Our Family’s Top Ten Things to Do Together

August 13, 2019 by

Nearly two decades ago, as my husband and I were beginning our parenting journey, a wise older couple encouraged us to give our children the gift of time, not things. It’s advice we’ve tried to live by as we raised our three sons.

Now, as we come to terms with an emptying nest – our oldest has just left home to start university, and his seventeen-year-old brother leaves for boarding school soon – I can’t help feeling an unwelcome twinge of sadness as I wonder where the time has gone.

I tell myself that it’s just the changing of a season, that we’ve raised “the boys” so that we can let them go, that everything’s going to be okay – but I know our home and family will never be the same. (And it won’t just be my children’s absence; it will be the oddity of smaller piles of laundry, fewer muddy floors, and diminished pots of bolognaise.) That’s a huge admission from someone who loves change and the unpredictable happenings of life, flexibility and spontaneity. But it is how I feel right now.

Norann and her sons sitting on the hood of a vehicleAuthor with her three sons

That’s why during our last weeks together I deeply treasured every mundane moment that makes a family a family. The straggled rising in the half-light of dawn, hugs over the morning coffee, our breakfast prayer. The way my six-foot-tall teens come in from work with metal filings on their shirts and grease on their hands, and hover around my kitchen for a taste and a chat, and for laughter over the dish sink.

They will always be my sons, of course. Yet I marvel at how, as they enter adulthood, they seem unaware that they are assuming new roles as protectors and encouragers, organizers and comforters.

Here’s to making memories with time, not things.

On a whim, I asked my sons to make me a list of their ten favorite family activities, without consulting each other. There was so much crossover on the three lists that I’ve distilled them into one. I’m sharing it here, not as a trip down memory lane, but because I know there are countless other families the world over who are wrapping up vacation time with their kids and embarking on new adventures. And I’d love it if this list inspires even one family at the beginning of the journey – where we were, nineteen years ago. Yesterday.

There is, of course, no such thing as a model family. Unsurprisingly, my husband and I have made plenty of mistakes as parents and as human beings, and we know we will continue to need grace and forgiveness in spades in the future. But the items on this list don’t require perfection or exceptional talent. Rather, they are examples of everyday, simple things we parents can do, starting when our children are newborns. They are the gifts our time creates. They are the mundane, sacred spaces carved out intentionally around campfires, under stars, on couches with books, around dinner tables with food.

Our Family’s Top Ten Things to Do Together

  1. Reading aloud
  2. Outdoor activities (fishing, hunting, picnics)
  3. Eating together in the evening
  4. Regular family campfires
  5. Having friends come over often, for food and campfires, sport and stories
  6. Family karaoke and sing-alongs
  7. Saying “I love you” and “I’m sorry” and giving hugs
  8. Playing basketball, football, and other sports with Dad and siblings
  9. Catching yabbies (Australian freshwater crayfish), raising rabbits, having pets (cats, kittens, a dog) all the time
  10. Sitting together on Mom and Dad’s bed and chatting, discussing problems, hearing about their childhood and adolescent escapades, looking forward to the future

As I read through the lists my children compiled and note the simple similarities, I give thanks for the gift of being allowed to parent, however clumsily, these three particular sons. I give thanks for all their mentors and ours. I look through their lists and laugh, remember, and feel immense gratitude.

Here’s to making memories with time, not things.

Follow Norann on Twitter at @NorannV.


About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • Thank you, Auntie Rachel, for your encouragement about my children and for that beautiful memory of Grandpa Arnold. He served tea and chatted with us grandchildren, too, until he could serve us no longer. Then we had the privilege to make the tea for him. I remember him and Grandma Gladys every time I make tea "the right way." These tiny moments of service and love will stay with me forever.

    Norann Voll
  • Thank you, Sally, for sharing that beautiful memory about your daughter. Singing is a powerful connection that never fades.

    Norann Voll
  • Thank you so much, Razia!

    Norann Voll
  • Lovely article.

  • What a wonderful reminder that it is the small things our kids remember. My daughter told me, as she was recovering from surgery, that she could remember my voice as I sang her to sleep when she was little. I treasure that.

    Sally Gates
  • You will never really loose them. They will always be an important part of your. And you will surely be with them over and over as I am with my sons. As you started this piece I was reminded of my Dad your grandfather ,how he would love to stand and serve tea for each of us then sit around and talk. I would love a reply from you.Rachel

    Rachel Burger