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capacity, Children, expectations, experiences, Family, Jen Coursey, Joy, Parenting, pressure, Relationships, sick, travel, vacation

Last weekend we had plans to get away on a fun, much-anticipated trip as a family because our sons had an extended weekend from school. We were going to visit some family and friends, then travel to our favorite places in northern Michigan.

A few days before we intended to leave, I received a call from the school saying, “Andrew is in the office. He’s not feeling well, and he has a fever. Can you come pick him up?” I picked up my patient, brought him home, then settled him in for a nap. (I knew he was sick because he couldn’t wait to climb into bed—poor baby!) Later that day, my other son, Matthew, came down with a fever. I watched as our plans for the exciting weekend began to fall apart and wondered whether we would be healthy enough to go.

As the week progressed, Matthew recovered relatively quickly, but by Thursday morning, Andrew still was pretty sick and did not return to school. Even though his fever was gone, he spent all morning in bed. Chris and I were also feeling tired and a bit run down. We wondered whether we were fighting the same bug. We were scheduled to leave the following morning for our fun, family weekend, but things were looking doubtful, at best!

Chris and I knew we needed to make the decision that day about our trip. We took some time to talk and pray, then we decided to change our plans for the weekend. We knew the kids would be disappointed, so we can up with an alternative plan.

We decided to have a “staycation” weekend with the kids. We knew we would all sleep better in our own beds, and there are plenty of fun things to do in our hometown. This decision allowed us the flexibility to rest when we needed to rest and to have fun as our energy and capacity allowed.

The boys were very excited as we told them we would pick one fun “family activity” each day, and we would eat out at least one meal a day at a place they like.  The weekend turned out to be perfect! Both boys were feeling well enough to enjoy it, and Chris was able to rest when needed and participate as he had the energy. We enjoyed some of our favorite activities around town, we ate at our favorite restaurants, and we enjoyed some beautiful weather for our outdoor activities!

While we had been eagerly anticipating the time away with the opportunity to enjoy some of our favorite places out of town, this new solution kept us within our family’s capacity so we could enjoy the fun and build joyful memories as our stamina allowed. In contrast to the exhaustion and grumpiness that surely would have come with “pushing through” to accomplish our plans, at the end of the weekend we all felt joyful, refreshed, and energized. It was just what the doctor ordered.

When it comes to our vacation and travel plans, we tend to prioritize relationships over experiences. Sometimes this means if we have the opportunity to visit friends and family, we will give this priority over a trip we might do for the sake of an experience. For instance, rather than go to Disney or some other big destination over our recent spring break, we took a trip to Denver to visit family and friends and to be together for one of Chris’ speaking events. Even though the point of the trip was the relationships and experiences with friends, on these trips we often have opportunities to do something fun and special with our hosts, and this creates special memories we will cherish for a lifetime.

At other times, prioritizing relationships over experiences means we adjust our travel plans—like we did this past weekend. If our fun plans exceed our capacity to participate joyfully as a family, we will adjust accordingly. When we do alter our plans, sometimes this means missing out on something we would have enjoyed—or that would have been memorable. In those moments, we recognize something important—while pushing through everyone’s capacity may make for a memorable moment, the memories will likely also include grumping at each other as well as multiple memorable meltdowns. We tend to choose experiences that better fit our current physical/emotional/mental capacity over those that may be a blast but will exceed our capacity.

In our culture, it seems an immense amount of pressure is on us as parents to give our children all of the “experiences” their peers have. We feel that children are somehow deprived if we don’t hit all the highlights of the big-name experiences. While there is nothing wrong with giving our children special, memorable experiences, we increase joy and satisfaction levels if we aim to keep capacity in mind. In this way, our family fun memories will be much more likely to include joyful moments rather than grumping, yelling, and meltdown moments.

This week, see if you can notice when you are “pushing through” something and what the results are. Does it bring you joy? Is it building meaningful moments together? Try giving yourself permission to pause instead of pushing through, and notice the difference. This might be skipping an evening school activity because someone missed their nap today and is melting down, or it might mean taking a “stay-at-home day” over the weekend in order to be together as a family, rather than running from one thing to the next.

The ideal, of course, are experiences that can be carried out relationally. But the joy of good relational time is more deeply satisfying and strengthening to your child and your family than any experience done for its own sake. Don’t be guilted into pushing past your and your children’s capacity for the sake of experiences. You are a good parent for who you are and how you love your children, not for yielding to pressure to cram in everything you or they might want to do.


Posted in Parenting

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  1. Nik Harrang

    This is a great concept to keep in mind! My desire is to “get out” and do fun things as a family, but it is so helpful to keep everyone’s capacity in mind as we aim for truly joyful and satisfying time together. Thanks!

    • Jen Coursey

      Me too and it is hard to choose to skip or shorten something to respect capacity. I ran into that decision again this weekend and it was hard to choose not to push through!

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