We were driving to an eye appointment when I asked the question.
“Caden and Evie, what is your favorite TV show?”
Immediately, our eldest yelled from the backseat, “I love How to Train a Dragon!” And then the littlest who is never without an opinion pipes up and says, “I love Octonauts and Super Why!”
Always quick to return the communication ball, Caden quickly asked,”Mommy, what is your favorite TV show?”
“My absolute favorite right now is a show about a family called This Is Us. It’s sooooo good!”
His response was so sweet. “Mommy, I have never heard of This Is We.”
Smiling and holding back laughter (because apparently it makes our almost six year-old feel self-conscious these days), I responded, “Yes, I loooove This Is We.” And we moved on our merry way, just being “we.”
I thought this sweet, little blunder would be a perfect intro for a blog post that several others have been asking me write. In the last six months or so, I have received several e-mails/private messages asking me things along the lines of, “What are some things you do as a family?” Or, “What are some things you prioritize in your family?” And though I don’t usually use my blog to share those specific things in this kind of format, I thought it would not only allow me to share with others, but it would allow me (most importantly) to keep record for our kiddos the special and intentional things we try to prioritize as a family.
In short, I guess I’m sharing how “This Is We.”
So, here are some bullet points of some activities and things that we have prioritized as a family, various practices we engage in, and fun things that we try to make a part of our family culture.
Here they are…in no particular order…because “This Is We” and “we” is not always super organized in our thoughts! And remember, this is “we”…it doesn’t have to be “you.”
Life gets crazy and there are a billion and one things that could go on the calendar, so “we” carve out two nights a week where it’s just “us.” We’re not hosting; we’re not doing errands; we’re not working…we’re just BEING. We recognize that this will probably need to change and adjust as the kids get older and the schedules get crazier but for now, this works for us. It allows us to think about what we value, what we want to prioritize, and helps provide us with some accountability–avoiding the over-planning trap. For us, it works, and we’ve come to love those nights. We often hear the kids ask, “Is tonight a family night?” Family walks, trips to the park, the cheap theater, family crafting, game nights…simple, intentional, and cheap!
Seasonal Bucket Lists:
In our local community and surrounding cities, there is SO much to do and see. To help us from getting in a “same-‘ol, same-‘ol rut,” we started creating “Seasonal Bucket Lists” that span three months at a time. Spring (Mar-May), Summer (Jun-Aug), Fall (Sept-Nov), and Winter (Dec-Feb). This helps us narrow down what “we” want to do and what our budget and time will allow. It helps us be intentional in doing some things without feeling overwhelmed to do it all. Also, this allows us some opportunities to introduce the kids to new places, new activities, and new cultures. So, at the beginning of each season, we pull out a piece of paper, decorate it, and start brainstorming ideas for that season. We shoot for about 10-15 ideas and then we post it on the fridge! Some of our “Spring Bucket List” items include: Trip to local museum house, Tye-Dye t-shirts, Wildflower Walk @local nature reserve, Tulips @ the zoo, Nature ABC walk @local park, Lent Family Fast, etc. Also, we include ONE, family service project that we can do as a family. We have collected coats, packed shoe boxes, stuffed a local pantry with food, made cookies for neighbors, etc. WE LOVE IT.
Gospel at Lunch:
At lunch time, a couple days a week, I set aside time to read through a Gospel-centered book with the kids, taking short moments to teach and plant seeds. I keep it short and sweet, reviewing the previous chapter/lesson/story from the times before.I try to ask a few questions about the text and then will often say, “So what does this mean for us?” I’m not going to pretend that the kids are always thrilled or always on the edge of their seats, but it’s become a discipline that when I don’t do it, they are asking where it is; it’s become accountability! Many times, we are reading books that are “over their heads,” but I am convinced that kids are sponges and the Spirit impresses upon their hearts the things He wants them to learn. They don’t “get it all,” but they do “get some of it.” Some of the books “we” have read are as follows: I Can Learn the Bible, The Biggest Story, and The Ology.
Gospel at Bed Time:
At bed time, Don walks through a devotional with them (probably about 2-4 times a week). I am gone during bed time two times a week and even when I am there, this is Daddy’s time to teach, train, and raise them up! From our perspectives, it’s best when they can see BOTH of our faith’s manifested and demonstrated. In short, “we” want them to see and hear us BOTH talking about the Gospel! Don has used The Jesus Story Book Bible and also The Gospel Story Bible.
At family dinners (about 3-4 times a week), “we” make time for intentional conversation. How do we do it? Well, sometimes we will pick one of the kids to come up with a question to ask of everyone else at the table, or sometimes we (as mommy and daddy) will ask a question to be answered by everyone at the table. Some of the questions might include: What was your favorite part of your day? What was something that brought you joy? Where was a moment when you saw/felt God? Was there a time today when you felt frustrated, mad, scared, proud, etc…? What is something you are doing well? What is something you need to work on? During this time, we really stress listening skills and follow-up questions. For us, this is a good and easy way to “check-in” with each other and also allow for some opportunities to learn more about one another. We also do some of this intentional question asking when we’re in the car, traveling to and from our errands; some of our best conversations often happen when kids are strapped in car seats!
Being at home for most days of the week can be a little daunting for my “go-go, do-do” personality. It’s easy for me to want to go out every day, looking and spending money on entertainment that we just don’t need and certainly don’t need to buy. Also, I struggle with the “mommy guilt” that can easily creep in with the lie that says, “You need to be the entertainment. You need to be playing all day, every day. You are the PARTY.” SOOOO…in order to resist those urges and in an attempt to be intentional with how we spend our time at home, I set timers. The timers are for me AND the kids. My goal, on a day where we are “just home” is to set two-three timers during the day where I am focused on being and playing with the kids. Sometimes I will set two, 30 minute timers and other times, I will set three, 20 minute timers–just depends on my day and what needs to be done. I simply set a timer and for that time, there is NO answering texts, phone calls, social media, or e-mails. I AM ALL-IN. And I don’t know what it is about knowing that I have a specific set of time to engage with the kids in the ways they want to engage, but it is has been a GAME-CHANGER for my mama-mind. It not only gives me a set period of time and them a set period of time, but it also helps me be conscious of making the time to play–giving “we” a little more structure to the days that can sometimes feel like weeks.
For “we,” we have just kept it simple and straight forward. We don’t binge, and we don’t abstain. That is what “we” have decided for “us”–we all get to choose what is best for us! So, in our house, they each get to pick two episodes a day, which is about 80 minutes a day. And typically, I encourage that TV time while I’m making meals. It keeps them out of the kitchen and under foot, and it allows me some space to make a meal, finish a cup of coffee, or steal away some reading time and/or breathing space. They know the expectation and though there are times when I increase or decrease that amount (because sometimes we MUST and HAVE to make adjustments for our sanity), we are pretty consistent in those boundaries. Also, I let them pick ONE lunch a week where they can eat their lunch while watching TV; they absolutely love that day and so do I (surprise, surprise…no food battles on that day).
Again, there are SO many good and awesome things that we can sign our kids up for, take our kids to, and organize for our kids. And yet, it would be so easy to fill every day with SOMETHING. For me, I love to “go-go and do-do” and yet, I also can easily find myself tired, overwhelmed, and in desperate need of a small, quiet space with a Coke Zero and a bag of Doritos. So, here are some “extras” that we do to help balance our fun and protect our time and sanity. I realize (like I mentioned before) that this will change as the kids get older and as things overlap and become crazier but for now…here are some other “extras.” Again, sometimes this looks “less” during various seasons/needs of life, but these are some basic guidelines that we have tried to set in place for “we.”
- I try to limit us to 1-2 play dates a month. If it were up to my kids, we would have one a week, but mama can’t do one a week.
- I try to schedule no more than 2-3 things during the weekdays (that could include a play date, story hour at the library, a trip to the zoo, a visit to the museum, a Pinterest craft, a trip to the Donut store…).
- I try to plan and allow for the kids to pick one extracurricular during a season. If they don’t want to do anything that season, great. However, we’re not going to do soccer and karate while simultaneously doing gymnastics and art classes. I want my kiddos to have opportunities and yet I don’t want to spend my awake time driving from practice to practice, class to class. It helps our budget; it protects our time; and it keeps “we” from being STRUNG OUT.
Whether it be birthdays, holidays, normal days, or “super-special-moments-we-want-to-remember,” we make it a point to CELEBRATE and celebrate OFTEN! “We” love a reason to add candles, make a cake, and find a reason to pull out the special, fancy stuff. We try to focus on being creative, rather than spending money or buying more stuff, but sometimes we buy rather than create. In addition to the normal, calendar holidays, we have also chosen to specifically celebrate “Brother’s Day” and “Sister’s Day,” creating some intentional space for the kids to focus on their sibling(s). We realize that relationships take work, so we take as many opportunities as we can to help Caden and Evie build and grow their relationship. These special holidays give the kids an extra chance to plan a special day for their sibling, thinking about what they love and how they would feel most loved.
“Mommy and Me” and “Daddy and Me” Dates:
We aren’t super structured about this, but we try and take turns (probably every couple of months, maybe 4-5 times a year) planning a time where Don plans and spends time with Evie, while I plan and spend time with Caden. We try and do these dates at the time same time, switching back and forth between the kids, but sometimes we aren’t able to coordinate these times at the same time. Sometimes it’s a coffee date, a Lego date, a park date, a movie date, a theater production date, a sporting event date, a game date, a picking strawberries date…SOMETHING. We realize that family “we time” is important and yet we also realize that spending one-on-one time with the kids is also very special and sometimes really needed.
Alright, so that’s 10! And every good list has 10, right?!?! That was not in the plan but hey, it works!
Again, these are just some of the things that “we” try and do as a family unit. “We” aren’t perfect at it, and we’re not trying to be. “We” aren’t rigid about them, and “we” aren’t obsessive about them. This doesn’t make “we” better or “we” worse. Again, these are just ideas, practices, and guidelines that “we” have used to provide some intentional moments and protective structure for “we.” If they give YOU some good ideas, great! And if they don’t, great! Because at the end of the day, “this is we” and “that is you,” and that is ALL GOOD!