robin gurseby Robin Gurse

Last week, I drove myself to the only home I’ve ever known as a kid and adult. The house now belongs to my niece, and I’m coming to water the lawns and her plants while she’s out of town. I open the back gate and am not prepared for what I see. For what I “see” is my childhood. I burst out crying, uncontrollably.

A flood of happy memories courses through my brain. Here are my parents, sister, brother, and me preparing for company: vacuuming and dusting the house (where, after dinner, we will push back living room chairs, turn on the phonograph, and folk dance; where I will feel happy and proud watching my parents dance a sexy tango; and where I will feel special dancing the polka with my father). Here is my brother helping our father water and wipe down the tables and benches, my sister and me setting the tables.

Here also is my father expertly grilling steak, hamburgers, or salmon. Here are my mother and I–flushed with pride and an afternoon of intimacy through cooking–delivering the fruits of our hours of labor. The recipes changed over the years, the groups rotated–family, bridge players, folk dancers–but the memories of family closeness, delicious meals, family pride, family cooperation, and creativity remain and come rushing back along with the pain of loss–all in the instant of opening a gate.

These were some of the happy memories that made such a deep influence on my psyche and for which I am so grateful to my parents and siblings.

Create Your Own Memorable Memories

What memories are you creating that your children will remember feeling blessed and proud to be a part of your family? Does your family participate in sports, the outdoors, fine arts, or video games? What do you already do to incorporate into the fabric of your daily, weekly, or monthly schedule to nourish your children’s–and your–interests, talents, and passions?

Here’s an idea for how you can create memorable times where you will (1) bring the family closer together; (2) have fun; and (3) enjoy being appreciated.

Gather your family together and explain you’re going to play “Family Activity” (or make up your own title). Rule #1: Everyone takes a turn and everyone participates. Instructions: Each person writes down on a piece of paper one activity they’d like the entire family to take part in. For your little ones, ask them for their idea and write it down. Fold the papers and put them into a baggie or box.

Once a week, someone selects one of the pieces of paper.
Whatever the idea is, you make sure that this becomes the Family Activity and put it on the family calendar. As parents, you have the responsibility to set the parameters: how much money, time, and gas can be spent, for example. If the initial idea doesn’t meet your parameters (“Let’s all go to Disneyland!”; “Let’s learn 3 new songs and sing them to Grandma and Grandpa!”), discuss alternative ways to get the same results. You may need to discuss possible obstacles (one family member may “hate” to sing) and discover solutions.

The person whose idea is chosen then takes on as much planning as he/she is able; you’re there to be of help if they need it. In other words, let them take the ball and run with it. Now for Rule #2: Whoever plans the Family Activity needs to run it by you or your adult partner so you can see if anything crucial has been omitted and ensure that at least on paper, it’s a well-thought-out plan.

On the scheduled day and time, have your Family Activity; remember, everyone participates. There are three crucial steps to include afterwards:

1. Thank your leader for his/her idea and the effort he/she put into creating their Family Activity.
2. Discuss what each of you learned about yourselves and each other.
3. Give your leader a prize. It doesn’t have to be anything big–the rest of the family can decide on the prize, or you and your partner/spouse may want to surprise them.

There are so many benefits in playing the game of Family Activity: practicing healthy risk-taking decisions, increased trust and cooperation, and expressions of love and appreciation. Is there anything that would stop you from giving your family these opportunities?

From Sarah: Robin is a certified Family Coach committed to helping families work together and sort out differences. You can visit her website at

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