Habits and Happiness

I heard or read it somewhere that it takes at least two weeks of consistently doing a new behavior to create a habit. We have so many bad habits in this family that we’d like to replace with new, improved ones. For example: I get impatient. John often listens to just the first half of what I say. Emily thunders back when she doesn’t like what we say. K.J. never remembers his chores without reminding. Skye speaks foul language without thinking. Journey whines to get what she wants. Becton fidgets incessantly, destroying plants and other objects without awareness. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of bad behaviors. Maybe we are just like other families. But when all these annoying habits are activated at the same time, it sure doesn’t feel “normal.”

Every time I prepare for a family vacation, I worry about the intense closeness it will bring and the sparks that are bound to ignite when we can’t escape each other. I mentally trouble-shoot in advance. What is the most advantageous placement of bodies in the van to avoid friction? How many entertainment devices do we need to avoid conflict? Where will each person sleep in our home-away-from-home? Who will have responsibility for what chores to minimize the “fairness” debates? Some of this preplanning helps. But there will always be circumstances I did not anticipate and for which there are no easy solutions. Why can’t our responses to stress just be different?

I know part of the answer to this last question. John and I rarely persist for two weeks in enforcing better responses from our children. We declare that there will be consequences, but the administration becomes too difficult to maintain. Our lives are too complicated. We are running in too many different directions to keep track of it all. We forget. We get lazy. Each day, John and I begin again with renewed commitment to enforce the proper behavior. We hope for a better result. We promise “persistence.”

Then vacations come. The crazy thing about vacations is that they provide both the closeness that produces more of the bad AND the closeness, in new and different circumstances, that often brings about pleasant new behaviors that we, as parents, could not have commanded at home. I’m convinced this is why children remember so much more of what was GREAT about the trip than what was stressful.

On our recent trip to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, we saw some of what we expected to see:

K.J. texting while watching television

Journey digging holes in the sand

Becton covered in sand

Skye loving on Xavior

Katie and Xavior racing on the beach

Emily posing

K.J. playing in the surf

Journey and Katie cuddling

Becton dancing to his music

Rebecca exercising

John checking his phone and email messages

Ice cream eating

But we also experienced some unexpected behaviors:

The three Falco girls sunbathing together

K.J. throwing a Frisbee with his dad and younger brother

K.J. taking Becton out to surf the waves and watching protectively over him

Skye being willing to take instruction from John about how to throw a football

Journey happy (instead of feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders)

Emily playing in the water with Becton

Journey and Becton getting along

Eating family dinners together that Rebecca cooked

Becton playing basketball alone or with siblings

Our three children – resistant to exercise – on bikes

Becton taking bike-riding instruction from John

Falco children bowling together on a rainy day

Skye allowing Katie (the underdog) to tease Xavior

Emily and Skye walking dogs together

Skye wanting to pose for pictures with Emily

John playing in the ocean with kids

Rebecca playing in the ocean with kids

Perhaps most surprising of all – Skye orchestrated family photos. The first was a picture of our feet…

Then Skye came up with the idea of running photos. Since we didn’t have an independent photographer, we had to do this in shifts. First with Dad…

Then with Mom…

I don’t know that any of these new, improved behaviors will stick. After all, we did not have two weeks to ingrain them. But the memories of what is possible are there now.  And they are happy memories. Who knows? Perhaps if experiences of sharing, caring, moving one’s body in healthy ways, helping one another, and just being together are pleasant enough, they won’t be quite as hard to resurrect as we go forward.

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