I bet you’ve participated in or know someone who has attended a retreat for church or a motivational conference for work. You may have even had the privilege of traveling to The Homestead, The Greenbriar, or if you’re really fortunate, an exotic island. To be honest, sometimes, a few hours at your local coffee shop or a good long walk could be just the thing you need to refresh your mind and help you think outside the box. So if business and religious retreats, travel, and new surroundings give us a fresh perspective and spark new ideas, maybe a family retreat is just what your family could use!
It struck me last year around this time that our family needed a fresh start and something to bring us together. With so many electronic distractions at home, it was worth the investment to have a change of scenery and an open schedule to talk about family values, responsibilities, expectations, and just have some bonding time after a rushed few months of family obligations.
If you are anything like me, you may get flashes of inspiration to spearhead cool and different activities that keep your family close, but then fear stops you in your tracks. Unfortunately, this happens to me more often than not. Questions run through my head: What if my spouse doesn’t support me? What if my kids would rather stay home with their friends? What if I get the dreaded eye-roll? What if my friends think I’m being over the top? What if it doesn’t fit within our budget? Most of the time, my ideas and good intentions never pan out, but this time, something inside me told me to go for it. Because in reality, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, and the time we have to influence our children may seem long, but it goes by so quickly.
So how did I make our family retreat happen? Having a plan in place is important. I had a 3-step process to get ready for our special family weekend.
Look at the family calendar and pencil in a date. For us, it was the first weekend of summer break. This gave me a few months to plan, and it seemed like a good way to start the summer off on the right foot.
Next, get a notebook and start writing down your ideas. For me, thoughts come in and out of my
head nonstop, so having a place to write down these ideas is helpful. It could be goals you need to work on as a family, location ideas, family games a friend has recommended, activities you want to try, you name it.
As your ideas begin to form, you will start seeing patterns. Use these ideas to pull everything together into a theme. I love the way my husband refers to our family as Team Tschantre, (pronounced shawn-tray) and Simon Sinek’s book, Together is Better, sparked my idea for our “Better Together” theme. Next, decide on your budget. It can add up quickly if you include lodging, food, and activities. Be creative.
Settle on a destination and lodging that fit your budget – campground, hotel, tiny house, tree house, or even someone else’s house. Warning: airbnb.com and vrbo.com are addictive!
When it came time to decide on activities, having a theme led me to our agenda. I have to admit, it took research (and lots of prayers) to come up with what I would say was the perfect “Better Together” family retreat for Team Tschantre. I was looking for a destination no more than two hours away, within our budget, unique, and with lots of options for family team-building. My first thought was camping since I’m embarrassed to say our active, nature-loving boys have never camped, but I quickly crossed that off the list when I thought about the gear needed to make it happen.
Nonetheless, I knew the perfect destination was out there for us and sure enough, after a “coolest places to take kids in Virginia” Google search, I discovered The Sandy River Retreat in Rice, Virginia. This is where I feel prayer came in because there is no way I could have orchestrated such a perfect location and activities on my own. To see my husband’s reaction and the kids’ faces as we came around the tree-lined road near Farmville, Virginia, to behold a clearing with about a half-dozen 650-square-foot tipis (teepees) pointing to the heavens was priceless.
Our smart tipi was definitely not roughing it. It included: air conditioning, heated floors, beautiful wood furniture, a footed tub, and even Alexa to give us instant access to music, weather, and more.
The accommodations were fantastic, but the weekend’s activities compelled us to talk, share our fears, and work together.
It’s amazing how a new environment allows you to be more open and vulnerable. In the nearby town of Farmville, we rented bikes (including a bicycle built for two) and crossed the majestic High Bridge 125 feet above the mighty Appomattox River. This theme continued back at our tipi as each of us wrote down some of the fears that were stopping us from being our best, listened to Zach Williams’ inspirational song, “Fear is a Liar,” and then cast our fears into the fire.
We ended our weekend retreat by facing our collective fear of heights on the high ropes course and zip lines at Sandy River Outdoor Adventure Park, Central Virginia’s largest aerial adventure park, located a short walk from our tipi on the retreat property.
Overall, we grew together as a family and created memories that will last a lifetime. Of course, we’re still a work in progress. After all the time and effort, I still see sibling arguments, too much screen-time, and eye rolls over dreaded family meetings, but I’m taking steps to be braver in listening to my nudges and paying attention to my parental instinct. We’re trying to get outside our comfort zone more, and we’re working on appreciating the roles we each play within our family unit. The time we spent together, mostly unplugged (other than Alexa and the television that was in our tipi) will be remembered forever.
Baby steps are all we can ask for when we are given a limited number of years to train our children at home. But the clock is ticking, so there’s no time like today to get started on your own family retreat.
Photos: Kim Tschantre