Japanese father and his mixed race young daughter enjoying a day at the beach, Chiba, Japan

How to Make Your Ultimate Family Bucket List

Forget resolutions, that leave you feeling deprived. Instead, vow to have more fun with family time.

Taking a splashy trip together. Introducing the kids to your favorite band. Losing to them at mini golf. We all have things we'd love to do with our children before they're grown. Let this be the year you check off a few of those adventures—and then dream up several more worth taking.

Take Them to the Place You Love (Which Pretty Much Everyone Else Loves Too)

Conz Preti, writer and journalist

family at walt disney world with mickey and minnie mouse
Preti (center, holding her son) and family, plus Mickey and Minnie, at Disney World, 2018. Courtesy of Conz Preti

I grew up hearing stories from my parents about our first trip to Disney World. I was only a year old when it happened, but they took copious photos to immortalize the occasion. There's one of the three of us, me in a stroller, in front of a Mickey- and Minnie-decorated Christmas tree. I've looked at it so much that it's burned into my brain.

I grew up in Argentina, and visiting the U.S. was a big deal, in terms of both money and logistics, but also just psychologically. Even though I was raised in big cities, arriving stateside always blew my child mind. That was multiplied exponentially at Disney. We visited many times. And as cliché as it might sound, my trips there with my parents are some of the happiest memories I have. When I visit as an adult, it's as if I'm transported back in time, once again a little girl in awe.

As a result, I'd always dreamed of taking my own kids to Disney, giving them a chance to make similar memories. And it would be a lot easier for me than it was for my parents. I now live in the United States and am married to an American man who not only swept me off my feet but also introduced me to every bit of American culture of which I'd been unaware: cornhole, Field of Dreams, the Pittsburgh Pirates. When our first child was born in 2017, I knew we'd make the trip as soon as we could.

There came a day when I just couldn't wait anymore. So, on a whim, on probably the busiest weekend ever, while my parents were visiting from abroad, I took the entire gang to Disney World. Everyone kept telling us that our son, who was 1 1/2 then, wouldn't remember any of it, and he wasn't going to be able to go on most rides. But they were missing the point. I wanted to see my parents with my baby in a place that meant so much to them, and to me. We had a blast, and looking at the photos fills me with the same joy I felt while gazing at the ones from my own childhood. In one, which I keep on my desk, the five of us pose with Mickey and Minnie. We all look so happy, each for different reasons: my son for meeting the characters, my parents and husband for seeing him so thrilled. And me for making this trip happen with everyone included. I had twin girls in March 2020, and once we get back to traveling, I know where we're going first. I've got my Minnie ears ready to go.

Sit Them Down for the Film Closest to Your Heart

Corey Evett, screenwriter

happy father holding son along beach
Evett and his mini Jedi at home in Southern California. Laura Birek

I never wanted to be one of those parents who foist their favorite things on their kids. Sure, I wanted to share the formative bits of culture that made me me, but if my kids weren't into them, I knew I could suffer in silence and quietly judge their terrible taste like the very mature adult that I am.

But on a sweltering pandemic summer something to watch with my 2-year-old son, the Star Wars logo appeared on the screen. He pointed. "I want to watch that," he said. I felt a tiny kick of adrenaline. My heart fluttered. Maybe it was my complete lack of exercise in 2020, but more likely it was that I'd been one of those kids who wore out the VHS tapes of the Original Trilogy. Minutiae about minor characters, ships, and planets clog up a lot of space in my head, space that should probably be devoted to remembering what the RIE in RIE parenting stands for. And now the moment I'd longed for was here.

"I thought he'd last five minutes. He sat rapt for two hours. Imaginary lightsaber battles became a part of playtime. I'd spent my whole life preparing for this!"

I should've been elated, but I hesitated, worried that Darth Vader choking rebels to death or the complete annihilation of a planet might be too intense for a toddler. Then a more salient question arose: Could I take another episode of Blippi? I clicked on the movie.

I thought he'd last five minutes. He sat rapt for two hours. You could say the film resonated: Imaginary lightsaber battles became a part of playtime, and he wanted to know the names of all the characters and ships. I could answer these questions! I'd spent my whole life preparing for this! I was full-on dadding.

Then one day he reached his hand toward me and said with sinister enthusiasm, "I'm going to destroy you." He told me he wanted a red lightsaber. Do you understand what I'm saying? My child wanted to be Darth Vader. I'd managed to turn my son to the dark side before his third birthday.

I realized that just sharing the movies with him wasn't enough. If I wanted his little-kid mind to truly understand why I loved them—and if I wanted to bend his path back to good and away from evil—I needed to share the reasons why they resonated with me. I needed to drop some Yoda wisdom. So I emphasized the wonder and adventure of these films. More stars, less wars. Slowly, I convinced him that the bad guys weren't as cool as the good. We'll deal with the deeper philosophical stuff when he's older, but for now, more often than not he wakes up belting out the opening theme music. And I'll take that in a Tatooine minute.

Instill in Them the Values You Hold Dear

Clinnette Minnis, voice actress and writer

happy mother and daughter
Minnis and her daughter, Zoe. Courtesy of Clinnette Minnis

I love everything about Election Day. I think it should be a national holiday. When it comes around, I wake up early. I get to my polling place well before it opens. I stand in line no matter how long it takes. Sometimes the process requires patience. And teaching patience to an 8-year-old, I'm finding, isn't always easy. Even so, I've managed to instill my love for voting in my daughter, Zoe—the event I always imagined sharing with my child, even before I had one. Seeing her delight upon receiving an honorary "I Voted" sticker fills me with absolute joy and brings our family story full circle in a way that means so much to me.

When my mother first took me to vote as a child, we walked hand in hand through our suburban Los Angeles neighborhood, far from the Arkansas town where she'd grown up. I remember asking her if her mother had taken her voting too. No, she said. Grandma had been illiterate, unable to sign her name. Even if she had been, this was the Jim Crow South, and the poll workers would likely have had her guessing how many jelly beans were in the jar before she could cast her ballot. What I can do on Election Day she was prevented from doing all her life.

And I want my daughter to understand that the right to vote is by no means a permanent thing. Rights can be taken away. Ask the Afghan women no longer able to attend school. Not long ago, their mothers emerged from voting booths with purple ink on their fingers and a feeling that anything was possible. Democracy is fragile, threatened all over the globe. Here in America, oppressive forces are hard at work seeking barriers to stop people from exercising their right to vote.

I'm raising my daughter to be confident, to stand up for what she believes and fight to keep and express her own unique point of view. So many people fought and died for us to have civil rights. We can't squander that by not speaking up with our vote. By not finding the representatives who will actually represent us. In a democracy, this is possible. When we work together, we can make a difference.

My mother and father left the segregated South for a better life. We integrated a California neighborhood and were the first Black family in the area. I'll be forever grateful for that. So much of parenting is striving to give your child a better life so that the struggles and sacrifices of the past won't have been made in vain. I take heart in my daughter's glorious smile, how she beamed with pride at that "I Voted" sticker. It fills me with hope that we're readying the next generation for the challenge.

Show Them Where You Came From

Jessica Ciencin Henriquez, author of the forthcoming memoir If You Loved Me You Would Know

happy mother and son with dog
Henriquez and her son, Noah. Matt + Jess Photography.

Ever since my son could speak, he has wanted to know what life was like when I was a kid. "Mama, where did you live? What did you wear? Did you ever feel scared?" It was sweet, this wondering: Who was his mother before she was his mother? I'd tell him stories before bed and show him old photos. He pointed out our similarities (our nose, our lips, our sneakiness) and differences (our hair, our height, our favorite sweets). But knowing these details did nothing to quiet his curiosity. For years it only grew. "What toys did you play with? Did you ever get hurt? Were you always good at spelling words?"

When he was 7, the questions still coming, we made a trip to South Florida to visit the house in which I grew up. As we pulled into the driveway, he stretched his neck to see out the window. To me, everything had shrunk because I'd grown, but to him, the pine trees were as tall as I'd described when I told him how I'd climb them to the sky.

We knocked on the door, and to my surprise, the new owners were happy to let us wander around. My son finally saw the setting of all those stories I'd been telling him. It was surreal, this collision of memory and reality, a little slice of history come to life.

"Was this the window you climbed through when you'd sneak out at night?"

"Was this where you used to Rollerblade?"

I took pictures while my son picked avocados off the tree I'd fallen from, losing my first tooth. He dipped his toes into the swimming pool into which I once plunged while learning to ride my bicycle. We sat together under the same banana vines that had given me shade in the summer. He dug into the dirt with his fingernails and pulled colored pebbles from the ground, the ones I'd pretended were "gems" and kept in a Mason jar. We walked around the block, and I took him to each of my hiding spots, inviting him into my childhood.

As we left the neighborhood that afternoon, he turned to me and asked, "Mama, do you think we would have been friends if we were kids at the same time?"

The question unstitched me. I told him of course we would, and that I'd be the luckiest girl alive to have a friend like him. And with that answer, he finally seemed satisfied.

Teach Them to Do Nothing

Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the new novel The Good Son

family jumping off dock into lake
Mitchard’s family jumping into a good time. Courtesy of Jacquelyn Mitchard

The date is set the rental house chosen, the pontoon boat hired. For three years, my brother and I have been planning The Trip to Anywhere, so-called because the destination is irrelevant. This summer, with all our kids, we're going to go offline: a grill, a deck of cards, a Scrabble game, and the wilderness. Okay, not quite the wilderness. It's a big house with a TV and air-conditioning. Still, it will be the kind of vacation our grandparents took us on when we were kids, up to the lake. No amusement parks, just a few hikes and fishing poles, and the stories we've never had enough downtime to tell the kids. The time we sat on Al Capone's grave at midnight on Halloween. The time we dove from a construction crane into a rock quarry of crystal-clear water 30 feet deep. The time we ran along the fence of the monastery with sticks until the monks let the guard dogs out.

"It will be the kind of vacation our grandparents took us on—no amusement parks, just a few hikes and fishing poles."

Stories about minor mayhem, like the ones our parents told us: the time they won the swing dance competition at the old Aragon Ballroom, in Chicago, only to lose the crown when it was discovered that they hadn't paid admission. The kinds of stories that become family lore. More important, though, is the unplugged-ness. We'll try to ban twice-daily TikTok and Instagram posts, nix phones at dinner, disallow work emails. We'll be out of state and out of touch, living life in real time. How boring will it be for our children? Well, the highlight of their day will be frying fish, so you tell me. But if we're right about this, the experience will soon grow more comfortable until at last there'll be a new rhythm, the eat-when-you're-hungry and sleep when-you're-tired kind, and enough space and stillness to really hear not just each other but nature, and our own thoughts. Maybe it will work out so well that we'll do it again. Maybe it will be a well-intentioned flop. But one thing's for sure: Our children will remember it. They'll tell their children stories about that lost time—and perhaps someday give the same to them.

Usher Them Into Adulthood

Nina McConigley, writer and professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie

mother daughters Coming-of-Age Ceremony
Nina, her mother, and her aunt Vijaya, 1988. Courtesy of Nina McConigley

When I was 13, I became a woman. Or, I should say, I got my period. I had read enough Judy Blume to know what was happening, but I was not happy, because I knew what was about to happen: my Coming-of-Age Ceremony. My mother is from India, and her home region celebrates a girl's period as a passage into womanhood. I would wear a sari for the first time, get my first gold jewelry, have a ritual bath, and eat certain foods. The day of my ceremony, I was a typical surly teenager. I had a mouthful of braces and insisted on wearing a Speedo during my bath. I cringed as my parents presented me with jewelry, and I poked at the flowers in my hair. I wore jeans under my sari. The worst part was that my parents invited friends to the house to celebrate with us. I sat mortified in a corner while our American friends mingled and ate, confused as to what exactly it was we were commemorating. We ate sheet cake, and then I ran to my bedroom.

But now that I have two daughters, I know I will perform the ceremony with them when their time comes. There's something important about marking that step into womanhood. To say to them, "I see that you are changing, that your body is doing wonderful things." It's also a moment to talk about what womanhood means. For me, the ceremony inspired the first open conversations I'd had with my parents about marriage and fertility. I hope my daughters see their own ceremonies not as a time of separation, since adolescence can be lonely, but of entering a new stage together. Will I make it as public an event as mine was? No. I don't think I'll invite a houseful of friends and neighbors over. But I will let my girls pick a sari and jewelry. I hope we can cook traditional South Indian food together and I can share stories about the women in our family.

Many cultures mark a coming of age: bar or bat mitzvahs, quinceañeras, confirmations. Now I understand why. They help teens move forward while cheering them on from the sidelines. They all say, "I see you." The night of my ceremony, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I looked the same. I didn't feel like a woman. And looking back, I am not sure that the ceremony was the beginning of womanhood per se. Becoming a woman is not tied to menstruation. It's hundreds of choices and decisions a woman will go on to make throughout her lifetime. But I did feel that my parents saw me differently. That they, with this ceremony, had begun to trust me to make my own choices. If I wanted to wear a Speedo, so be it. I was my own person. It was one of many choices they would go on to let me make, having faith that the realm between childhood and adulthood was one I could navigate. I will do the same for my daughters. In celebrating this passage with them, I hope I will help them move between new worlds—while letting them lead the way.

Memory Makers for an Awesome 2022

When it comes to sharing good times with your kids, the possibilities are infinite, from tiny bursts of fun to once-in-a-lifetime events. Here's a sample bucket list to inspire your own.

  • Cook a whole meal, side by side.

  • Wear matching outfits. (Get this one done when they're little, before they find the idea massively uncool.)

  • Ride in a rowboat together.

  • Point out the constellations and planets. Most nights Jupiter is visible to the naked eye, and with an app like SkyView, you can often spot Saturn too.

  • Go fly a kite.

  • Visit an aquarium's touch pool. Or better yet, a beach's tide pool.

  • Do all that wonderful snow stuff. Snowball fights, snow angels, snowmen, sledding—the whole bit.

  • Film them being goofy in slow motion: jumping on a trampoline, making silly faces, or screaming (crank the sound up for that one).

  • Have a picnic. Maybe someday under the Eiffel Tower or beside an acacia in the Maasai Mara—but for now, your living room floor works too.

  • Sit outside at dusk to watch fireflies appear.

  • Plan to hit up every last one of something: national parks, baseball stadiums, all the taquerias in town. The point is to finish the full list.

  • Go bowling.

  • Take them with you to work—a place not exactly exciting to you but infinitely fascinating to them.

  • Go fishing. Worry not at all about catching anything.

  • Feed ducks at the pond.

  • Make root beer floats.

  • Plant a seed. Check on it, and see to it, often—and together.

  • Learn origami.

  • Go to a petting zoo. Bring quarters for those little pellet machines.

  • Take a road trip. No activity opens people up, including kids, like a drive with nothing to do but chat.

  • Go on a rainy walk. Footwear appropriate for puddle jumping is a must.

  • Make homemade ice cream.

  • Give in to a big request, just because. An unexpected "yes" is downright magical to a kid.

  • Share your pop culture repertoire. Fire up The Sandlot, the jazz record your dad loved, the SpongeBob episode nearest to your heart.

  • Make s'mores over a fire. (Or with the flame on your stove. Both produce delicious results.)

  • Visit the local water park. Reveal the joys of the sloppy cannonball.

  • Show them where they came from: the apartment you brought them home to, the park where they played. It will mean the world.

  • Go to a concert together.

  • Hold their hand on their first airplane ride.

  • Ask what's on their list. You may be surprised by their must-dos—and may enjoy them just as much as what you'd planned.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's January/February 2022 issue as "The Joys of a Family Bucket List." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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