This weekend, I took my oldest five kids up backpacking. (Wife stayed home with the 2 year old.) Unlike the King’s Peak trip last year, this one was fairly benign. We hiked about 3 miles to this lake and camped nearby in this meadow. We did climb up an 11,500 feet mountain. (Well, the two oldest did. My five year old froze at this rocky part of the ascent, and so I took him back, and the seven and nine year olds followed.) This was the first time I went with my kids on a two night backpacking trip. Food (or lack thereof) became a much bigger issue. My 13 year old boy and I had to carry an extra sleeping bag for the five and seven year olds.
When we were coming near the end of the trip, My 11 year old girl asked each of us what their favorite part of the trip was. To my surprise, they all mentioned this moment when we were at this 10,500 ft. saddle, all waiting for this rainstorm to pass. My seven year old just stumbled on a log and fell into the lake, so we were struggling to get him warmed up with this emergency blanket. We were huddled in this tree thicket, with these cheap plastic ponchos, sipping hot Lipton soup with boiled Spam chunks mixed in.
I was thinking they would have mentioned the time we were hiking up and stopped at this 10 foot cliff over a lake and jumped in. However, they pretty much unanimously decided spending time huddled in a tree thicket, sipping instant soup was better. The moment was fun, but not really adventurous, exciting, or anything like that. What it was, is a moment of closeness. It was a time when we all had the same goals (to warm up and get our bellies filled).
I didn’t mention it at the time, but the favorite time for me was the first evening after most of the kids went to bed, and I stayed up with my oldest son, waiting for the fire to die out. We were just sitting there, stirring the fire and talking. Rarely will he really open up on what is on his mind, but that night we talked about girls, school, popularity, status, friends, and whatever else a young teenager thinks about. Again, it was this feeling of closeness, or a connection that does not just happen because you force it. If there is anything this weekend taught me, it is that this feeling of closeness is what we crave.
Create the Environment
While I know you cannot force those moments, I do believe there are certain things we can do to foster them. The particulars do not really matter, but I believe you need to put effort in creating them. Doing so shows your wife and kids that you really love them, which enables them to open up to you. Sure, you can have great conversations just hanging out in your living room, but they will not be so memorable.
About a decade ago, my wife and I hired a baby sitter and took our canoe down this river in central Oregon. This was the first time she ever rode on a canoe in moving water, so she was apprehensive about it. Partway down the river, we hit some rapids and dumped the canoe. She about went into panic mode, while I was telling her to relax. (If you are being forced by swift water over boulders, relaxing will keep you from getting banged up as bad.) Eventually, I got the canoe to the shore, and my wife comes out, looking like a drowned kitten. Her first words were “I need a hug”. I couldn’t help but chuckle, and we still chuckle about it from time to time.
Memorable moments need not to cost a lot of money. In fact, large sums of money create possible feelings of stress, even resentment. Days that we spent at the amusement park have been stressful, $7.00 for a cinnamon elephant ear will spoil the mood when you get one. The same will be for expensive equipment, all-terrain vehicles, or other things that will break the bank. Keep it simple. A Frisbee in the park, bicycle ride down a trail, or hike to (or climb up) a rock cliff are excellent ways to spend a Saturday afternoon with the family.
Have a Good Attitude
No matter what you do, the mood of the group will set the tone and the enjoyment everyone has. Some of my better memories with the kids was doing volunteer work, repairing fence for a local church owned beef ranch.
On the contrary, a trip to the Bahamas can stink if you allow yourself to bicker about trivial matters. There is no need to stress about things you can fix because you can fix them. Also, there is no need to stress about things you cannot fix, because stressing about them will not help anyway.
Carry the Spirit with You
Most importantly, do what you can to carry the Spirit in your actions. Maintain a feeling of love, peace, and joy about you.
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. – Matthew 5:15-16
If you live a clean life, show your children that you love them, be that strength, the anchor they need, you will manifest that spirit that Christ referred to. Daniel was like this:
“Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm. – Daniel 6:3
Wives and children (and we) want to feel loved, to feel close with our family. As we put forth that effort, not only will we draw closer together as a family, we will draw closer to Christ.