A 19th Summer (#225)

This past Sunday would’ve been a perfect time to be a real estate agent taking a family through my town. The sun was shining, families were biking and walking everywhere and kids were playing in their yards. People were raking leaves, painting their houses and tending their gardens. It resembled a scene out of an allergy medicine commercial—a utopian world.

It was a welcome distraction from the constant, stark reminder of how many people are struggling with either the health or economic ramifications of this time.

On the same date last year, the scene would have been completely different. Bikes would be replaced with cars, driven by parents dividing and conquering their transportation requirements for the day. They’d be taking kids to sports games, tryouts and other extracurriculars, in addition to shopping and preparing for the upcoming week.

Last week my family hit a milestone—we had dinner together for the 30th consecutive evening. Given the ages of my children and the commitments on all our schedules, my wife and I sadly realized this might be a record that is never broken.

In any crisis, even one of this magnitude, there are always silver linings. The major one I have seen during COVID-19 is the appreciation and reprioritization of family and friends.

In 2017, I wrote a Friday Forward called 18 Summers that evoked emotional responses from many readers. It was based on a compelling post Tim Urban wrote on his blog “Wait But Why,” that lays out a 90-year-old’s lifespan visually in years, weeks and days.

Urban calculated that he had spent 93 percent of his lifetime’s in-person time with his parents by the time he graduated high school. Inspired by his calculus, I wrote 18 Summers on the eve of a two-week family RV trip that I thought would be one of my family’s last opportunities to be together for weeks at a time.

It turns out Urban and I were both wrong in our calculations. Many parents and kids have been given a 19th summer when they least expected it. Even for those who can’t be physically together, everyone being home with clear schedules has opened up new, more frequent, lines of communication.

I realize that for many with younger kids, this 19th summer often feels more like a punishment than a gift. However, I’ve talked to many parents whose kids are home from college, and they are relishing the opportunity to have their families suddenly and unexpectedly reunited. They are getting a glimpse of the family life of 100 years ago and are not as eager to return to normal.

This unique time may even lead some families to consider if they previously spent their time and energy on things that didn’t actually serve the interests of the entire family.

For example, in a recent interview on the Tim Ferriss Show, award-winning researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown shared her philosophy that there are three kinds of families: parent-focused families, kid-focused families and family-focused families.

Parent-focused families prioritize the parents’ careers above everything else. In kid-focused families, parents do everything possible to keep their kids happy and achieving, at the expense of their own, and their family’s, well-being.

By contrast, family-focused families make choices in the best interests of the whole unit. Both parents and kids make sacrifices in their respective lives to create better balance, harmony and collective happiness.

I hope this crisis and tragedy compels us to reevaluate our priorities and reconsider if the activities that keep us in constant motion actually improve our lives. Weekends were intended for rest and family time, but they have changed dramatically, and not always for the better. I even know some parents who look forward to Mondays, just to be free of the constant busyness and schlepping of the modern weekend.

While most of us are excited to return to normal, let’s remember the lessons from this time and think carefully about what we want our new normal to be—including on weekends.

Also, for a deeper discussion on Tim Urban’s post, you can listen to my full conversation with Urban on the Elevate Podcast.

Quote of The Week

“Weekends don’t count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.”

 

– Bill Watterson