My family just got home from a trip to Disney World. This picture from The Magic Kingdom is of my wife Ashley, our four young sons and my amazing parents who were brave enough to make the journey with us and help us keep track of the kids. As you can see from the picture, we wore bright, matching tee shirts which might seem tacky, but they actually helped us keep track of each other quite a bit in the crowded parks. Besides, we’re all a little bit redneck, so “tacky” is sort of a family tradition!
In the aftermath of the trip, I’m a little sunburned, financially strapped (considering the price of everything, I think Mickey Mouse might actually work for the Mafia) and physically exhausted, but we also made some great memories and learned some important lessons. The volume and frequency of our toddler screaming may have also given me a mild case of PTSD. Ironically, “The Happiest Place on Earth” had our kids screaming and crying quite a bit, but thankfully, there were some beautiful moments as well.
Here are four unexpected parenting lessons we learned on the trip. Considering the price of Disney World, these parenting lessons were VERY expensive, but I’m passing them onto you for free!
These principles don’t just apply at theme parks, but are usually true in all other parts of life:
I hate waiting in lines, but I had to do it a LOT this week. Lines at Disney Land are long and hot (and I found out the hard way that not everyone wears deodorant), but some of the best conversations I had all week came in those times of waiting. In parenting, we tend to focus so much on the “destination” that we’re prone to miss out on the beautiful moments that happen in the mundane times of waiting. Look for moments all along the way to bond and laugh and learn while you’re waiting. The “main attraction” you’re waiting for is really just the icing on the cake.
2. Instead of getting stressed, you sometimes need to “Let it Go” (sorry, I couldn’t resist)!
Yes, the iconic song from Frozen has some truth. I had a well-planned out itinerary mapping out each day of the trip, and almost none of my actual plans came to pass. I tend to get really frustrated when I make plans and then life happens and my plans get interrupted, but if we’re too rigid in our itineraries, we will miss out on the beautiful moments that “Plan B” can bring. There’s no fun without flexibility. Instead of getting all bent out of shape, sometimes we need to “let it go”.
3. More stuff doesn’t make kids happier.
My kids asked for lots of stuff this week, and even though we said “no” with regularity, they still got an awful lot of overpriced ice cream and souvenirs. Those trinkets brought very temporary happiness, but almost immediately, they were looking to the next thing. Teaching our kids the joy of contentment isn’t the result of giving them more stuff, but rather, in modeling for power of thankfulness with what we already have. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way, and the greatest gifts we can give them don’t have a price tag.
4. “Magical” memories are made in unexpected ways.
Your kids are making memories, but they rarely happen how or when you would expect. Keep laughing together, loving them and creating memorable moments along the way, and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go perfectly. Kids aren’t looking for perfection; they’re just looking for more of us. Our kids don’t need more of our “presents,” they need more of our “presence.”