Memory-Making Mom: Building Traditions That Breathe Life Into Your Home

Memory-Making Mom: Building Traditions That Breathe Life Into Your Home

by Jessica Smartt


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Wednesday, July 28


Be a different kind of mom. Break through the distractions and create lasting memories.

What’s the solution to gaining the balanced, meaningful life you desire with your family? Create traditions that bring joy and significance. Popular "Smartter Each Day" blogger and mom of three, Jessica Smartt explains why memory-making is the puzzle piece that today’s families are longing for. She highlights the tradition-gifts kids need most with 300+ unique traditions including:

  • Food: Memories That Stick to Your Ribs
  • Holidays: Fall Bucket Lists, Crooked Christmas Trees, and Lingering Over Lent
  • Spontaneity: Let's Go on an Adventure
  • Faith: Why You Need the Puzzle Box

She also offers practical encouragement to modern parents to keep on adventuring—even when they are fighting distractions, are on a budget, and exhausted.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785221227
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 422,424
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jessica Smartt is a former English teacher turned homeschooling mama of three. A week after her first baby was born, she began her motherhood blog “Smartter” Each Day. Jessica and her husband live in beautiful North Carolina, where she loves hiking with kids (mostly), steaming coffee in the afternoon, family bike rides, and anything that’s ever been done to a potato.

Read an Excerpt



You are what you remember.


THREE YEARS AGO, ON A BEAUTIFUL SUNDAY IN JUNE, we nearly lost our son. For all of the scheming, controlling, and protecting I have done for his entire life, this time — the worst time — it was my fault. Me, the mom. My fault he had an allergic reaction requiring four EpiPen injections. My fault we rode in the ambulance. My fault we spent two days in the ICU. I was the one who made his oatmeal, made the other oatmeal, confused them, didn't watch.

There was a lot of guilt.

There was a lot of fear. So, so much fear. A large load of it, as you'd imagine, over things like, How do we actually go on? How do we live knowing one single bite of the wrong food could do this?

There was something else, though.

Late that evening, I sat in the hospital recliner, feet tucked under me, listening to the beeps and hums of medical equipment. I watched his little sleeping chest rise and fall rhythmically. (Thank You, Jesus.) In the first dark calm of the whole horrible day, a different kind of fear swept over me. It wasn't fear of losing him. It was fear of parenting with deep regret. I saw the last six years of his little life playing like a movie in my head. Where was I in that movie? I was rushing. I didn't make eye contact; I was busy. I was on my phone a lot. The days were mostly slurred together in one long monotonous blur.

I sat in that awful hospital room and wept. Wept for the stupid allergies, yes, but wept for my missed chances. And, I realized through sobs, I was terrified. I was terrified, of course, of losing our son. Lord, please help us; he is in Your hands. But I was also terrified of him living, and me texting, hurrying, cleaning, and rushing through his childhood. We did not lose our son that day. But if we had? And those six years that felt like a snap of the fingers — what if that was our chance at parenting? The rush of regret was nearly palpable.

I feared this song would play on repeat through all three of our children's lives. I feared we would feel that same sense of crushing incompleteness eighteen years later, closing the door to some safety award- winning sedan in which we'd packed their stuff, kissing them through the window, and watching them drive off to a dorm room or apartment somewhere. The car would dim out of view, and we'd feel terrible remorse at the opportunities we had missed to make memories that matter.

I want to parent well.

I want to send my children off with memories for roots, love for wings. I want my children to know they are loved, to know what they believe, and to have the tools they need to succeed. I don't want any regrets.

In a strange way, this allergic reaction was a gift. A wake- up call, as those ambulance- ride kind of days tend to be. I knew we needed a change. But how? Gradually, the answer came to me: what our family needed was traditions.


I know it seems a curious answer at first. How could chipped ceramic plates with painted- on rabbits, that "same old" devotional book fished from under the bed each night, pizza on paper plates every Friday ... how could these trifles satisfy the deep longings we have for our children? These things are little, insignificant nothings. Yet grouped together, repeated over and over, expected and longed for week after week, Christmas after Christmas — these rituals tell a story, make a childhood, bind a family, build a faith.

I knew this was true when I watched my sister and her family. They seemed to celebrate everything with whimsy and inexplicable energy. Friday night? Pizza time! Saint Patrick's Day? Beer bread and shepherd's pie! Snow day? The legendary snowman pancakes of course! And on and on. It was insanely annoying to watch, like a real- live Pinterest explosion three houses down from my own.

I couldn't articulate it, but I wanted my life — our family — to be more like that. While our months seemed to drone on, theirs were punctuated with special, predictable traditions. Fun, basically. They were having more fun.

It took some time, but slowly it dawned on me there was no reason we couldn't also become a traditions family. Sure, I was a little late to the ball game, but who cares? Couldn't we still give it a shot? As these things tend to go, the kids were not in the slightest reticent to try some of my new changes. They received every new celebration and family ritual with childhood elation.

As our home has become filled with more "specials" and more exclamations of "today's the day!" I have seen with my own eyes the gifts that come from being a tradition- family.


There are plenty of long, fancy definitions for tradition, but I think of it simply: traditions are a planned determination to remember, celebrate, and value what is important.

The fun things. The special things. The meaning things. The things with truth and goodness and warmth. Traditions vary from person to person, family to family, culture to culture. And that's the beauty; we decide what is meaningful, and we celebrate it.

As I think to my own childhood, few traditions were more wonderful than our yearly beach vacation to Daytona Beach, Florida. I can tell you exactly when it started. One day we kids were eating tuna- fish sandwiches at the beat- up oak kitchen table when Mom asked, "Guys, how would you like to go to Daytona Beach with your cousins this summer?"

Waves of prepubescent joy shot through my body. Our cousins and dearest friends in the whole world? Could anything be more exciting? It absolutely could not. We had been to Daytona Beach for the past two summers, but to have our dearest cousin-friends digging holes in the sand with us, drinking nonalcoholic strawberry daiquiris on vinyl lounge chairs, and correcting one-piece bathing suit wedgies from too much boogie boarding — guys, this was all almost too exciting to imagine. This was the pinnacle of life, right here. I had reached euphoria at ten years old.

Our two families lived four states away, so we had to share our joy long distance. We wrote giddy letters back and forth for months (the real kind, with stamps and misspellings and purple Lisa Frank stickers). As the week neared, we'd go shopping for a brand-new outfit, maybe two if we were lucky. One year I got purple and green shorts with daisy appliques. I think I refolded them a dozen times in my suitcase to make sure the daisies didn't crumple the wrong way, you know, in transit. Years later when I gushed to my husband, Todd, about Daytona Beach, he said it sounded like I was confused and was instead describing Bermuda.

Daytona was the highlight of every year, the best part of every summer. One year Uncle Joe burned blisters on his feet from walking three miles in the sand to eat oysters. One year there were wildfires in Florida, and we couldn't get a tan (cue teenage heartbreak) because the cloud of ashes was so thick it'd drop pieces of soot on our towels. That year was a bust. But we went back every summer for ten years. It was tradition.

I doubt my parents ever sat down with bullet-point lists and parental intention as they resolved, "We need a tradition. Let's make it Daytona Beach, every last week in June." As with many traditions, it grew in importance. Maybe you remember a few of your own from your childhood. More likely than not, you have some right now with your own family — maybe some you haven't even realized are traditions.

I don't know what prompted you to pick up this book. Maybe you've been longing for more richness and more celebrating in your home. Maybe your family has had its own wake-up-call experience, like our son's allergic reaction, and you've resolved to be more intentional about the things that matter. Whatever your story, I believe that the message of this book can change the course of your family. I believe that five, ten, or twenty years later, the traditions you start now can be some of your family's most treasured memories. I'm here to hold your hand as we dream about what this could look like for your family.



All the Hard Work Is Worth It

How precious a thing is the human family. Is it not worth some sacrifice in time, energy, safety, discomfort, and work?


IF YOU'RE LIKE ME, TRADITIONS SOUND DREAMY IN theory, but the reality of implementing them makes you want to curl up for a nap. At some point, you're going to look at a wrinkly tablecloth jammed in a linen closet, cracker crumbs all over the floor, the un-browned beef that was supposed to be a pot roast dinner, and you will think something along the lines of, Never mind that stupid traditions book. I am exhausted. Traditions are dumb. (Not that I have ever thought this, but so I've heard.)

At that point you have a choice to make. You can call it quits and feed everyone frozen waffles in front of the TV, or you can pull together the few remaining shreds of energy you have and make some tradition magic. I'm here to make the case against the waffles.

Now, that's not to say a mama doesn't need a break every so often (more on that later). And no disrespect to frozen waffles, which have an accumulated specialness of their own. But there is a point we cannot avoid: keeping good rituals alive takes work. We need a why to keep us motivated. Let's talk about the why.


When we facilitate traditions, we create stability and security for children as well as adults. In Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noël Piper relays the story of a friend who had a difficult and unsatisfying childhood, but every year, without fail, there were staple holiday traditions: the red Jell-O mold for Christmas, the paltry potato salad for Easter. These insignificant rituals were predictable and comforting even though the spiritual aspects of her family life were lacking.

There is something innate in us humans that craves routine. We are made in the image of the One who created the hours and rhythmic seasons and makes the sun rise every blessed day. We find comfort in the repetition and the counted-on. Especially our little ones. If you have any sort of regular family ritual, you probably already know exactly what I mean. Do your little ones erupt with joy when they realize, Today! Today is the day!

My kids do that with Saturday morning pancakes. This was one of our first traditions, which I was hesitant to start because I thought, Saturdays are so busy. We' ll never be able to keep up with it. Oh, but we do! They'll never let me forget that Saturday mornings exist only for blueberry pancakes, crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, and orange slices. One week, as a tradition novice, I made the mistake of trying to serve oatmeal. There was a near mutiny. They literally squeal in ecstasy when they see the griddle on the counter. Is it that our breakfast life is that pathetic the other six days? Are my pancakes the fluffiest and most decadent pastries known to man? You would think so, but I assure you that is not the case. It is not the pancakes. It's the ritual.

When I was very young, my dad traveled a lot. I hated that he left, but I knew that he would bring back a treat for us when he traveled. I missed him terribly; I would sneak into my parents' bedroom late at night and smell his pillow for the lingering cologne. But when we finally heard the door crack open and bags drop to the foyer floor, we would scurry in and scream, "What did you bring us?!" Because there was always something. I hardly remember the gifts, weirdly. A butterscotch lollipop, maybe? A Matchbox car? It mattered little. We simply knew he would come home, and there'd be a treat waiting. There is just nothing like a predictable ritual.


Traditions create positive memories we can draw on during times of sadness, temptation, or loneliness. They are a way of intentionally packing a box of memories for our kids to take with them when they leave home. We must be intentional to fill their boxes with verses memorized, foods relished, adventures made, beauty seen.

My box of memories helped me when I was a lonely, awkward college freshman living five hundred miles from home. No lie. I endured those first few dreadful weeks solely by remembering Thanksgiving. Sure, I was showering in my flip-flops (weird), sleeping across the room from a total stranger, and eating under-salted beef goulash for dinner. But no worries; in a few short months, I'd pull up a chair between my cousins and sisters at the massive family table, and we'd eat mashed potato stuffing and apple crumb pie until we had to unbutton our jeans. College? I could make it. Baby steps.

You never know what traditions your children will treasure the rest of their lives. One child may grow up regaling his kids about the special red plate that he always got on his birthday. Another might insist on Monday spaghetti night for the rest of history. Another might remember the special back rubs when she was sick, the warm apple cider by the fire ... who knows what memory-seeds will grow into big oak trees of joy and comfort in their souls?


Traditions insert spark and fun into the mundane monotony of life. Need proof? Watch a child's face when you drag a seven-foot-tall pine tree over the oriental rug and plop it next to the coffee table. Pure magic! The week before Christmas we dress the kids in their warmest pajamas, sprint to the van, layer fuzzy blankets and stuffed animals on top of them in their car seats, and drive around to look at Christmas lights. The first year I tried to serve hot chocolate and candy canes on the ride, but after cleaning gelatinized chocolate goo out of car seat crevices and candy canes out of ponytails, I opted to put that aspect of the tradition on temporary hold. Besides, twenty-feet-tall inflatable reindeer whose heads turn back and forth are special enough when you're three years old. No need for refreshments, really. It's a glorified car ride, but to them it's magical. Traditions impart a spark of fun, brightness, and joy to break the monotony of life.


I love hymns, and a few years ago I attempted to institute "family hymn sing" in the mornings. I wanted those rich, old words as daily reminders of our faith. Of course, family hymn sing sounds quite romantic, doesn't it? But for the first three months, I was literally singing to myself. It was just me and the kids because my husband had already left for work. They would mumble, collapse on the table like their upper bodies had turned to mush, roll their eyes, chatter through it.

After eight faithful weeks I had one convert: the two-year-old, who surprisingly learned a fair portion of the first stanza of "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee." Eventually she rubbed off on her two older brothers, one of whom, after four solid months of my solos, wondered aloud one morning, "Hey, aren't we going to sing today?" All of which is a strong testament to the need for steady perseverance in the face of children who appear to be sleeping or suffering through your important things. We all enjoy it now, and they're learning the words, and I even hear them humming hymns as they're swinging on the swing set or playing with LEGOs. It took work, but I knew hymns and their rich wording were important, so I kept at it. And every time we sing, we have the reminder of God's love. Traditions make us remember.


Traditions make us implement what is important. What I mean here is that it's one thing to say you value something, but to do it regularly takes a different sort of gumption. Maybe I am just extra lazy, but I'm afraid that if church were not a thing, for example, and I had to randomly muster up the energy on any given day to bathe, dress, corral my children and their seventeen various required bags, drive across town, and keep them quiet and still for ninety minutes that can feel like seven hours whenever we felt like it, we would rarely go. But church is a thing. It's a Sunday thing, and we do it every single week. The tradition makes the important happen.


Excerpted from "Memory-Making Mom"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Jessica Smartt.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Before You Read This Book xi

Chapter 1 The Worst Day, the Best Gift 1

Chapter 2 Why I Iron the Napkins: All the Hard Work Is Worth It 7

Chapter 3 Spontaneity: Let's Go on an Adventure 16

Chapter 4 Beauty: On Teapots, Birdwatching, and the Smell of Bacon 26

Chapter 5 Food: Memories That Stick to Your Ribs 45

Chapter 6 Holidays: Crooked Christmas Trees and Lingering Over Lent 70

Chapter 7 Learning: Cultivating Curiosity 91

Chapter 8 Service: When Someone Needs Help, We Help 106

Chapter 9 Relationships: One-on-One Time Makes the Difference 121

Chapter 10 Work: The Best Memories Involve Soap and Buckets (More or Less) 139

Chapter 11 Rest: Sundays Are a Gift, and So Is the Flu 154

Chapter 12 Faith: Why You Need the Puzzle Box 172

Questions You May Be Asking 187

Acknowledgments 197

Appendix: 200+ Great Memory-Making Ideas 199

Notes 219

About the Author 225

Customer Reviews