As a single mom, I desperately want to create unity in my family. I don't want to be defined by the rising trend of selfishness, or distracted by the "now" of technology. I want my children to love and care for one another. I want to grow old listening to them share stories of "remember the time we..." I want to enjoy every moment we have together because life is too short to miss this. And I bet you do, too. So, how about a few ideas?
1. Read together You get double for the money with this one. Reading aloud to your children is the best way to develop strong readers, intelligent thinkers, and a great vocabulary. I wish I could tell you we do this every single night before bed. We don't, but we do strive to and it happens more often than not. Our family enjoys missionary biographies the most, but there are so many great choices out there! Take turns picking the next book for your family.
2. Enjoy nature together Most of the time this is completely free. Do you have a trail or creek nearby? How about a state park? Go there and just enjoy whatever you might find. Sometimes we collect various kinds of leaves. Other times we study the bugs or wildlife. My children actually love to go and draw the things they see, so we pack a little backpack for the trip. Hiking the local state park has become one of our favorite weekend activities. Here are some hiking with kids tips to get you started.
3. Exercise together Relax, I'm not talking Jillian Michaels boot camp here. Keep it simple. Take a walk. Play frisbee at the park. Have a family game of soccer in the backyard. All of these things are good for you, good for your kids, and fun! Need some ideas? 25 ways to exercise with your kids has some ideas to get you exercising!
4. Cook together You know the old Thanksgiving scene where everyone is gathered in the kitchen, complete with matching aprons and great big ol' smiles? That's what we are aiming for here. Ok, maybe not the matching aprons part. That is optional. But I promise the smiles will not be. Yes, it's easier to cook by yourself with no one in the way...for a while anyway. As your kids get older, this fails to be true. It's much easier for me to cook with my girls home. They are especially helpful when we do freezer dinner prep days or put together our 3-month DIY breakfast station.
5. Make a big deal out of it Shh...don't tell my kids about this. This one thing is my biggest parenting trick and it works miracles. All you have to do is make a big deal. You might be wondering what it is that you are supposed to make a big deal out of. ANYTHING! I've found that if I call it a surprise and build it up, it's so much more fun. If I name it something special or create a theme, my kids are certain that I am the best mom alive. We do things like have a drive-in movie by watching a movie on the car's DVD player...in the garage (be sure you open the garage door if you leave the car running to prevent CO2 from harming you).
6. Family night I started this when my kids were really little and family night has now become the best night of the week. Pick a day that works for you. During one season of life, we did Sunday nights. Now we do Friday nights. Every week, we do something special together. As the kids get older, they will know and cherish the importance of this day and I pray they will still love being home for it. I know many families have seen this happen, even into college! Our family nights almost always have a theme. (See #5 above.) I have been amazed at how I can do some of the silliest and simplest things with my kids and yet still be crowned "Best Mom in the World."
7. Travel or take day trips I'm well aware that not everyone has the budget to travel, but please hear me out. Vacations are memory-builders, and building memories is vital to family unity. There is nothing like getting away from all the normal distractions of life and loving on your family. Plus, you have the added benefit of experiences. We love to take trips that are educational, historical, and/or teach you something. There are plenty of ways to make it budget friendly, such as saving money on food and picking a frugal destination. But if you simply cannot afford a trip away from home, at least go on day trips. Grab the local papers and dig around for the fun stuff, like the World's Largest Apple Festival or the Big Machines Carnival (think bulldozers).
8. Say yes more
I used to think I was the kind of mom who said yes a lot, until I was challenged to go an entire day without saying no to my kids. Don't panic. It wasn't as bad as I thought. I learned two things that day. First, I say no A LOT. And second, my kids weren't asking for that much. In general, if we guide our kids toward a love of good things, we won't find ourselves saying no nearly as much. I think the secret to this is loving those "good things" ourselves. Ahem. I think I will skip the lecture to myself (and you) on that one!
9. DIY (Ya know, Do It Yourself)
There is something so amazingly rewarding in doing something yourself. Throw the whole family into the mix and you've got an activity that is sure to make memories. Of course, you may not be the family who is going to build their own back porch, but you could check out the local farms and pick your own produce or make your own laundry soap. Really, the choices are limitless. Do something you enjoy or do something that is needed! Either way, it's a win.
10. Make dinner fun
So you eat dinner every day and sometimes it gets boring to talk about what you did that day. Trust me, I get that. We are a homeschool family. I KNOW what my kids do all day. I find that I have to be a little more creative with dinner, both in the way I prepare it and in the dinner table discussion.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you have to spend 30 minutes a day coming up with some cool idea for dinner. Just spice it up a little every now and then. Bring out the candles and go with candlelight. Have a progressive dinner moving from one room of the house to the next. It's really simple to make dinner fun. Check out more ideas here.
Dear sweet mom, I hope you read this list and felt empowered, encouraged, and motivated to do something awesome with your family. But before I close, I want to remind you of one trap that we are all a little guilty of falling into. Please don't read all of these great ideas that I shared and think that I'm some amazing super-woman mom. I don't do all of these things every day, or even every month, and neither will you! That's not even the point.
Use the ideas to inspire you to build unity in your family through simple and meaningful activities. Have a blast making memories with your family and check the mom-guilt at the door!