Are you, like me, your family's Cruise Director?
I used to think this job description only applied when they were younger. But I've realized recently how much more important the job is now that my kids have one foot out the door. If I didn't plan ahead and inform them that participation is mandatory it would never happen.
My own parents pretty much gave up on the concept of Family Time when my sister and I became teenagers. I can understand why.
My kids grumble and complain. They recite a hundred reasons why it won't work for them. "I can't get off work for a whole weekend." "I have too much homework." "I have my own life too, you know." I've heard it all.
But as I saw us scattering in several different directions a few years ago, I realized that the days we have left for Family Time are numbered. I decided then not to listen to their objections. For any and all excuses they throw my way, I counter with only this: Make it Work.
My goal is not to make them miserable. It's to make memories. Maybe if I was still married it wouldn't be so important to me; maybe I'd be relishing the couple-alone time after all that parenting.
But I've found that by enforcing Mandatory Family Time, my jaded older kids wind up having a blast. Whisked away from their outside lives and personas, old sibling alliances are rekindled, and new ones have a chance to ignite.
Well worn family jokes resurface, although we inevitably wind up with new zingers for the memory book. Like the time Daughter #2 innocently read aloud a sign on a Florida highway as we drove by: Hooters, where everyone gets their own cheerleader. She was about 12 and had no idea what Hooters was. But her 16 and 19 year-old siblings did, and that line is now a family classic.
The idea is simple: Keep it brief. A long weekend may work better than a week for a mini family vacation.
Don't overschedule: I'm planning a mandatory hike up-island for the day after Thanksgiving this year. If the weather tanks, I have a DVD as backup. But I would never try both for the same day when they're only here a couple of days.
Don't ban technology: You can't fight City Hall but do use your discretion. I allow computers and cell phones. But only during down-time or at the end of the day, not in the middle of a car ride through the rain forrest in Puerto Rico.
It's important to remember that they will complain about being forced to spend time with the family. It's pretty much their job. Check your sensitivity at the door. Last summer, my kids kvetched right up until we left for our long weekend in New Jersey. Yet they're still talking about how much fun they had.
In fact, since realizing these family "adventures" aren't going away, they've taken to emailing me links for possible things to do and places to go. We booked the hotel for our mini ski vacation this year based on a suggestion from Daughter #1.
One day maybe not too far off I'm looking forward to handing off the mantle of Cruise Director to them. Then all I'll need to do is go along for the ride.
Do you think, when that day comes, they'll get the joke if I show up with my arms folded, cell phone in hand, eyes rolling belligerently? Nah, I wouldn't really do that. Someone's got to at least pretend to be the mature one, right?