This past weekend we took the whole family to check out The Great Wolf Lodge. We did water slides, the wave pool, a buffet dinner, and donuts in the hotel room. It dawned on us that this was the first time in nearly two years that we had all gone somewhere as a family. My wife and I have both had a couple getaways for work and church, but not all five of us together. We’ve been busy moving and potty training, but have we used that as an excuse? It got me thinking about how quickly the kids are growing up. What are we filling these formative years with, and what is that teaching them?
What We Do Versus What We Have
Looking back on the memories I have of my childhood, some of the best ones are of doing things. That could be going on vacation, but it’s also visiting new places, and going on adventures. I don’t have a lot of memories of sitting on the couch watching TV. I remember having birthday parties, but I hardly remember any of the presents. Are experiences greater than material items, memories are greater than things, and it’s that simple?
We talk about materialism quite a bit, and how we use buying things to make ourselves happy. If I just had that new car, or the latest tech gadget, then I’d finally be happy! I’m very familiar with that feeling of building something up in your head, only to be letdown when it doesn’t bring us the life fulfillment we thought it would. That’s not to say things are bad, but we need to consider the reasons we want something.
So should we prioritize doing things over buying things? Many things we want to do cost money, so the amount of things we can do is just as limited as the things we can buy. It’s easy to turn vacations into an idol, where life is simply a countdown between trips. That’s no different than pining after something new and shiny, but instead of having something physical to show for your money, you have memories instead.
It’s OK to buy things, as long as we don’t let it consume us. It’s OK to do things, as long as our life doesn’t revolve around those moments.
More Than Memories
I hesitate to say that experience is more valuable than buying things, because we can turn doing things into an idol that resembles materialism. I also don’t want to put “memories” on a pedestal and make that our priority (Total Recall!). Instead, I think there is value in making memories beyond simply having them to think about later.
There are two different ways our kids remember things. They remember the concrete experience, like conquering that epic water slide, or getting to pick whatever food they wanted for dinner. These are scrapbook memories. They readily come back to us when we stop and think about a trip.
The second kind of memory is far more important, but also much more difficult to remember. These memories are formative. Did you grow up in a loving family? What does your family value? How do a mom and a dad treat each other? This gets picked up daily, but when we do things and build new memories, I think we have a special opportunity to impact our children, and their perception of family.
What Do I Want Them To Remember?
When it’s about why we’re doing something and not just what we’re doing, it removes the pressure to plan a special outing. They might remember where you go or what you do, but above all else, they will remember how they felt. When you take them to the park, they’ll remember that mom and dad liked spending time with them. When you let them pick where to eat for dinner, they’ll remember that their opinions mattered to you.
These aren’t just memory building opportunities for the sake of building memories, but moments in which we can form their character, their perception of a family, and what it means to go out and do life with those that you love. If your fancy Hawaiian vacation is filled with nothing but bickering and fighting, they’ll have memories of being in Hawaii, but with a family that didn’t love each other.
Experiences have a greater potential to be life changing than material items, and that realization changes my priorities. We need to play more games, go places, and have adventures. We need this not simply for the memories, but for the life changing effect those experiences can have on our families.