How do you create better memories for you and your family? Imagine if there was a way that anything you did was instantly burned into your memory as something positive. You’d quickly build up a library of moments that you could treasure for ever.
But the problem is this: you don’t really have much – if any – control over whether your family memories will turn out to be good or bad. Do you?
As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I do believe there are things you can do to enhance your family memories. When I say ‘family memories’ I mean those times that you share together that your kids will grow up remembering and cherishing.
Hopefully you will too.
Why spend time developing happy memories. Is it time well spent or should you be more focused on your kids academic achievements?
Studies have shown that children are capable of recalling events from as young as two-and-a-half years old. And that memory has an important role to play in later development.
A 1994 study in the journal Psychological Science showed that kids whose mothers who used an ‘elaborative’ (think story-telling) style of recalling events and details out performed a more instructional approach.
The take away from this is that if you want to create vivid and lasting memories, you need shared stories and experiences with your kids.
The Curse of the Afterschool Activity
Picture the scene: It’s Monday afternoon.
The school bell rings. You bundle your kids into the car and speed to the dance school to drop Sophia at ballet before challenging the land-speed record across town to the karate dojo for Jack’s grading. You repeat this on Wednesday for acting club and swimming before dropping both off at Sunday school on Friday.
Saturday and Sunday mornings alternate between dance practice and martial arts meets. All the while you feel more and more stressed, not to mention exhausted.
What if you cut all, or at least some, of it out. I remember asking a fellow Dad what he was doing at the weekend. He sighed before telling me he was fully booked driving his three daughters to their various social engagements. What a way to live.
That’s not to say that these activities don’t have intrinsic value. But what is the long term gain for your kids? What will their childhood memories be of: A stressed, irritable chauffeur?
Or something else, something better.
Controversially, your attempts to ‘give your kids all the opportunities you never had as a kid‘ might be damaging their future development as well as your relationship with them.
What if there was a better way to fortify your kids for the way ahead? One which would build strong memories while strengthening your relationship at the same time?
The Power of Shared Experiences
In the 1994 psychology study, children who were encouraged to recall shared experiences with their mothers were more likely to develop long lasting memories of those events.
Kids who didn’t have shared experiences to draw on fared much worse.
So what if we ditched some of the after-school activities, where you palm your children off to an instructor for an hour or two, for some shared activities.
Or if you put your smartphone down for an hour and switched the TV to do something together with your kids. Those shared experiences give you something to draw on together when the fun and laughter has subsided.
If the only time you have together is as you moonlight as a taxi driver for their extra-curriculars, maybe it’s time to make a change.
Not All Memories Need to Be Happy
In my recent appearance on the Mark Baxter podcast, we chatted about how some parents’ lives revolve around making sure their kids suffer no form of discomfort whatsoever.
Where does this come from? Perhaps it’s a desire for some parents to make sure their children never have ‘unhappy’ memories. This seems legitimate – bad memories are, well bad.
Or are they?
Going through basic training as an Army reservist was one of the toughest things I’ve done physically and mentally. What got that got me and my platoon through the tough times was this: morale.
Morale in a military sense is hard to pin down but a lot of the time it was shared experiences (particularly hardship) that got us through the sleep deprivation and exhaustion of our final days of training.
We recalled the other times we’d felt the same and joked about how ‘this is nothing’ by comparison.
What does military training have to do with being a kid? Here’s what – I’ve just come back from a short break with my wife and two kids.
It was great – we rented a little wooden hut for two nights. Basic but loads of fun. And the weather was OK-ish.
The holiday made me recall some of my own childhood holiday memories. One stands out – we were in a cottage in the middle of nowhere and it had rained non stop.
One day my parents decided to cancel whatever activity they’d planned and we played Monopoly instead. It was my first time – I lost and probably cried – I was 8 or 9.
But that’s my clearest (and dearest) memory of that holiday – the four of us huddled over the worn game board while we fought over who got to be the dog or the car counter.
That’s a family story and memory I’ll never forget.
Incorporating Active Play
It’s rare that I write a post or go on a podcast without extolling the virtues of outdoor play or exploring the outdoors. In my book ‘A Father’s Mission’ I devoted a whole section to this very subject.
But does active play enhance memory?
A 2010 study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that children in Germany who were fit and exercised regularly had much better memory than inactive kids.
Other studies found that kids who had poor memories could have their ability improved by incorporating exercise and increasing activity.
Which is another reason to make outdoor play and experiencing the outdoors with your kids a priority. I’ve been doing it with mine from an early age – slowly building up the time they can spend outdoors.
The combination of fit, healthy kids, a good diet and shared experiences could well be the holy trinity of child memory formation.
You don’t have to go one a special course or do bushcraft lessons with your kids to be outdoors. Instead, take them for walks, go to the woods or a beach and just have fun – no plans, no programmes. And definitely no iPad.
You will easily be able to create those shared experiences – the memories of which will last a lifetime.
Be a Memory Creator
Did you notice that I used the word ‘create’ in the title. That’s what I want you to do – because it’s what I want to do: to be the creator of memories.
But that creative process must be one you share with your kids and your wife or partner. Not all memories need to be ‘happy’ for them to build character and morale for your family unit.
But you are going to have to put the effort in – effort that goes beyond driving your kids to bridge club or Kabaddi training.
Are you ready to pledge with me to become a creator of memories – ones which will stand the test of time?
P.S. My new book ‘A Father’s Mission’ is out soon. If you want more details and news, sign up here for my newsletter.