Not long ago my family took a trip to the happiest place on earth—Disney World. The vacation was a success with minimal meltdowns, uncontrollable giddiness and excitement, bit still a reasonable (enough) amount of sleep. Plus, there was magic.
But it wasn’t just the magic of Mickey and castles, of roller coasters and fairy dust. It was magical for all of those reasons too. But for me, it was magical for totally different reasons.
We are a family who loves and thrives on structure—or at least we are family with a mom who does. I like to know what’s coming and when. I like regular mealtimes and bedtimes. I like naptimes and rest times, and I believe in eating all your vegetables if dessert is going to be an option. This is how our house runs most effectively.
And I am not naive. My preferences are not Disney friendly. Disney throws structure out the door. Bedtimes are very flexible—and sometimes begin in the stroller on the way back to the hotel. Disney has ice cream, cobbler, cookies and pastries at every corner. Broccoli is a little harder to come by. So going into the trip I was a little . . .anxious. Hesitant. This would disrupt my world, and nothing felt very magical about that.
But something happened on the first day. During what would have been naptime back at home, watching my two little boys lose their minds in amusement, silliness and delight while having the time of their lives, after no vegetable consumption, I offered my boys ice cream. They loved it of course. But I loved it too.
Because I was starting to see that at Disney, it was possible to be a different me. And not only was it possible, it was probably a good idea.
I remember not long after we had our first baby, people farther along in parenthood told us about the importance of getting away together as a couple. That we needed time away from our kids, and that, just as important, our kids needed time away from us.
The first evening at Disney, in the middle of a dinner taking place an hour into what would have been my boys’ normal bedtime, surrounded by ice caves, meteor showers, and interactive dinosaurs hovering over my salad and drink, I remembered that conversation with those seasoned parents. I finally understood why this vacation was turning out so much better than I thought it would, and would continue to, if I let it.
I realized that my kids need a vacation from the normal me, and they need a vacation with a different kind of me.
In other words, there are times when our kids need to see us in an alternative light. They need to see us have fun, without worry of our well-structured worlds imploding. They need to see us offer them dessert in the middle of the day for no reason, ignore bedtime with reckless abandon, and spend every waking moment with them for four straight days, because we want to.
For me, it took a trip to Disney to realize sometimes our love of structure kills our capacity for fun. Our love of control kills our appetite for laughter. And fun and laughter will go the distance in the lives of our kids more than structure or control ever will.
For a few days I wasn’t just my boys’ mom. I was someone to have fun with. And fun is every kid’s love language. Fun causes us to forget our responsibilities, to lose our identities and places, and to bond around a shared experience. It allows laughter to be a connecting force, and amusement a language that transcends words to become a tie that binds us.
We are home now. When my oldest threw up in the car on the way home, it was safe to conclude the magic had ended. But the fun doesn’t have to.
I still love my structure, but it turns out structure seasoned with laughter, the occasional late bedtime and “just because” ice cream is healthier than I ever thought. And that can make home the happiest place on earth.