How Disney World Improved My Parenting

This post is the reason I love to have a blog. Because a thought, for me, does not remain in my head unless it is expressed in some way—verbally or written. And because writing out an essay for the sake of making the thought stick, but then throwing the essay away, doesn’t feel quite write. So this post is for me, to make these thoughts stick. Read it if you want, but I’m not trying to talk to anyone but myself.

We took our girls (5, 4, and 20 months) to Disney World a few weeks ago. We had a great time. I learned some things about myself, and about us as a family, that I want to remember.

1. Don’t start the baby out on the Winnie the Pooh ride. That was surprisingly intense.

2. Keep the girls in the loop. They get easily frustrated when they’re being dragged across the concrete park at a brisk pace so we can get in a 20-minute line and you still haven’t explained what we’re doing it for. (Wouldn’t you, too?) They don’t understand why there is a line to get in another line to get in another line when you’re going through security and entering the park. (YOU don’t understand it, either.) They don’t understand why the adults have suddenly stopped in a crowded lane to discuss what to do next: only that it is crowded and they are hot and why did we stop walking? (I feel this way in traffic: WHY ARE WE STOPPING THERE IS NOTHING HERE.)

So, get down on their level, explain what Mommy and Daddy are discussing, and tell them what to expect next. Give them a granola bar. When plans change, drop down to their level and explain that to them. It really helps.

3. Avoid Magic Kingdom on Monday. Everyone had the same idea to hit that park first.

4. You know how you’re so tired all the time, and you feel like you’re constantly parenting in survival mode because you’re just. so. tired? So you snap at the kids instead of going over to intervene in a more helpful way, and you should plan some structure but you don’t have the energy, and you get started too late and shuffle them off to bed with a sigh of relief?

Well, at Disney World, you were totally zonked. You were out of your mind tired. Not only were you still parenting three small sleep-deprived people in a crowded, hot environment, but you were waking up earlier than usual and walking all the live-long day.

But girl, you were still able to parent well, because you cared so much that the trip would be a special memory.

So you got down on their level to talk to them during their meltdowns instead of snapping at them, and you planned your day around them instead of around your own felt need for rest, and you enthusiastically interacted with them–instead of starting your parenting day already anticipating your next break. When something didn’t work, you strategized about how it could have gone better so we could enjoy ourselves more the next time it came up.

I am emphatically against working to make every day of my children’s lives magical. For one, it’s an impossible, guilt-inducing standard; for another, childhood has enough inherent magic on its own that my artificial forcing of it would only diminish the real magic. But I think that, in my rejection of that impossible standard, I erred on the other extreme. Trying to help your kids ENJOY their days is a worthy aim, and makes your day enjoyable, too.

That day at the Animal Kingdom when it was rainy and cold and we were all wearing torn ponchos, and the 20-month-old was having scary-looking hives from an allergic reaction, and the 5-year-old was tired and grouchy and didn’t particularly like the show we took her to at the beginning of the day specifically because we thought she would love it? You could have blown up or phoned it in or mentally given up on the rest of the day like you often do at home. But you didn’t want them to remember you blowing up or checking out. You wanted this to be a good memory.

The day turned around, not when you chided the five-year-old, not when you gave them a snack, and not when it stopped raining. It turned around when you joined that dance party. It came not from rushing to the next activity, but trying to think about what would serve them. It came not from you telling THEM to join, but from you joining WITH them, even BEFORE them. It came from you not getting frustrated when they didn’t want to participate at first, but you being the first to jump in and coax them to follow. It came from being gentle with them, from carrying the four-year-old when she was too cowed by Baloo to dance herself, from cheering them on when they were brave, from going up to a character with them when they were too nervous to approach by themselves. You tried all you could, you sacrificed your “dignity” and your annoyance at how things were going, to create a special moment for them. That was the turnaround, and that was the memory we’ll all keep. You will keep it forever (do you remember how emotional you were when you wrote this?).

I wanted Disney World to be a special memory for us. I didn’t want to ruin it with my selfishness, so I overcame my tiredness to show my kids a better way. All that said… Isn’t my desire that my home be a place even more attractive and special to them than Disney World?

It is, and it’s more important that home be such a place. Tedd Tripp writes, “Young people generally do not run from places where they are loved and know unconditional acceptance. They do not run away from homes where there are solid relationships. They do not run from homes in which the family is planning activities and doing exciting things” (194). That’s what you want your home to be! How much more important is it to press in when things are rough at home? You were tired at Disney World, too, but you were motivated to make those memories. Be motivated here!

5. Emphasize gratitude. When something good happens, like a fortuitously short line or a show on the street that begins just as you are passing, point it out for what it really is: the kindness of a sovereign God to you personally.

6. Point out the kinds of things you want them to notice: the flowers on the trees, or the cool animal footprints in the concrete, or the design of the street lanterns. They start to notice those things, too, and point them out to you.

7. If it’s raining at Animal Kingdom, go on the safari ride! The animals are actually much more active in the cooler rain.

8. They will give you the recipes for any dish you like at the Tusker House! (You like all the dishes at the Tusker House.)


Work Cited:

Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Second ed., Shepherd P, 2005.

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