Family Sayings + Recent Vacation Mantras

Long-time readers may recall how much I love quotes. I collect them from a variety of sources and am always on the lookout for new inspiration (last week: a sidewalk plaque outside the NY Public Library + on a wall at the American Museum of Natural History). While formal quotes from famous authors or philosophers are wonderful, I find it equally fascinating to hear what sayings work their way into individual family cultures.

Let’s start with a walk down memory lane…

family sayings from my childhood

So near, but yet so far. I use this one with my kids regularly and it gives me warm fuzzies every time as this line originated with my maternal grandmother. She was particularly fond of saying this when someone narrowly missed a shot in Crokinole. She and my brother would organize weekend-long Crokinole tournaments whenever they were together, and she had cause to say So near but yet so far regularly during those epic events.

It builds character. My father would say this about everything. Wet sneakers on a hike in the rain? It builds character. Shoveling the walkways after a big snowstorm? It builds character. Let’s just say, by my Dad’s reckoning at least, I should have a lot of character.

Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you. My parents had high expectations for their kids, but they never demanded perfection. If I got a test back with a less-than-stellar grade, it would be met with a simple: Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you.

Obey. In modern contexts, I suppose Mom and Dad were relatively strict disciplinarians, but as Baby #4 it never really felt that way. There was an established structure for discipline but, beyond that, we actually had quite of bit of freedom. I spent lots of my childhood roaming, didn’t have enormous chore lists, and they never grounded us. We were taught to respect our elders and do our best but there was a fair amount of leeway in many regards. But if Mom made a request or gave a command, she meant it. If we put up resistance, she would reply in a steady, calm – but unmistakeably “Don’t Mess With Me” tone – Obey. If we made it to the point she just said Obey, we knew she meant business. No lecture or dithering or arguments or repeatedly asking us to do something. She’d just say: Obey.

Immediately or sooner. I had forgotten all about this line, but Mom recently brought it up and I couldn’t believe I didn’t remember my parents saying this! When do you want me to set the table for supper? Immediately or sooner. When do the cookies need to go into the oven? Immediately or sooner.

frost family sayings

And then you grow up and leave childhood homes; old routines and habits make way for new, blended family cultures, including a curated selection of go-to family sayings. The kids would likely be better sources for this information, but here are a handful that are in regular rotation in our house.

You can do hard things. We say this to the kids a lot. We don’t try to downplay that certain things are hard or unpleasant, but do want to affirm that they can do hard things!

You are a joy and a blessing. I read this line in a book years and years ago and say it to the kids regularly, especially at bedtime. I have to admit I don’t always feel this way in every moment of my parenting journey but it’s still always true. They are a joy and they are a blessing.

I have high expectations and I know you can meet them. I’ve started saying this after reading Grit by Angela Duckworth where she mentions an iteration of this line. I do have high expectations but I like to think they’re reasonable. Mostly I’ve been saying this in the context of interpersonal relationships between the kids and/or with their friends. (Eg. I have high expectations of how kind/compassionate you can be to your sibling, and I know you can meet them).

vacation mantras

A few weeks ago, right before we headed out on our road trip, I was visiting with a friend and discussing the upcoming rigors of traveling with family. I told her I thought I needed to adopt some mantras and we talked through them together that very evening.

(A note before I start. Years ago I read Dan Harris’ book called 10% Happier. I have always, always been in awe of this title because I love the realism. The book is never promising a story of absolute change (100% Happiness) or rainbows pooping out puppies. Nope. It’s discussing a 10% increase in happiness. Sometimes tiny improvements can feel too slight to celebrate, but 10% is so much better than 0%.)

I digress on this point because none of the following mantras dramatically changed my outlook on this trip. I knew two weeks on the road, with thousands of kilometers of driving, 100+ kilometers of walking, and extreme changes to our schedule were going to be tough. But I do think these mantras made things at least 10% happier/easier. And that’s a win in my books.

  • It costs what it costs. I have a very hard time spending money, especially if it seems at all frivolous. I shop sales, buy all my clothes (and many other items) secondhand, and want to think I’m getting the best deal on just about everything. There are lots of motivators from my past that have led me to this point but, needless to say, vacation can be a tough pill to swallow because of the apparent nonstop “frivolous” spending. Hotels, restaurants, entry fees. When we were debating doing a second Broadway show and I was inwardly balking at the price tag? It costs what it costs. I still hate spending money, but repeating this in my head really does seem to help…a bit.
  • Choose the bigger life. I’ve been chewing on this one for several years (courtesy of the Happier podcast), but it felt especially relevant for this family trip. As an introvert (who doesn’t like to spend money; see above), saying yes to adventure doesn’t always come naturally. But I know that choosing things that might be slightly more uncomfortable in the short term, often makes for the best memories long-term. On our last full night in Toronto, John wanted to see the skyline after dusk. We ended up walking a LONG way to get to a specific view of the city. I was tired and every ounce of me wanted to turn around for home, but I said: Choose the bigger life. And the view was absolutely worth it!

On our way through Canada to the US, we passed within 15 minutes of Niagara Falls. It was a bit of a nuisance to route to the falls and we knew we might have a hassle finding a place to park. We discussed it briefly but, in the context of choosing the bigger life, the answer was obvious. So we went.

  • I can’t keep everybody happy. This one is huge for me. I hate, hate, hate (x 10,000) conflict and really do want everyone (including myself) to be happy at all times. And it’s just not possible. I told myself this a lot on the trip (one child wants to do/eat/see/watch X, while the other wants to do/eat/see/watch Y = only one child is happy). I was frustrated regularly by my lack of control over keeping everyone happy, but repeating this line did help me manage my expectations…slightly.
  • This will feel different tomorrow. This mantra ended up being my favourite, but I didn’t come up with it until partway through the trip. Last Monday was…not so fun. It had some great moments, but I ended the day crying in our hotel room which wasn’t exactly Highlight Reel material. It rained/was hot and muggy all day. My period started. The kids were tired and grumpy. I forgot most Broadway shows don’t run on Mondays, which meant the evening I had originally planned wasn’t going to happen. The kids were underwhelmed/overwhelmed by city life and insisted on fixating on the negative: too many people, too much cigarette smoke, Wolfville is so much better (true on all counts, but it’s New York City! How can you not love this place?). At one point I told myself, This will feel different tomorrow. I didn’t try to spin it into: This was a fully awesome day. But a simple acknowledgment that the events of the day would feel different in retrospect.
Best of friends, mere minutes before the wheels feel off our proverbial roadtrip Happy Train.

Thursday night was another tough evening. Despite a good day of travel, we were all emotionally and physically tired from adventuring. We had a gorgeous lighthouse stop planned and all was going well until someone (who will remain nameless) tickled someone (who will also remain nameless) and that someone did not enjoy being tickled, bumped into a rock as a result of said tickle, and a gigantic meltdown ensued. I was beyond frustrated. Please everyone be happy, I wanted to scream (but kept to a dull yell once we reached the car). While I really should have been repeating Mantra #3 above on repeat, I did not and chose to ugly cry (that time of the month + 42 hours of driving = an emotionally sensitive Mama), but after a hot shower I told myself – and believed – this will feel different tomorrow. And it did.

As part of my evening wind-down, I happened to read Laura Vanderkam’s blog post about a recent family vacation. I appreciated how she starts off a paragraph by saying “we had a good time” and then goes on to document a number of things that went wrong including poor sleep, an ear infection that required a trip to the hospital, and sunburns. But then she wrote something that turned my day around. “My goal…was to have…a few enjoyable moments, and that definitely happened.”

I turned to John triumphantly and said: we had lots of enjoyable moments. If my goal was to have a few – or even lots – of enjoyable moments (instead of wanting to keep everybody happy and have only enjoyable moments which just isn’t reasonable with the dynamics of a young family or the realities of LIFE), then our vacation was an overwhelming success.

So cue my newest vacation/life mantra:

  • My goal is to have at least a few enjoyable moments…

How about you? Any treasured phrases from your childhood, or things you currently say to friends, family or coworkers? Any vacation mantras you’ve been incorporating this year to make things 10% happier?

Whatever you’re doing this long weekend I hope you have many enjoyable moments.


25 thoughts on “Family Sayings + Recent Vacation Mantras”

  1. I like “it costs what it costs” and “choose the bigger life.” Those are great. I also think “you get what you pay for” and my late FIL used to say that he never regretted paying a bit more to get the better piece of equipment.
    I have been saying YOLO to my kids lately, mostly as a joke because it is SO ridiculous and outdated, but I also say it kind of in earnest. Life is short. Let’s enjoy it.

    1. You get what you pay for is definitely something my father said when we were growing up (though he was ALWAYS looking for ways to get a good deal).

      As for YOLO, I think it’s wise advice that is absolutely timeless. The Bible tells us to “number our days” and that “life is like a vapour.” Its so true. Life is short. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. It doesn’t mean that every moment of every day can feel wonderful or be enjoyable. But, for the most part, let’s put some effort into intentionally seeking out beauty and joy and activities that bring us delight and contribute to the wellbeing of those around us!! We really do only live once.

  2. Awww, “It builds character” is a running bit from Calvin and Hobbes!! I love it. The dad says it when Calvin complains about the cold or a new food or chores; apparently Bill Watterson’s own dad used to say it. Did your father read the comic, or maybe it’s just a coincidence?? Calvin’s dad is iconic, so I could see it just being an excellent dad thing, specifically in places necessitating snow shoveling.

    I don’t remember any family mantras except, of course, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset” (cue eyeroll). Oh, I had an aunt who said “Dream with the angels” before bed; I think she picked it up in her childhood in Spain. That’s sweet, I guess (or is it kind of murder-y?).

    I really appreciate the vacation mantras; I honestly dread vacations (travel logistics! feeding and hydrating!! restroom requirements!!!), but you’re correct—a few good moments are enough.

    1. It’s so interesting you mention this coming from Calvin and Hobbes. A few years ago I printed off a book of my favourite quotes, and I included one from Calvin and Hobbes:
      “It’s getting dark, Calvin. Time to come in and go to bed!”
      “But Hobbes and I were catching fireflies. Can’t we stay out a little longer?”
      “Ha! First you didn’t want to go out, and now you don’t want to come in! See, by not watching TV, you had more fun and now you’ll have memories of something real you did, instead of something fake you just watched.
      “Nothing spoils fun like finding out it builds character.”

      I LOVE this quote and it’s so true – as a kid at least, I hated to be told something “built” character. I doubt my father ever read Calvin and Hobbes (very, very much not this thing). But it was my favourite comic growing up, though my Mom hated it because Calvin was so disrespectful. I should ask my Dad where it came from!
      We learned the “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” from Abby and Levi’s preschool and we do actually say this occasionally.
      Vacations are intense with kids. Finding bathrooms was very tough and maybe me least favourite part of the whole ordeal. Parenting at home is exhausting, but parenting on the road is a whole other kettle of fish. We made lots of great memories, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing!

    1. I can’t think of any go-to negative sayings (thankfully), but my kids know my “glare” very well which requires no words but speaks volumes (and is decidedly not positive)!

  3. One of my friends who became a mom at the same time as me said about travelling with kids “It’s not a vacation, it is a trip”. Especially with small children this rang true for me. Adjusting your expectations can really help to make an experience feel more positive

    1. Amen. Vacations are no longer relaxing once you have kids and really are more aptly described as “trips”. I remember when the kids were infants and trying to calm them down immediately if they woke in the night because I didn’t want to disrupt everyone else. Even if my kids slept through the night, I swear I heard every single time they tossed and turned. It was exhausting! Worth the effort of traveling and being with family at that stage, but it always felt demoralizing how tired I felt the whole time from juggling the rigors of parenting while out of our normal routine.
      I will admit I have a hard time adjusting my expectations, but the mantras did help a bit – and every bit counts!

  4. Growing up, my mom had two big sayings- “Two wrongs don’t make a right” and “MYOB”- Mind your own business. Any time we tried to tattle on one another or complain about what another person was doing, we got “MYOB!” I still use both of these myself!
    I love your vacation mantras. Yes, it’s impossible to keep everyone happy all the time. And there will definitely be heard moments. I’m going to start saying “It costs what it costs” because I also hate to spend money- but it puts a real damper on a vacation if you’re constantly complaining about it.
    And oh yes- Calvin and Hobbes! Around here if something difficult or unpleasant is happening, we’ll say “Calvin’s dad would say it builds character.” Ha ha.

    1. My Mom said the “Two wrongs don’t make a right” as well!
      I know you love Calvin and Hobbes. To me they are the best comics out there!

  5. It costs what it costs is my grocery shopping mantra. A mom friend from back in the little kid trenches told me this a million years ago when I was complaining about the cost of deli turkey at Whole Foods. She was like who cares what it costs of that’s what they eat? And it was a major lightbulb moment for me. We are taking a vacation (our first since COVID!) next month, and Ben and I just sat down to brainstorm how to make it less work. Like, some things are just WORK when you travel with little kids, but we can simplify things FOR SURE. SO that’s our big goal– slightly less work

    1. So true with grocery shopping! I remember someone telling me once they never pay attention to what good ingredients cost at the store because they know it is always going to cost less than eating out. While this is true, I am definitely a maximizer at the grocery store, but I enjoy it in some strange way. Knowing where and how to shop sales doesn’t feel like a burden to me. That said, I’ve started to pay more for some things that are convenient – like preshredded cheese. I HATE shredding cheese, and it costs marginally more to buy it pre-shredded. Or rotisserie chickens. It is so much less work (and often not that much more expensive) to buy a roasted chicken at the store.
      All the best on your vacation!!!! Even little ways to simplify life/work/vacation/home management can have a disproportionate impact both tangibly and mentally!

  6. I had never put it together that we are both 4th children! But I can’t remember if you are the youngest or have a younger sibling, like I do (I’m #4 out of 5).

    Well, I am most known for saying “That’s not funny!” My husband is very clever and funny and sometimes/often, I am “literal Lisa” and do not sense his sarcasm/wit. Sometimes we will sing the wheels on the bus song and Phil has taught Paul to say “the mommas on the bus say “that’s not funny!”” It’s become a family joke.

    Most of the mantras that come to mind are parenting related. The one I use most often is “you’re a good kid who is having a hard time.” I learned that from Dr. Becky of Good Inside. I use lots of other mantras from her, too. Like, “This feels hard because it is hard.” So many of my mantras are about reframing!

    I am looking forward to hearing more about your trip! I think about the experiencing self and the reflecting self. And a lot of things seem better viewed from the reflecting self and not the experiencing self… Like I can look back and see that the past weekend was a good one, but in the moment I was often tired/wishing my children slept more!

    1. I am the youngest of 4 (by quite a bit – my closest sibling is 8 years older; my oldest sister is 13 years older).

      I love your Dr. Becky sayings. Both are great! There are some really wonderful – similar – lines in the How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen to Kids Will Talk (I might be messing up that title slightly). So much of it is about recognizing the other person’s reality. Like saying: This feels hard because it is hard. I remember one of the biggest lightbulb moments in the How to Talk book was when they discuss parents sometimes telling a child how they should feel. For example: Put on a sweater because it’s cold. They suggest saying something like: I find it cold and would want to wear a sweater, but maybe it feels warm to you. It’s so true! We OFTEN tell our kids how they should feel, but as an adult I can attest to feeling a certain way in a moment that doesn’t align with what other’s feel/perceive. I am OFTEN cold in the house, even when other people are hot. My truth is that I’m cold, even though sometimes people will say – You can’t be cold? It’s hot it here!

      Yes to pondering the difference between the experiencing vs. reflecting self. That’s basically what I tried to capture in the “This will feel different later” manta. I wasn’t forcing myself to make it wholly positive in the moment, but acknowledging that running down the street trying desperately to find a bathroom on a sweltering day in Toronto will not be nearly as miserable in retrospect as it was in the moment. In fact, now it’s a funny anecdote to a day. At the time, it felt horrible.

      One of the ways I struggle with this is when a moment that should be objectively fun – say a trip to the aquarium when the children complained a lot more than I would have liked – doesn’t feel fun. I feel this immense guilt of privilege – i.e. we have the financial flexibility to do X, Y, Z and everyone’s not loving it while so many other people would love to have the opportunity to do X, Y, or Z and I feel very morally guilty. I’m not sure I’m articulating this concept completely…basically that sometimes I have a hard time just letting myself feel my feelings and not assign it as a “good” or “bad” response.

      1. So you are basically like my little sister who is 7 years younger than me, but 17 younger than her oldest sibling!

        And I have read the little kid version of that book and really appreciated it. It’s a different style of parenting from what I experienced, but I think that is a good thing. My parents were great but there is a more nuanced way of parenting now – like acknowledging feelings. like “i know this is hard/doesn’t feel good/you are frustrated.”

        The aquarium example basically mirrors our experience at the zoo on Saturday morning. There were good parts but there was SO MUCH WHINING from Paul. Like at the end of the outing I wanted to ask if he even enjoyed himself. He was so laser focused on playing at the splash pad but then it rained and was pretty cool so we said we had to skip it. So that just colored his whole experience and resulted in just way too much whining. And I was the parent carrying the crying child out of the zoo because he didn’t want to leave, but we had to get home since Will gets so tired around lunch time. We have a zoo pass so can go there as much as we want but he doesn’t understand that and it’s always a battle to get him to leave things!

        1. It can be tough to swallow when an objectively fun activity turns sour. We had that happen various times over the course of our vacation and it frustrated me every time, especially since it often involved an activity that we had paid money to do which irked me even more.

          No real solution to offer, but I 100% understand the feeling.

  7. This was so fun to read! The mantras that become family lore are always such a unique look into that family’s life.

    I don’t know if I have any mantras from childhood! I’m sure I do, but right now, none are coming to me. I’m mostly thinking about the things my parents would say to us all the time that have stuck with us as inside jokes, like how my dad would wake my brother and me up every morning by turning on our bedroom light and saying, “It’s that time of the morning again!” The worst way for a kid to wake up, hahaha.

    1. I hate waking up and having the light turned on sounds terrible. I used to drip water on to my brother’s face to wake him up. He was 8 years older, so I was being a very pesky little sister. I would be furious if someone did that to me now. I am NOT a morning person.

  8. Thanks for sharing your family sayings and mantras. I feel like these can have real impact, even if it doesn’t appear that way in the moment.

    I feel you on the “not spending money” part.. it’s been really hard while I was on vacation because I felt like we were constantly whipping out our credits cards for things, but “it costs what it costs” is a really good mantra. I kept reminding myself that I don’t spend like that every day and that vacation is meant to be enjoyed. 🙂

    I am trying to remember if there’s anything my parents said when I was growing up. I remember one thing they often said when we as kids would try to get permission to do something that our friends were allowed to do. When we say “everybody is allowed to do it”, my parents’ response simply was “you’re not everybody” (which was a clue to end the conversation right there, but also – in retrospect – emphasized the point that we were our own people and shouldn’t be doing things just because others were doing them.

    1. I love that saying (you’re not everybody!)
      It reminds me of a saying I use occasionally with my kids: right is right even if no one else is doing it; wrong is wrong even if no one else is doing it.

  9. I also say to myself, “You can do hard things.” Not from my childhood, but from my own life. I’ve made it this far, why on earth would I not make it through the Next Hard Thing? 🙂 I also like “Choose the bigger life”. I am so much like you in this regard – wanting to adventure but being held back by my overwhelmingly introverted, homebody personality. And yet… choosing the bigger life has worked out pretty well before. Thank you so much for the reminder.

    And oh, those long family trips that are wonderful in their own way but are also exhausting and so, so hard at the same time… I have memories of them from my childhood, as well as from the last week [on vacation with my family…]. I am glad you had these to pull you through. <3

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