it doesn’t take much to make memories

July 10, 2013 |  Category:   family life outings parenting








I kept thinking over the weekend as I watched the girls enjoy the beach during our day trip to Montauk that we’re giving the kids a really good childhood. And it’s not because we have lots of money to spend on toys and gadgets and trips. On the contrary, we have pared down our lifestyle even further in the last 18 months, partly out of necessity and partly out of the desire to cut down on needless consumerism, but we also acknowledge that we are more fortunate than most. The one thing, for the most part, that we’ve had in abundance despite the intense juggling of business and work, is time spent with the kids. This is what I need to remind myself of when the envy starts to creep in. Oh you know, looking through vacation photos of friends on Facebook, admiring stuff that you wish you could buy.


But what I have learned in recent years is this: the stuff that you wished you sometimes had, that you thought you would need to give your kids a good childhood is often not necessary at all. Sometimes our perception of what we need can be influenced by what our friends and peers have, but it’s really not how much you have that’s important; it’s what you do with what you have that matters.

Not to say that the girls themselves aren’t immune to this. Mia in particular, will sometimes say that she’s the only one in her class who hasn’t traveled to another country yet (oh reeeally? I ask her). She’s been asking to go to sleepaway camp for the past few years like so many of her friends and I tell her, I don’t know, maybe some day. It’s these moments when I start to feel a bit bad that we don’t have the means to do some of the things that they ask for because frankly, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to afford sleepaway camp or extra dance classes or music lessons. But I just need to shake those feelings off because sleepaway camp or no camp, European vacation or not, the girls have a pretty sweet childhood.

Sometimes I feel like I manage our money a little too tight fisted and perhaps that’s rooted in the fear of what’s unknown, but when I see their smiles at the beach or the movies, or the times we spend in the burbs at my parents’ house, then I know that choosing experiences over things is right for us. It may get harder as they get older when they’ll feel pressured on their own to keep up with their peers, but I do hope that we’re laying down the foundation for them to feel secure within themselves, despite of all that (sometimes we need this reminder ourselves too). I remember wanting things and wishing my life was a bit different; I was a teenager once. I hope when they look back, they’ll remember how good it was and they’ll know that we tried to give them the best childhood that we could, just as my mom tried to give us a better childhood than the one she had.

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  • unha July 10, 2013 at 9:27 am

    xoxo you guys are such good parents. hugs!!

  • Louise July 10, 2013 at 9:58 am

    After reading your post, now I feel profoundly grateful that my parents were able to let us make a trip back to Korea to visit family every 2-3 years.

    • Jenna July 10, 2013 at 10:21 am

      I’ve only been there once (well, aside from when I was born). I wonder if I’ll ever get back again. Airplane tickets to Asia are so ridiculously pricey now.

      • Louise July 11, 2013 at 8:48 am

        Sigh, unfortunately. I’m always wondering if I’ll ever reach that level in linguistic proficiency in order to be able to make the trip without my parents in the future. The language barrier is incredibly awkward – my Korean’s gotten pretty bad, and it’s so frustrating not being able to have the same vocabulary level that I have in English when I speak with family members.

        • Jenna July 11, 2013 at 8:56 am

          I’ve wondered the same as my Korean is really bad too, however, my cousin went a few months ago (her Korean is better than mine) and she said that everyone spoke English and the language barrier wasn’t so bad.

          • Erin July 12, 2013 at 2:18 am

            You really don’t need Korean much anymore. My friend and I were hanging out in Seoul and as we discussed which way we needed to go, this adorable college student came up to us and asked, “may I help you.”

            Given, both of us are proficient in Korean, but we (being college friends who couldn’t meet up while living in Philly/DC, but managed to land in Seoul at the same time) prefer speaking English to each other.

            Oh, and the signage and public transportation is all done in English as well as Korean and many places provide english menus if not pictures as well.

            AND, if you can find the right flights, you can eat great korean food for less than the cost of a frappe for most meals, and a splurge can be $10-20 (no tip!), so the trip can be super frugal as well.

            It’s just the 14 hr flight from JFK that kills me. . .

            More importantly, yes, they won’t remember the stuff, but will remember the experiences! My parents could not afford too many splurges, but we never went hungry, lived in an unsafe place, or went without. I didn’t have extra $$ to burn at the mall on “cool” clothes as a teen, but really, I knew even then that it didn’t REALLY matter.

  • jane July 10, 2013 at 10:25 am

    thank you so much for this post. i’ve been going through similar thoughts these days. it’s so nice to know that someone else out there feels the same. i definitely think you’re doing the right thing and giving your kids a really strong healthy foundation in what’s really important.

  • Mieke Zamora-Mackay July 10, 2013 at 10:39 am

    This post touches my heart, Jenna. For a long time when my kids were younger, we couldn’t afford to give them the dance/music/sports lessons that everyone seemed to have. We can afford some now, but still not to the extent that other kids get. We do what we can to provide the experiences that will make them the best persons they can be. I don’t think this feeling of inadequacy ever goes away. We just have to remind ourselves that we do them no favors by indulging them beyond what we can truly afford and are willing to give.

  • Liz Rose Bowman July 10, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Your humbleness is so touching. I’m not a parent yet but I think just spending a lot of time with your kids doing day to day things (exploring, learning, experiences) are the most valuable things.
    Also, everyone in Mia’s class have been out of the country?! Yowza, the first time I went out of the country was my month long honeymoon in New Zealand when I was 23.

    • Jenna July 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

      Oh, I’ sure it’s not true in that way that kids ( and adults too!) say “but everyone is doing it!” But there were a lot of kids in her class this year that were going to Europe during the summer so she was reacting to that I suppose. We will be going to Canada for a few days on our west coast trip this year, so she can say that she’s been out of the country too!

  • Susan July 10, 2013 at 11:12 am

    You’re always providing your kids with fun trips and lots of family time. I think that is way more important than music lessons and trips to Europe (they can always do that on their own later). Your time together is more valuable at that age, more than anything else. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  • Candiew July 10, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Jenna, you’re doing a great job, and your girls will thank you later. They’ll be grateful for your quality time and not stuff. Something to remember when you’re on Facebook:

    ‘You tell me you’re best friends’ world seems beautiful
    But don’t be fooled it’s nice work if you can get it
    What goes on behind closed doors,
    You don’t know
    Maybe she cries herself to sleep every night ‘

    -Daryl Hall and John Oates, ‘Everything Your Heart Desires’

    • Jenna July 10, 2013 at 12:25 pm

      Any day you can quote Hall and Oates is a good day!

    • Jen July 10, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Hall & Oates – I second that!

  • Anne July 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    My cousin’s were the kids that had everything, did everything, etc. when we were growing up–their parents had lots of money and gave them everything they asked for. I can’t remember how many times they went to the olympics! But–the older one is terrible with money-he’s married and his parent still pay for stuff, and thinks that he should have a terribly opulent lifestyle, I don’t think he has the ability to appreciate working hard for something (a long dreamed of trip or experience) and seeing that pay off. The younger one has fared better, but I’d still rather have my childhood then theirs. We spent most every vacation visiting relatives and playing in the neighborhood. I was 14 when I first left the country, but it was part of a girl scout trip that we raised money for over several years. There will always be something that other kids have that your kid doesn’t, i think it’s just a fact of life to be jealous of the positives you can see in other people’s lives without accounting for the negatives. Isn’t that supposed to be the wisdom of getting older?

  • Lulu July 10, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you for this post. Last year to save money, i told my kids we are not going anywhere far, like Disneyland or Santa Cruz Beach where we would usually go to save money. The kids were sad which made me guilty (i shouldn’t be ) so i listed, on a poster board, everything we would do, like a bucket list, and you know what, they realized without even going anywhere, they do alot! So this year i did the same thing, i listed: drive in movie, bowling, matinรฉe, ice cream cone etc, these are things we usually do anyway on top of our vacation, but i think the list helps the kids (and myself) see how much stuff we already do without spending thousands on vacation.

  • liz July 10, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Love this. Thanks, Jenna. Easy for me to get caught up in thinking about everything I don’t have; better to focus on what I do!

  • The triplets July 10, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Been thinking about this sentiment a lot lately- And have been making a conscious effort to spend on experiences not products.

    (we just moved to Park Slope and will definitely be using Sweetfineday for inspiration when choosing our excursions)

    • Jenna July 10, 2013 at 10:54 pm

      Welcome to Park Slope!

  • Carolina July 10, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Jenna- I’ve been a follower of your blog for some years now and I have to say that I’m sometimes envious of your work and lifestyle. Both my husband and I work office jobs and we often wish we had more flexibility than we do now so we could spend more time with our kids. However, we are creatures of routine and not sure we’d be great work-at-home people. One comment: while I think being financially responsible is important, I would caution against being openly “tight-fisted” with money around your children. My parents were super frugal because they had to be but talked about money almost daily. Every request always came in with a “no” rather than a “let’s see how we can make this work.” This embedded a lot of anxiety in me about money and I was often finacially irresponsible when I finally made good money (as an adult) because I was so sick of thinking of how much things cost when I lived at home. Perhaps you only share your money concerns with us readers but just wanted to share that.

    • Jenna July 10, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      I hear you Carolina, and I don’t think that we talk about money like that with the kids. I hear you though and appreciate your input from that perspective. I hope that I don’t come across as complaining about financial concerns on here, though I don’t think talking about money is all that taboo as some people do. I guess in this post, and in others, I’m sharing the things that I am learning and realizing – that in the end, all the stuff that you can buy, while nice, doesn’t create childhood memories – it’s the experiences and the time spent with family that do. We do try to balance the money talk with the kids and feel that it merits some discussion. As I wrote in a previous post, my parents never taught us how to save and I learned on my own as an adult. There needs to be some balance, I think.

    • Caroline July 13, 2013 at 10:14 am

      Hi Carolina

      I really appreciate your thoughts – your sentiment rang so true for me. My father is what I would characterize as *too* frugal. He doesn’t really need to scrimp so much so it’s a choice. That I don’t mind, but it’s that the cost of things is the very first thought that he expresses about something. So I learnt its not the experience that’s valued, but the price tag, and nothing is on his radar unless it’s cheap. I hear ya, when you said requests came with a no first. And because of your post, I’m kind of recognizing the impact it has on me now as an adult. Love this blog and I always read the comments b/c I get a lot out of them as well as Jenna’s writing!

      • Jenna July 13, 2013 at 10:37 am

        Yes, I can see that and it’s something to keep in mind for sure while raising kids. We don’t address money like that around the girls. If we say no to something, we don’t say it’s because of money (usually) – there are other reasons why wanting to buy a 32 oz slurpee might not be a good idea! Again, however, I do think there needs to be some discussion on money so they understand the value of things. For example, one of the girls is prone to losing things and when I ask her what happened to her sweater or water bottle, her response is usually, well we can just buy another one. I don’t want the girls to think that things are disposable and replaceable. I do want them to understand the value of stuff. It’s tricky, this parenting thing! We hope that we’re making the right decisions, however, I’m sure that we make mistakes along the way. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t realize it until later, in hindsight…

        • Caroline July 13, 2013 at 11:41 am

          Hi Jenna

          I have a 4 yo so its early days and I’m just starting to teach her that things cost money. It *is* hard to know if as a parent you are impacting your kid in the right ways regarding money! I’m there with you on that. I actulaly think your take on it, at least as far as I can tell, is very healthy and imparts great values. Experiences not things, right? It has become my mantra this year in particular. I’m interested in hearing from you about the ways you are teaching your girls. Do you teach them through involving them in routine shopping trips? Allowances or earning extra $ through chores? It is something on my horizon as I’m shifting from the early years of baby and toddler when, I think, you are generally more permissive and generous, to then teaching limits.

  • Jen July 10, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    You and your kids have such a lovely life. Maybe there isn’t a yearly European or Asian trip like some people we all know, and maybe we have to think twice before buying something new, but I often tell my husband that when we have kids, we’d love to raise our kids the way you raise yours – in a vibrant, diverse, energetic city, and with you and your husband always being “present.” Your kids will remember your many New York experiences, and seriously how great is the documentation of their life because of your beautiful photography. I grew up in a small town in a claustrophobic neighborhood where all the homes were almost eerily color coded and a bus ride to anywhere took over an hour. My mom worked all day and all night so I was always shuffled around between whoever could pick me up from school and keep me at their house plopped in front of the T.V. (or at the dreaded mall) until she had time to grab me. I seriously thought that’s what a childhood was – mall and MTV – but I would have far preferred the kind of real life experiences your girls have. You guys are a lovely family, really.

    • Jenna July 10, 2013 at 11:16 pm

      Thank you so much for the nice comment, Jen. I can relate to some of your childhood. My very earliest memories involve a lot of crying and hiding under furniture because I was shuttled from one babysitter to another while my parents worked until I was old enough to go to nursery school a few years later. This after just coming to the states, which was a big enough adjustment on its own. But, parents have to do what they have to do, you know?

      • Jen July 11, 2013 at 11:18 am

        Yup absolutely. At the time I didn’t understand what my mom was going through or how her life was. I see now I lived a privileged life in comparison to her poverty and having to work since age 14. Parents want their kids to have better than what they had, and kids only learn the full scope of that later.

  • cg July 10, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    “Oh you know, looking through vacation photos of friends on Facebook, admiring stuff that you wish you could buy.”

    So funny, I look at your pictures and day dream. I used to live in NY when we had no kids. Then we moved back to SF and had a kid and now it’s harder to travel b/c of finances, time, schedules, etc.

    So I gaze at your pics, read about the happenings and I get a little… wistful and wishful.

    But you’re right, we have our own good things happening here even if the kiddo goes to a public camp thrown by Park & Rec instead of some specialized camp where she’s really learning skills. She’s happy.

    She’s happy. It’s all that counts right, that our kids are happy.

    • Jenna July 10, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      I guess that goes to show that the grass is always greener on the other side! And I also think that it’s us, as parents, who stress and think about the greener side, not the kids. I don’t think for the most part that kids care about that stuff. Yes, they are happy, and that is huge.

  • carol July 11, 2013 at 1:41 am

    hi jenna, i have been reading your blog for awhile now and noticing that the girls are getting older, bigger. the most important thing for children’s spirits are loving and attentive parents. and, yes, your thoughtfulness about consuming will affect your girls as they mature. which they will, in what seems a blink. enjoy them.

  • NC July 11, 2013 at 9:53 am

    This post hit me to the core. Thanks for sharing…

  • Natalie July 11, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Thank you Jenna for this post. I can relate to you in many ways, and I needed to be reminded of this today. I agree with you on lessening the consumerism aspect in our lives, and improving on the qualitative nature of the time we spend as a family. I am on a mission to down size on the needless materialistic things we buy too. I also am motivated to spend less, as you say, as parents we should fear the unknown and plan for a rainy day. But I also agree about the vacations etc, I think the trip you guys made to Montauk would’ve been amazing and has inspired me that we should probably do the same next week. PS : is it okay if i ask what beach exactly this was at ? it seems lovely !! Thanks again. x

    • Jenna July 11, 2013 at 11:09 am

      Hi Natalie, the one swimming public parking beach is Hither Hills and there is the lighthouse beach of course. Everything else is private parking which you can get if you stay at one of the motels. Just a word of caution – it takes about 3+ hours to drive from the city and back. We were coming and going from my mom’s house so it made a day trip more possible in terms of the drive. I don’t know that we would have done it in a day if we were coming from Brooklyn because the traffic through the hamptons, which is one lane, is pretty awful. As you might guess, motels are pretty booked too, but you should check to see if there are any vacancies. It’s shockingly expensive though now – not like when we went as kids!

      • Natalie July 11, 2013 at 11:59 pm

        That is very helpful Jenna, Thanks ! I did note the tedious drive / exorbitant prices. We are now thinking maybe Fire island will be a better alternative given the last minute plans. But haven’t ruled out Montauk…and will make it happen at a slightly later date, it will just take a bit more planning I suppose :) …Thanks again !!