I cannot recall when exactly it happened. One day I looked up and it was simply what our family did, this magnetic draw reconnecting us after a weary week. The sun would rise on Saturday soil, and we woke to find the day ripe for memory making.
Our first year of Saturday Family Dates adopted a backdrop of farmers’ markets, brunches out in the city, and walks along the river. It’s a quaint picture, looking back six years and three kids ago, to our firstborn grinning from the stroller as we walked through rows of fresh produce and bouquets of sunflowers the size of his face. As we have added one, then two, and now three more children to our crew, our family dates have changed in shape and form. Outnumbered now by two children, my husband and I have adapted these dates to fit within our seasons, because we know that these days are numbered.
With only 936 Saturdays between the birth of a child and their eighteenth birthday, we don’t want to squander a single one. We know we cannot allow the often-chaotic reality of our weeks to push these dates to the margins. When we view our kids’ childhoods through this lens of 936 weeks, our Saturdays stop bleeding together, one into the next at alarming pace. Picturing them this way, they are no longer a blur at the end of the week, but a clear opportunity to invest in what matters most.
In my book, 936 Pennies: Discovering the Joy of Intentional Parenting, I share, “We get one chance at these 936 weeks. Many of us, myself included, have fallen prey to the lies that we’re told as parents: We can’t control time. It will always go by too fast. We can’t slow it down. But we do have the power to control time, and we must—for the sake of our child and our relationship with them; in the name of legacy and memories and a childhood marked by love and laughter and meaning and grace.”
Not every family date is picture-book perfect. Many have flaws. Among kite festivals and family hikes and slow mornings over hot cups of coffee and French beignets, there have also been many mornings with fussy babies, rained-out plans, and unmet expectations. But every time we show up together, we win. As our life and family have grown and changed and transitioned, these regular dates have acted as glue sealing us together. Here are a few things my family has learned over the past few years of dating each other, through both trial and error:
Keep It Flexible
Some weeks our “Saturday” dates land on a Wednesday, sometimes we pack a cooler full of food and head out for an entire day up in the mountains, other times we stop by the coffee drive-thru and head to the park for an hour. Sometimes we come home feeling refreshed, other times we come home to a messy house and kids who missed naptimes. We have had near-perfect mornings, and mornings like the one where we woke the children at five A.M. to go watch a hot air balloon launch, only to drive to the wrong park and miss the entire event. But every single time we come home without regrets. Time spent together as a family is never wasted. Messy, sometimes, but never wasted. That Missed Hot-Air Balloon Mess turned into a delicious brunch in the city and walk through the park.
Each of our families has a unique story. For some families, Saturday mornings are perfect for claiming a few hours for together time. For other families, it might look like ice cream together after Tuesday evening ball practice, or a picnic at the park after church each Sunday. The important thing is that these dates are every week, because we only get 936 chances, 936 opportunities to sow memories into our kids’ childhoods.
Keep It Simple
If we do make a plan, we hold it loosely, often not even mentioning it to our children just in case a plan does not pan out, or we find something else we would rather stop to explore.
Our favorite family dates have been quite spontaneous. “Drive until you find something interesting” has been one of our family’s mottos for a few years now. Oftentimes we load the car with kids and food, and we drive until we find something begging to be explored. Sometimes it’s a local family festival, other times it’s a nature preserve, or a new coffee shop with a playset outside for the kids.
I learned quickly to pack more food than I think we will need. There was one morning in particular that began with my husband telling me that he was going to go grab us a couple cups of coffee. “Why don’t we all go?” I suggested. We did not return home until ten hours later, after a full day of exploring. The date days that do end up full are never a result of elaborate planning, but rather that we were having too much fun together to head home.
Keep It Consistent
Although your family dates might be written into different days of the week, the important thing is that they happen weekly. We all have two hours somewhere within our week that we can claim and safeguard for family date time. This is the most important piece of our family dates. They are a consistent coming-together that binds us together in ways that create a legacy. In 936 weeks, when our children are grown, we’ll be able to look back on this underlying theme of our family’s story, and know that we spent the time well.
Here are some of our favorite family date outings:
- A trip to the farmers’ market, everyone can pick out a treat to enjoy in the grass together
- Lunchtime picnics on a weekend, or dinnertime picnics on weekdays as the sun sets
- A walk through a local natural area
- Embark on a family hike
- Look up area family festivals, choose a couple to visit during the summer and write them onto your calendar (but remember, hold the plan loosely)
- A family drive listening to an audiobook, and looking for something interesting to stop and explore
- Look up a local bakery to visit for some treats
- Go hunt down a geocache (www.geocaching.com)
- Set out on a family bike ride
As a family, your story develops and changes from season to season. A new baby, a new job, a big move, or other life changes whether positive or negative, can shake up your schedule. Keeping consistent family dates on the calendar serves as a strong foundation for your family as you reconnect on a regular basis. Whether it’s over warm treats at the local bakery, throwing pebbles into a nearby stream, or a picnic in the green grass, being intentional about these dates is one of the best ways we can safeguard our family and create a legacy that will stand strong even beyond our 936 weeks together.
Eryn Lynum is author of 936 Pennies: Discovering the Joy of Intentional Parenting. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and four children, where they spend their time hiking, camping, and exploring the Rocky Mountains. She loves to travel and share at conferences, churches, and writers’ groups. But every opportunity she gets, she is out exploring God’s creation with her family, and sharing the journey at www.936Pennies.com