This past summer, my family made an epic road trip covering 16 states in two weeks. Ashley and I loaded up our four sons (ages 12, 10, 5 and 2) into a smelly minivan and embarked on a cross-country trek that hit multiple National Parks and logged over 5,000 miles by the time we were finished.
As you can imagine, there was LOTS of complaining along the way, BUT there was a lot of laughter too. It was exhausting and stressful and AWESOME. We made a ton of memories that will last a lifetime, and the whole experience caused me to think a lot about my own childhood and the memories that will really endure for my own kids.
As parents, we tend to stress about things that don’t matter all that much. Our kids probably aren’t going to remember every detail of our home decor, or how perfect our landscaping looked or whether our refrigerator was stocked with name brands or generics. Let’s focus on what really matters.
Because this is what your kids will really remember about you.
Here are the seven things your kids will most likely remember about you (in no particular order):
1. The times you gave them the courage to try something new.
Childhood is an endless cycle of stretching and breaking outside of a comfort zone. Each time you hold their hand and give them the courage to take a new step, it gives them new confidence and it also gives them a new memory that will last. Helping them play a sport for the first time, or stand on a stage to sing a song, or do anything that they once thought they could “never” do, isn’t just building their resume; it’s building their confidence and their memories.
#2 is so important, but we’ve all lost sight of it at times...
2. The times you taught by example and not just words.
Kids are always learning, but as parents, we don’t always realize that we’re always teaching them something. They won’t always remember what you say, but they’re paying VERY close attention to what you do. When your words line up with your actions, they’ll remember. When your words are inconsistent with your actions, they’ll remember. When you blow it (like we all do) and you apologize and use your own imperfections as a teaching moment, they’ll remember.
#3 is one of the most important responsibilities of every parent…
3. The times you made them feel safe (or the times you made them feel unsafe).
There’s a vulnerability and a need for protection in the heart of every child. Your kids will remember those moments you chased the monsters from under their bed or held them after a nightmare, but they’ll also remember the times when your temper became the monster they feared. Our kids are probably going to see us angry sometimes, because that’s part of life, but make it your mission to make your children feel safe and secure at all times when they’re with you.
#4 is an important reminder for me every day...
4. The times you made time for them.
Your kids don’t need you to be perfect, but they need you to be present. Children measure love primarily by our attentiveness to them. They need our undivided attention. The times you stop what you’re doing to have a tea party or go outside to throw a ball or jump on a trampoline will be memories etched into their minds and hearts forever. Take the time to do the little things with your kids, because in the end, they’ll be the moments that matter most.
#5 is SO important and it could change your marriage and your family dynamics...
5. The way you interacted with your spouse.
Our kids are forming their views of love in large part by watching how we treat our husband or wife. Strive to have the kind of marriage that makes them excited to get married someday. Give them the security that comes from seeing their Mom and Dad in a committed, loving relationship with each other.
#6 has more power than most parents realize...
6. Your words of affirmation AND your words of criticism.
A child’s heart is like wet cement, and the impression made early in life will harden over time. They’ll base their sense of identity, capability and even self-worth largely upon the words you speak to them in those formative years. Part of our job as parents is to correct and discipline, but even in correction, let your words be full of love, encouragement and positive reinforcement.
#7 is one of the biggest legacies that could extend to your children’s future children...
7. Your family traditions.
Kids love spontaneity, but they also have a deep need for predictability. They’ll remember with great fondness the “traditions” you establish, whether it’s a weekly family movie (or game) night, a place you regularly travel for family getaways, the way you celebrate birthdays and special events or any other special tradition. Be intentional about creating some traditions that they’ll want to pass onto their own children someday.
For more tools to help you build a happy and healthy family, check out our new website at DaveAndAshleyWillis.com
This article originally appeared here, published with permission.