For the third year in a row, my family dragged me, kicking and screaming, to a small camp that our church puts on each Memorial Day for Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders and their families. Each year I try to weasel my way out of it. I make every excuse in the book, but my youngest is headed into kindergarten next year, and there was no way she was going to let me off the hook.
So, Saturday morning we packed the van for the 1 hour drive to rural Colcord, Oklahoma, to New Life Ranch. Even though I had been two years in a row and knew I would have a great time, I couldn’t help but think about all the things I wouldn’t be able to do that weekend: projects around the house, writing my weekly post for ReadyAimLife, working on a couple of side projects. On top of that, I was leaving behind a major hard drive upgrade that was taking place over the weekend at work. I didn’t really need to be there for the upgrade, but if something went wrong it would take a while to get in touch with me.
Despite all this, I knew we’d have a great time during the camp. How’d I know that? Because I knew there were three things that were conspiring to virtually insure that this weekend would be a memorable time for our family. Keep reading and you’ll see why.
Remove the Distractions
During the drive to camp, my wife and I were both on our cell phones making the last minute phone calls we knew we soon wouldn’t be able to make. See, there’s no cell phone reception at this camp. I’m not talking about just 1 or 2 bars on the phone. I’m talking about absolutely no reception. As we descended the hill into the valley where the camp is located, we watched the bars on our phone disappear. Apparently, AT&T’s “more bars in more places” slogan doesn’t apply to Colcord, OK. Not only was there no cell phone reception, there was no TV, internet, or video games, either.
Without the normal distractions of life to get in the way, we were free to focus on our family. Since we got back I’ve noticed how most of my interactions with my kids take place when I’m on the internet, watching TV, or messing with the phone. So one thing I’m going to start doing more often is: turn off the TV, put away the computer and the phone, and give undivided attention to my kids.
Make a Plan
Another thing about the weekend that set us up for some serious family fun was that we actually had a schedule of activities. It was in black and white on the back of the nametag we were given at check-in. There was time scheduled for games, time scheduled for a hayride, even time set aside for a square dance (which was surprisingly fun). And there was even a huge block of time scheduled each day for “family time” where we could do anything we wanted.
Now many of you may be thinking that scheduling “fun” activities sounds like the fun is probably stripped out of the activity. Where’s the room for spontaneity? You’re right, we should leave room to make it up as we go, but what I’ve found is that most of the time — even when I’m planning on doing something fun with the kids — unless I’m specific about what we’re doing I’ll get distracted with other tasks before we get to do the “fun” thing.
In order to plan some fun activities for the summer, our family has made a huge list of things we want to do. Big things and little things, we’ve got a running list of 15-20 activities we want to do this summer. Everything from visiting the zoo to spending the night with grandparents to going fishing — it’s all on the list. We don’t set a specific schedule, but we just try to do a few things on the list each week. Last year, we finished all but a couple of items and had a blast doing it.
Plenty of Time
The last thing that enabled us to have a great weekend is that we had plenty of time together. We weren’t trying to squeeze family time in between dinner and the next episode of The Office. You know what its like: you plan on spending quality time with the family, but when you really look at it, you’ve only got 15 minutes before the kids bed time.
We had 2 full days at New Life Ranch — more than enough time to focus on spending quality time with our kids. It doesn’t have to be that much time, but it does need to be a long enough period that we can actually enjoy it without constantly thinking about the next task on the list.
I’ll admit I’ve done it before — constantly checking my watch while playing a game with the kids because I really don’t have enough time to commit to them.
So one thing I want to do this summer is to make sure I’m setting aside an appropriate length of time to focus on my family. Ten minutes here and there won’t cut it. It doesn’t require 6 hours either. Just a concentrated hour or two without distractions will mean the world to your kids.
That’s it — three things that made for the perfect weekend for the Primm family over Memorial day. I learned a lot about what I need to do in the future to make sure my family has the quality, fun time together that we all crave. I also learned to square dance, so watch out!
Greg Primm is working on figuring it out. Somewhere among a busy family life, demanding job, and too many home improvement projects, you’ll find Greg writing about life. By day he works as a CFO of a startup company. By night he writes for ReadyAimLife.com. He lives with his wife and two young daughters in Rogers, Arkansas.