I know this really great family. I might be biased, because they are part of my family, but I think anyone who knows them will agree. . .this bunch is a good one. Today, you’ll meet Ronnie and Nan Croney and their three boys, David, Daniel, and Dallan. Anyone who has or is currently parenting teenagers can tell you it’s not always super easy to foster strong sibling relationships, but the one thing you quickly notice when you’re around this family is that the boys are best friends. They laugh and have fun with each other, and even hang out with each other voluntarily when they have a night off!
By now, you’re wondering. . .What is their secret?
Of course, raising a strong, happy family involves many different variables, but this family is quick to say that they owe a lot of what they enjoy now to the family RV road trips they have done since the boys were very young. What started out as a desire to spend time as a family and get away from the pressures of work and day-to-day life has turned out to be a collection of memories that has bonded their family together in a way that may not have happened otherwise.
As the boys were nearing their teen years, Ronnie and Nan realized that what everyone had told them all those years was true. Their boys were growing up! They could see that their years to spend time together and make memories as a family were dwindling, and decided to make the most of the years the boys were still at home by being intentional about planning memorable family vacations.
As a couple, they decided that the most financially feasible option would be road trips – made more affordable with the use of their RV trailer. The next obstacle was finding the time that Ronnie could leave work and the boys could go without missing too much school. The answer? The Christmas holidays. With the boys blessing, they decided as a family to scale back their Christmas gift giving/receiving and use the money to explore the country as a family.
Most of us would be deterred from long RV road trips in December and January, but amazingly enough, Ronnie and Nan and their boys have traveled through and visited almost every state in the country this way. What’s more, they will all agree that despite the sometimes cold weather, this was one of the best decisions they have ever made for their family. In Nan’s words, it “turned out to be something really great”.
Just look at this list of some of the states and sights the family has visited: New York City, Upstate New York, Niagara Falls, Lake Michigan, Lake Champlain, Washington DC, Nauvoo, Illinois, Southern California, West Virginia, New Orleans, Lake Ponchartrain, Tennessee, the Florida Keys, Galveston, Texas, Arizona, The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, San Francisco, Oregon, and Canada!
Nan said, “We have been able to give our kids so many diverse experiences. They have had a chance to see how people live in so many different locals. We have visited with people from all different walks of life and they have learned there are good people everywhere, all around the world. We were able to explore Washington DC at Christmastime, with all of the lights and decorations. We visited New York City, where we parked the RV and rode the subway all over the city. The boys were able to see how people in a big city live and get to work, which is such a different way of life from what we are used to! We drove through upstate New York during the maple season and saw the sap buckets hanging on all the trees. We camped next to the Mississippi river near Nauvoo, Illinois. We’ve visited Disney Parks, camped next to the ocean in California, Texas, and the Florida Keys. We drove across Lake Ponchartrain and it was so interesting to drive 45 minutes on a road right through the middle of a lake! The boys were able to see the homes that had boat docks instead of driveways! We visited New Orleans a few years after Hurricane Katrina and saw the devastation there. We’ve explored the sand dunes and got the camper stuck in the sand in Yuma, Arizona! We adventured through San Francisco, which is such a beautiful city. And we absolutely loved Yosemite, that was a great trip!”
When I asked them what they had learned through their travels, they commented that they have learned that trips don’t have to be expensive or extravagant. They have visited museums and national parks. They remembered one year when gas prices were particularly high, Ronnie and Nan told the boys that there would be very few presents that year from Santa (although this has been minimal on their trips, this year was particularly so). That year, despite very few tangible gifts, the boys remember really learning the value of family and that “stuff” doesn’t matter.
Another bonus of their trips is that the kids learned to play and have fun together. They have learned to have fun playing board games and card games (or as Nan puts it, Ronnie learned to actually sit and play games with them). Because most of their trips are fairly long (about two weeks) they have really had to learn to get along with each other, to share, and work together. Nan said, “The first few trips there was much more fighting, poking, etc. We learned very quickly that it wasn’t going to work if everyone didn’t get along. I remember several times through the middle of Wyoming when Ronnie actually stopped the truck and made the boys walk alongside the road for quite a distance. He told them if they were going to fight, they could do it out there!” Eventually, they came up with lots of road games and talking activities that helped them occupy long hours in the truck while traveling. Nan notes that they very rarely use videos/movies on their trips, but try to use the time to visit and get to know each other better. Over time, the trips have brought the family close together. They now credit this time together as the key to the boys becoming best friends.
One funny memory is of a time they were camped over night in a Wal-Mart parking lot near Nauvoo. The temperatures were well below zero and they desperately hoped the heater was working! It did, and they stayed “perfectly comfortable” and toasty warm all night long!
I loved what Dallan, the youngest (and now a senior in high school) had to say about their family Christmas trips. “We’ve always done it. I’m just so grateful we can. I have a constant memory of us always doing road trips. I’d rather do road trips than flying trips. There is more one-on-one. There’s a lot of suffering! At one point of the drive, there’s always one point we all want to die, but if one of us suffers we all have to suffer! I love our road trips!”
Three cheers to families suffering together!
But really, there is something to be said about a family having to learn to get along, to be patient and civil when you feel like you’ve hit the end of your rope, and to play and talk together for hours at a time. In our busy, fast paced, technology focused world, these moments don’t just happen. We have to create them. I admire this family for the way they have intentionally created so many memories and learning experiences together. They have definitely traded the “stuff” for something far better! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Christmas!
It’s hard to believe, but Christmas is right around the corner! This is a great time of year to start thinking about how you can make this special time of year more meaningful and memorable for the ones you love. One thing is for certain, and a principle that the Croney family insists upon, you’ll never regret an investment in your family.