Does Your Family Need A Retreat? 5 Things You Need To Make It Work!

by April, Family, Outstanding Initiatives

When you hear the word retreat you probably think: solitude, monastery, deep prayer,  and peace.  These are all images of a retreat that you may have attended or have envisioned yourself participating in some day.  It hardly lines up with the word, “family,” which often brings to mind: loud noises, constant motion, and mild chaos.  But believe it or not, a family retreat is not only possible, but could be exactly what your family may need.

Just as a retreat by yourself is a great way to relax, heal, reconnect with God, and renew your vision for your life, a retreat with your family can do the same things.  One could be as necessary as the other. Do you need time to reconnect? parents to children, children to children, family to God? Do you like the direction your family is going?  Perhaps you need some healing?

One of our first “family retreats”  just fell into place at a time when we needed it most.  It wasn’t a planned family retreat, and I didn’t even call it that, but what transpired was definitely a retreat–it was a powerful spiritual experience that healed and bonded our family.  What had happened was that we lost our baby during the 5th month of pregnancy.  This was totally unexpected.  And since the baby was pretty well developed by this time of the pregnancy, we had to go through labor, delivery, and a small funeral for this tiny child.  

As I was physically and emotionally healing, I just felt called to “get away.”  It was suggested that maybe I needed a retreat, but I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from not only my husband, but also my other children.  When you lose one, you realize how precious the lives of the others are and just want to be close to them.  Thus, we took the whole family “on retreat” in the middle of March that year.

It was just a cabin from Airbnb in the mountains of North Carolina, about a couple hours away.  It had a pool table and a hot tub which occupied my kids who were ages 5-15.  We didn’t watch tv or spend any time on our phones, but instead played games, did some hikes, and just spent time together.  As far as “spiritual” moments,  we simply prayed a rosary, talked about the death of the baby, and as I was resting and recovering, I had time to journal, pray, and do some spiritual reading.  I also made time to talk to each of my children individually to see how they were doing.  They also had time just to hang out with one another as siblings. It was the perfect family retreat.

Following that retreat which happened over a decade ago, my husband and I have taken the family on many other retreats. And one’s family certainly doesn’t have to experience a tragedy to need a retreat, often it’s just our busy modern lives that draw us to desire this time to reset, rest, and restart.  For us, we often disguised them as family vacations, but they all had certain elements that made them “retreats,”too. 

So whether you are trying to put some retreat elements into your family vacation, or just going all out for a family retreat, here are some suggestions for some needed components. 

5 Things You’ll Need For A Family Retreat

  1. Time. No matter where or what you do for your family retreat, the first and most important element is time. And lots of it. There’s always a lot of talk of quantity of time versus quality time, but you usually can’t move into quality time without quantity.  We human beings do not work that way.  And often for busy families, one of the best ways to get time together is to intentionally plan for it–like time away on a trip or vacation.  And depending on the ages and personalities of your children, you will need time together disguised in so many ways:  traveling in the car, hiking, playing games, sitting on the beach, playing catch, fishing, eating meals, crafting, and watching a sunset.  From moments spent together like these can spring the best conversations.
  2. Moments of prayer.  These can certainly be awkward if your family isn’t used to praying together.  But don’t worry.  Sometimes, it takes just getting out of your regular routines and surroundings for family prayer to happen. Your vacation or retreat is perfect for this. Start small and simple.  “Hey Fam, would you all be willing to join me tonight after dinner to say a decade of the rosary? I’d really like to pray for our family while we have this time away..”   Perhaps gather around a campfire or on the porch.  Take some prayer requests. Other ideas while traveling are daily Mass and visits to a shrine.  Start your trip with prayer in the car while you’ve got that captive audience and get the trip started on the right foot.   
  3. Reasonable limits on screens.  I know this may be tough for many teens, especially if this has been the pattern of past vacations, but if you go into it with these limited-screen expectations, the kids will adjust.  Sometimes it helps to call it a “retreat” because that seems to put this idea into your kids’ minds.  Find what works for your family.
  4. Beauty.  Nothing opens the soul like exposure to beauty. Beaches, mountains, desserts, streams, and farmlands.  Time spent in the wonder of creation keeps the gaze and thoughts to God.  I think nature is best, but certainly not the only way.  Cities with their architectural grandeurs, cathedrals, and museums are certainly awe inspiring and don’t forget their interesting inhabitants, especially those who differ from ourselves. 
  5. And finally, fun.  Joy and laughter are the way to our children’s hearts and cement our family bonds.  There is something about playing together that unites us.  These happy feelings and emotions also warm us up to one another and help us to open up and entrust ourselves to one another.  Fun is crucial for a family retreat, especially if you want to make retreating a regular event that your family looks forward to.

I’m actually in the business of retreats now. I facilitate them not only for my own children, but also for other families.  My husband and I recently purchased a retreat center near to those same mountains of our first family retreat which happened over a decade ago.  We host all kinds of retreats for parishes, groups, and individuals, but some of our favorites are the ones we host for families.  

This upcoming week, we have a family who has come here now for their 3rd year.  The patriarch, Grandpa, of this family hosts his 6 grown children and their families.  This group of almost 35 spends the weekend doing “mountain” stuff like hiking to waterfalls, attends Mass together, plays games, does a service project for our retreat center, shares meals together, and usually does a big evening event like a dance or talent show.  Grandpa says that he loves giving the moms a break by doing all the planning and letting the retreat center do all of the cooking.  

Last spring, I remember a young family with 2 children who came on retreat so that the dad could fish and hang out with their two boys.  As a family, they stayed in one of our small cottages.  I saw them make a couple of brief visits to our small Blessed Sacrament Chapel as a family. The mom said in an email after they left that it was just what they needed–time away to “unplug and reconnect.”

My final example and most favorite family retreats are our weeklong family Catholic summer camps that we host at our retreat center over the summer. And yes, this is a plug!   It’s a chance for families to come away on retreat with other families.  It seems to be the best combo of vacation and retreat as families spend intentional time with their own individual families, are encouraged and have fun with other Catholic families, have opportunities for spiritual growth like Mass, confession, and some faith sessions, and spend time in the beautiful Carolina mountains. 

Please take a look at our website and listen to the witness of other families who have experienced this life-changing time together and consider if your family could use a retreat.

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