasting sense of common identity and shared family heritage among the members of our households.

So, how can we do this when we often feel overwhelmed and going in too many directions? I believe that it starts with the intention that making impactful memories is important. One place to start is dinner time. There is a huge amount of research that shows that family mealtime together is a great way to contribute to kids' health and well-being. The ideal is eating dinner together five nights a week but if only three is realistic, start there. If all you can manage for dinner is Chinese takeout, that’s fine. Dr. Christine Carter, the Executive Director of Greater Good Science Center says that interacting during dinner helps children learn manners, social skills, new vocabulary words and the importance of this daily ritual. For more on this, go to her interview here.

Children most likely won’t remember an individual meal time but can develop the fond memory of spending time together, sharing and discussing. It is important to find a way for everyone to have a voice to contribute to the discussion. Some families have the tradition of sharing three highlights about their day. This helps children to think back and pick something meaningful rather than responding to “What did you do at school today?” with “Nothing.” It may be important to have some ground rules like: one person shares at a time, no putdowns or interruptions, etc. as well as asking leading questions to help a child give more detail.

Another idea that we used in our family is to have a conversation jar. Questions or sentence starters are listed on pieces of paper and one slip is drawn out for the discussion topic is dinner. The parent can come up with ideas for the topics or the whole family can brainstorm. I found a blog with a unique approach to the conversation starters: the Key Jar. Glennon Doyle developed the concept to help families share thoughtful questions during dinner. She says, “I love it when someone asks me a thoughtful question for three reasons. First, it shows that the other person cares enough to try to get to know me. Second, it shows curiosity – which is one of my favorite traits. Third, a thoughtful question offers me the opportunity to unlock rooms inside myself I’ve never explored before.”

The Key Jar came from an idea sent home by a teacher of one of Ms. Doyle’s children. She included all the details to make your own Key Jar in a blog here. The slips of paper can entice children of all ages as well as the parents. Here are some samples:

  • What are you most afraid of?

  • What do you want to accomplish by your next birthday?

  • If you could be famous for one thing, what would it be?

  • What’s your favorite word right now? Why?

  • What was the best (or most remarkable/memorable) thing that happened today?

  • What do you love about yourself?

  • What’s something that is hard for you?

  • Describe your perfect day

Giving the gift of time is also a precious way to deepen the connection with your child and create memories. There are many ways of doing this. Below are a few suggestions. What others can you think of that are a good match for your child?

  • Schedule one-on-one time with each of your children and consider these "dates" as important as any other commitment on your calendar--My husband used to take one boy on a Saturday morning to have breakfast together and do errands at Home Depot.

  • If you're running errands, take one of the kids along and talk about what she finds interesting - anything from a favorite game or book to a sport or a particularly intriguing subject at school.

  • Make a special bedtime routine with input from your child/ren. Our sons used to love lighting candles and making shadows on the wall before saying prayers. Even when they were old enough to read their own chapter books, they loved the routine of their dad reading the Harry Potter series with them.

  • With teenage sons, talking while driving (and not looking at each other) to your favorite place to eat makes the conversation flow more easily.

  • Make a special occasion out of taking your child to work with you. This can be an important, impacting and extremely effective way of sharing this part of your life with him.

Playing the “Remember when…?” game at dinner, on a lazy vacation day lingering together in mom and dad’s bed or on a long car ride helps children to connect with the beautiful family memories that are part of our heritage. It strengthens connections of the heart and more firmly implants the rootedness of belonging. Hindsight often allows us to laugh and remember fondly frustrating events. Even memories of difficult or challenging experiences can be seen in the light of how the family came together and supported each other to survive. It has been said, “God gave us memories so that we could enjoy roses in January.”

ParentingBenjy Uyama