DALLAS (ABP) — In tight economic times, families should recognize making memories doesn’t mean breaking the bank, family ministry experts agree.
Dream vacations to Disney World can be meaningful memory-building times for families, but so can shared trips to a store or afternoon drives down country roads.
The times that just happen can be as meaningful as the fancy vacations—and maybe more so,” said Diana Garland, dean of the Baylor University School of Social Work.
“Fun does not have to be expensive.”
Sometimes, carefully planned trips fail to live up to expectations, but time spent together eating a meal, doing household chores, shopping at the grocery store or learning some new skill—like playing a musical instrument or a new game—offer unbeatable family memories, she noted.
“Quality time is not really scheduled as much as it is something that happens in the middle of the quantity of time spent together. Some of the most precious moments happen in the middle of just living life together,” Garland said.
Meaningful family times don’t require big budgets or elaborate timetables, but they do demand some intentionality, said Cathy Anderson, children’s minister at First Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.
“I’m a big fan of the designated family night,” Anderson said. Scheduling a night each week for a family activity and sticking to that schedule demands discipline when coaches call extra practices, extra-credit school assemblies are offered and opportunities for overtime at work arise.
“Parents have to decide they really want to do it,” she said, pointing to one family she knows who designated 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday as their family Sabbath time.
“That’s the time they committed to turn off all the electronics and spend time together without all the background noise,” she said.
Parks, museums and historical sites offer opportunities for families to have fun and learn things together at little or no cost, Anderson added.
“Pretend like you’re a tourist in your hometown,” she suggested.
Significant time together as a family may be accomplished by something as simple as setting one evening each week as “family night in the kitchen,” said Diane Lane, preschool and children’s ministry specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“Choose something easy like spaghetti,” she suggested. Give each member of the family some assignment—cooking the main dish, preparing a side dish or dessert, setting the table and cleaning up after the meal. And then rotate the assignments so nobody has to do the same thing two weeks in a row.
Time spent making simple crafts together also can be precious, Lane noted. Parents with young children can find easy craft projects with spiritual applications at no cost online from BaptistWay Press, she suggested.
Some of the time-management principles in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People apply directly to busy families who struggle to find ways to spend time together, said Keith Lowry, BGCT family ministry specialist.
Lowry quotes Covey: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” That means paying attention to crucially important matters—like family—first when making plans.
“If you want to be happy with the life you’ve built, you’ve got to be in charge during construction,” Lowry said.
“If you don’t decide, and decide now, someone or something else will decide for you. Don’t look back at the end of your life and wish you had made different decisions. Make those decisions now. … Leave a path you won’t be sorry to see your children and grandchildren follow you down.”
Ministry experts agreed family service projects strengthen faith development and family relations.
“Children develop faith and character in relationships with the adults in their lives,” Anderson said.
Parents do well when they set a good example for their children, modeling service to others. But they do even better when they involve their children in working alongside them, Garland stressed.
“It’s important for children to learn about serving outside themselves. It’s especially important for children and adolescents to realize the importance of who they are and what they do now,” she emphasized. “Too often, we ask children what they want to do when they grow up, as if we don’t value who they are now.”
Service activities can be as simple as an older child reading to a preschooler or families visiting nursing home residents, she noted.
Family mission trips—whether to a remote location or close to home—require some advance planning, said Chris Boltin, short-term assignments and partnerships manager with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions. Families should begin by discovering their passions and interests, he recommended.
“Spend some time as a family discussing things that you already like to do together,” Boltin said. A family that enjoys working outdoors might do the yard work for an elderly neighbor, or a family that enjoys playing board games might volunteer for an activities time at a local convalescent center, he suggested.
Family mission trips may involve international travel, but they also may be to an unfamiliar part of town, he noted.
“Something as simple as traveling across town may be a difficult cultural journey,” Boltin observed. “You want this to be a fun, productive and meaningful time together. By taking the time to truly know your family, potential problematic issues can be avoided.”
Obviously, a full-fledged mission trip to a remote location demands participants do their homework—checking age restrictions, requirements regarding special expertise and estimated costs.
Families should have a clear understanding of expectations and responsibilities in advance, he added.
“Be sure every member of your family understands their individual roles and importance to the trip,” Boltin said. “Nothing can replace the feeling that you have been a part of something greater than yourself and have made a difference in the world around you.”
Richard Singleton, a counseling program supervisor with STARRY, part of Children At Heart Ministries in Round Rock, suggested several ways families can create meaningful memories:
• Focus on Scripture. “God loves to shower families with blessings built on the foundation of his word,” he said. “Take a familiar passage for a test drive under the summer skies. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ would be a great verse for a picnic in the park. Dole out the bologna sandwiches and lemonade, recline on the checkered blanket, stare into the sky. Recite your verse and play the old tried-and- true game of finding shapes in the clouds. Truly, the heavens will declare glory.”
• Don’t spend a lot. “Good memories come in all shapes and sizes—and mostly without the need for money,” he stressed. “Take pictures, play board games, create a scrapbook, share walks, build a temporary fort out of some of that stuff that you’ve been threatening to throw out of the garage. My grandpa made me a dilapidated little tree house one summer. I thought it was the best tree house on the planet. I still do!”
• Worship together. “Creating family memories doesn’t demand that families miss church,” he observed. “Many families check out of church for the summer. But church is an especially important component of a healthy summer.”
• Serve side-by-side. “Volunteer for meaningful service projects that allow you and your child to spend valuable summer time together,” he advised. “Participate in backyard Bible clubs, Vacation Bible School and other endeavors that promote knowledge, fellowship and an opportunity for saving faith to be sparked by the Spirit of God. For many, summer has often been the most formative time for faith to blossom and flourish.”
• Take it easy. “Plan for significant times of rest and relaxation,” he said, remembering fondly an old porch swing that served as an informal gathering place for his family. “Each summer, our family would gather, clutching sweet tea in mason jars, feet swinging in the air and stories flowing as if from the land of milk and honey. We paused. We rested. We grew closer to God and each other.
• Unplug. “Bless your children or grandchildren with a Sabbath away from all the gadgets, gizmos and games,” he recommended. “Go slow. They won’t like it at first, but if you find a way to make it meaningful, they’ll remember it for a lifetime.”
Ken Camp is managing editor of Texas Baptist Standard.