Have you ever sat down and planned out a great family fun day, where to go, what to eat, activities to do or attractions to see–maybe even already bought the tickets!–And then it rains? Or someone gets hurt right before you leave? Or the car breaks down? Or the toddler has a meltdown? (Or in our case, the teenager…and how did we get here?!)
And suddenly your great family day is ruined, right?
Nope. It doesn’t have to be.
I can’t name the times we’ve had family plans and something has gone awry. It seems like the harder I try to plan good things, the more work the Devil puts into unraveling them.
Sometimes it’s just little things. We hike and camp a lot as a family and I can’t tell you the number of times it started out beautiful and sunny and then poured down rain on us. Wet food, wet clothes, stinky wet dogs…so. many. times.
And sometimes it’s bigger things. Like the time we were hauling animals to a special event and I got head-butted by a calf while loading up. Instead of being a fair all day, Mr. Fix-It and our crew (3 under 6 at the time!) had to spend the day in the ER waiting room while I got stitches.
There are a couple of key things we can do to redeem those difficult moments. We can take those trials and challenges and weave them into our family history with power and grace.
Stay Calm and Resolve Any Dangers
Exposed in a lightning storm or broke down on the side of the highway is no place for yelling, arguing, or siblings squabbles. Safety comes first. Whether that means shelter from a storm, making calls for a tow truck, or leaving an event because of a Special Needs meltdown, everyone’s well-being comes first.
If you lose your cool when things don’t go right, then don’t be surprised to see the whole family’s tone deteriorate. Bickering, complaining, and even disobedience will only increase if a parent is contributing harshness or sarcasm to the situation. You need a clear head to determine the safest course of action.
Laugh and Let it Go
Oh, this can be so hard! You worked for days to make plans, laid out clothes, packed snacks, brought the favorite stuffed animal, hauled out the giant double stroller, paid for tickets…it doesn’t feel funny at all!
Laughter is the best medicine. Sometimes you can’t bring yourself to actually laugh out loud. Sometimes in the moment a chuckle or a giggle would be out of place or offensive. But you can definitely set your mind to looking on the positive side. Let go of what you expected and embrace what it is.
Be the first one to laugh about the water squirting out of your shoes. or the makeup running down your face, or someone losing a shoe at the zoo.
Point out Your Blessings
Make everyone take a moment to look at the bright side.
Did the car break down? At least we’re on the side of the road and not in traffic. At least we have a working cell phone. At least we’re all together and we don’t have to wait it out alone. At least we have snacks!
I’m also not above to turning it into a learning and adventure moment. We read a lot of missionary biographies. These are great moments to point out how easy we have it, comparatively, and mention how this adventure might be preparing them for their own work for the Lord one day.
Be Flexible and Adjust Your Plans
Stuck in the car? Sing or recite verses or poetry together. (Or our new fav Audiobooks!!) Rain ruining your outside plans? Have family game time instead. Have to leave an event early? Let them stay up a little later when they get home. Miss something everyone was looking forward to? Write up “rain checks” for a re-try in a few weeks.
As a planner-type personality, marriage and parenting have really stretched me in this area. My family (at least 3/5ths of us) are not planner-types at all! Watching them be in the moment, go with the flow, and adjust on the fly to new things–all stuff that makes me crazy!–has been a good learning experience.
Bad attitudes often accompany trying circumstances. Be sure that you’re modeling grace and forgiveness instead of harshness and frustration. Acknowledge their unhappiness or discomfort. Sympathize with their frustrations and disappointments. Forgive them for a complaining spirit. And ask for them to do better–trying some of the strategies above.
Take Pictures and Make it Part of Your Family Story
Does that sound crazy? We have a lot of pictures of hiking and camping in the rain and freezing cold. Why? Because when you capture the moment and share it later, the grime seems to wipe off and it becomes an adventure, rather than a disaster. It’s not uncommon to hear one of us say “wait till we tell Mimi/Grandpa/Ciocia about this!” in the middle of some family “crisis.” Use these moments to teach your children the art of dramatic story-telling (with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!). And the more often you do this, the more it becomes part of your family culture too see an ADVENTURE instead of a PROBLEM.
As parents, we have to remember that our kiddos are watching us. Life is a lot of ups and downs, and when the family comes to a downer they’re looking at us to learn how to handle it. I wish I could say we follow these points and we don’t have “family time gone wrong” situations. That’s just not true. These are the lessons we’ve learned from messing up and compounding a bad situation into something worse.
But the good news is, we’ve gotten better at it! We laugh about doing things that no one else would even want to try. We have a bulletin board full of pictures to remind us that we survived. And we’re always ready for the next family adventure together!