50 Things Every Parent Should Do in Their Lifetime

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Being a parent is one of the most life-changing experiences anyone can have. Rewarding and challenging, parenting is more than just ensuring that kids grow up safe and happy, it's letting them know how much they matter to you.

"Every person needs to feel a sense of attachment and to feel like the primary people in their lives want, and choose, to spend time with them," said Dr. Gwen Kesten, a Connecticut-based psychologist who works with couples and families. "It gives the message that they have value. And that they're interesting and enjoyable to be with at the most basic level."

Equally important, however, is that parents make time to take care of themselves, too.

"When you're happy and being fulfilled, you bring more to your kids, and also role model how important it is for everybody to take the life they're given and make the most of it," she said.

Based on Kesten's advice of spending meaningful time with your kids without losing sight of your own wishes and goals, here are things, big and small, every parent should do in their lifetime.

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Read with the kids

Depending on the age of your child, choose a book together and take turns reading it. According to the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, there are countless benefits of reading including supporting brain development in younger kids and encouraging back-and-forth interactions with older children. If your kids are grown and have moved out, start a family book club - it's a great way to stay connected.

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Teach your child about money

Since money doesn't grow on trees, learning how to manage it is something parents should teach their children starting at an early age. A surprising number of young adults have little financial skills, which could lead to debt and other problems later in adulthood. Good places to start include starting a family piggy bank to build savings, giving kids small jobs for a commission and modeling good behavior in your own spending habits.

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Have a friends reunion

It can be hard to build friendships that stand the test of time, especially if you've grown apart or moved away. It's just one of the ways friendships can change as you get older. According to the Mayo Clinic, friends are good for your health because they increase a sense of belonging, boost happiness and are there to help us cope during difficult times. Whether it's a smaller trip or the gang plans an adventure to one of the best beaches in the world, reach out to long-lost friends and reconnect.

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Take your child to work

Just like it's good for you to understand what your child's day at school is like, giving them insight into your world is also important. Taking kids with you to work not only helps them understand you better, but it also exposes them to possible career paths and future possibilities. Most workplaces allow parents to bring their kids to work on a designated day each April as part of the national Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

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Bake something as a family

Baking brings people together. Whether it's making a better-than-boxed cake or tray of chocolate chip cookies, the teamwork involved can help with bonding. And it doesn't have to be complicated, especially if you incorporate a few easy cooking hacks. It's also especially beneficial for kids. According to the KidsHealth website, cooking can help young kids learn basic math concepts along with building language skills.

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Learn a new sport

If you've been doing the same workout routine for years, it's time to shake things up. Trying a new sport or activity is not only a great way for parents to break up the same old routine, but it's also good for kids. According to University of Missouri Health Care, being involved in sports and physical activity can help children do better in school, improve problem-solving skills and boost self-esteem.

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Get dressed up and make it fancy

It doesn't matter if you go to a high-end steakhouse or your favorite pizza joint, the act of getting dressed up for a special occasion is fun. Doing it with your kids can be a great way to spend time together, but don't be afraid to treat yourself, too. There's no reason you can't put on your best special occasion attire and head out for a night on the town without the kids.

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Play hooky

Everyone needs an occasional mental health day to escape some of life's biggest stressors. Take an unexpected day off together and spend it checking out the most-visited tourist attraction in your state, or doing some fun indoor activities or science experiments with your kids.

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A box of crayons or colored pencils brings out the kid in all of us. Coloring with your child is not only a good way to spend focused time together, but it's also a surprisingly good way to meditate and relieve stress. According to a study published in the Arts in Psychotherapy journal, coloring has been shown to improve self-perceptions of creativity, help us relax and make us feel happy.

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More than 1 billion people around the world serve as volunteers, helping out in their communities or making a difference in the lives of other people. It's personally fulfilling and volunteering can also help sharpen your skills and improve your mental and physical health. Volunteering with your kids is beneficial because it helps them develop a greater sense of empathy, learn about cooperation and can help them learn how to show gratitude.

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Chaperone a field trip

Every parent should sign up to chaperone or attend at least one school field trip. Even though it probably means taking a day off work, the experience gives you a chance to spend time with your child doing something different. You also get to meet some of their teachers and fellow classmates, providing insight into what their day-to-day school life is like.

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Write a letter to a younger or future self

Whether you're a brand new parent or you just sent the kids off to college, write a letter to your younger or future self. It's either a meaningful exercise in defining your future goals or it can be an opportunity to reflect on how much you've accomplished. Encouraging your kids to do the same can help them visualize hopes and dreams and serve as a time capsule down the road.

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Jump in a pile of leaves

Autumn is arguably the best time of year. Between all things pumpkin and spectacular fall foliage, it's a season to look forward to. Jumping in a pile of leaves is a throwback to childhood and a fun experience with your kids. Before making the leap, make sure the leaves are in a safe location and that there aren't any sharp sticks, rocks or other hidden dangers lurking inside.

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Have a campout

There's nothing like exploring this country's amazing natural wonders. Even better? Sleeping under the stars as part of a campout. Whether you set up a tent in the backyard or make it a weekend getaway, camping provides an opportunity to unplug and spend quality time together. According to Harvard Health Publishing, it's good for kids to spend time outside because it allows them to practice problem-solving skills, to take risks and develop an appreciation of nature.

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Go to a parade

Parades are wondrous events, especially in the eyes of a child. With a processional of marching bands, floats and other spectacular sights, they are exciting. As a parent, watching the joy it brings to your children is equally as wondrous, if not more. Attending a parade can be as simple as going to a local Fourth of July celebration or doing it up big and going to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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Create a family cookbook

Whether they've been handed down for generations or whipped up on a whim, recipes represent meals that have brought people together. Even if they're recipes that no one makes anymore, collecting everyone's favorite foods and organizing them into a book or album is a great project, especially if they're throwbacks to your childhood. Having them in one place will make them easier to find when you want to make a dish and will help preserve them for future generations.

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Adopt or rescue a pet

Unless you or someone in your family has an allergy, bringing home and caring for a furry friend is an experience everyone should have. Adopting or rescuing a pet also offers health benefits like lowering blood pressure through regular exercise, promoting social interactions and providing companionship.

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Watch a sunrise or sunset

According to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, people who are connected to nature experience a greater sense of well-being. What better way to connect with nature than to watch a sunrise or sunset? Setting aside time to witness either, especially from some of the best viewing spots, is a good excuse to slow down and just breathe. Doing it with your kids is even better and can help them develop an appreciation for all the wonders of the world.

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Create an original piece of art

It's easy to lose touch with your creative side after becoming a parent. Even if art isn't your hobby, producing a watercolor or making pottery doesn't require expertise, just the desire to create something. Whether you do it with your kids or as part of your alone time, making art is good for you. A study done by PLOS One suggests that it can help improve brain function, and according to another study, it can also reduce sadness. Beyond the benefits, original works of art are also a reflection of the artist and can be treasured forever.

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Let your child fail at something

No one wants to see their child fail. When they don't make the team or they're fired from their first job, it's hard not to try to fix it. But in trying to make it better, parents could be doing just the opposite. According to a study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, college students who reported having overly involved parents tended to have higher levels of depression and feel less satisfied with life. And being too involved can be one of the ways you're unknowingly offending them. So, depending on the circumstances, let your child fail and allow them to learn from it.

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Take a road trip

It might take a little longer to get where you're going, but it's all about the journey, not the destination. Spending time together on the road builds lasting memories and allows you to see some amazing views along the way. There might be some bickering and you might even get lost while driving, but when you do, you might come across amazing roadside attractions you would have otherwise missed.

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Learn to play an instrument

If you've always wanted to play the piano or shred on the electric guitar, it's not too late. Whether you're picking it up because your child is in a school band or the kids are grown and you want to do something for yourself, learning to play an instrument is good for the brain. According to a study by Frontiers in Neuroscience, music production is a complex task and requires developing precise motor skills, potentially improving cognitive function.

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Build a fort

Times may change, but one thing stays the same: forts are good fun and if you own pillows, sheets and blankets you've pretty much got it covered in terms of supplies. Kids of every age enjoy building a secret hideaway and it's an easy activity to do together. Forts also make the perfect nook in which to read a book or play make-believe.

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Just say 'no'

From eating all the Halloween candy in a single sitting to begging for a toy at the store, parents find it hard to deny their kids. But saying "no" is important because it teaches children essential life skills like patience, boundaries and how to deal with discomfort or denial. Kids also need to know that there are relationship boundaries and that you're in charge. It makes them feel safer when parents make decisions and stick with them.

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See a major event in person

You didn't make it to Woodstock and you've never been to a Super Bowl, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try attending at least one major event on your bucket list. Don't empty out your retirement account to get there, but if it's important to you, try to find a way to do it. According to a study done by the Dominican University of California, three things are key in achieving a goal: writing it down, being accountable and telling someone about it.

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Apologize or make amends

Everyone makes mistakes and owning up to them is a big part of life. Holding grudges or being unwilling to acknowledge that actions might have been hurtful can have a toxic effect on relationships.

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Take a spontaneous trip

Sometimes it's good to just pack your suitcase and escape to a warm-weather destination. It's even more fun when instead of planning for months, you make it a last-minute getaway. According to a Travelzoo study of 1,000 Canadians, people who travel spontaneously tend to be happier in life compared to those who avoid it. Travel is also beneficial for children in terms of helping them build self-esteem, independence, tolerance and cultural understanding.

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Build something

It doesn't matter if it's a block tower, a piece of furniture or an elaborate treehouse, every parent should build something. Either on your own or with your kids, working on a project creates a sense of accomplishment and helps develop new life skills, which is good for the brain.

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Take a holiday off

Traditions and family are important, but it's OK to take a break from hosting or overeating at a holiday gathering once in a while. Instead, focus on what you'd like to get out of the day. Travel to a resort in the Caribbean or simply stay home and order takeout. Whatever you do, it's OK to occasionally opt out and do you.

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Fulfill a childhood dream

Maybe you always wanted to work with animals or be a movie star but you never got the chance. While vacationing like a celebrity or starting a hobby farm might not be realistic, if they're still important, you can find ways to fulfill those dreams. Be creative. Volunteer at an animal shelter or book a stay at a spectacular hotel. According to Psychology Today, feelings of fulfillment go a long way in promoting overall feelings of happiness.

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Look the other way

A big part of parenting is teaching your children manners and right from wrong. Realizing that everyone makes mistakes, it's OK to let things go once in a while especially if they are insignificant in the big picture. When possible, try to catch your kids in the act of doing something right and let them know they've done a good job.

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Go home again

Though the old saying suggests you can't go home again, in many cases you can and maybe should. If you've moved away from your hometown, returning with your kids can give them perspective on your history and provide valuable insight into where you come from. For parents, it's a way to go back in time to reflect on their early lives and maybe even put old feelings to rest.

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Build a snowman

If you live in a state that gets snow, building a snowman with your children at least once or twice is practically mandatory. According to an article published by Michigan State University Extension, building a snowman is not only good fun, but it can also help teach children valuable life skills including planning, execution, teamwork and creativity.

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Throw a surprise party

There are a number of milestone birthdays in a lifetime and celebrating them with a surprise party is a great way to make them special. Even if it's not a big one, it's still fun to whip up everyone's favorite party foods and surprise your child with a gathering of party guests. Even better, enlist their help in planning a surprise party for someone else. It's a chance to plan something together and they'll love being in on the secret.

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Do something that totally scares you

Skydiving isn't for everyone and neither is visiting some of the most terrifying places on earth, but doing something outside your comfort zone is good for you. According to a Yale study, when faced with uncertainty, people's brains work harder and subsequently learn more. It's also important for your kids to see you trying new things because it teaches them to take risks, too. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests there are positive health benefits associated with kids who engage in "thrilling and exciting" play.

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Dress up for Halloween

Just because you're too old to go trick-or-treating doesn't mean you can't dress up for Halloween. After all, costumes aren't just for kids, they're fun for parents, too. Coordinating costumes can be a good team-building project with kids or grandkids, and helps get everyone in the spirit. It'll remind you of your own childhood and if you're lucky, you won't get any of these things in your trick-or-treat bag.

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Create a family photo album

Now that pictures have gone digital, fewer people are printing their favorite family and vacation photographs. But having them in the cloud isn't the same as having them in an album. A physical collection of photos that include parents, grandparents and other family members is an important part of your story and your kids' stories, too. According to Psychology Today, photographs can help people remember their experiences and start conversations about the past. They also remind us of some of our favorite photogenic vacation spots.

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Go to a concert

Going to a concert is one of those things you need to do in your lifetime. It doesn't matter which one you attend, or if you go alone, with your partner or with the kids, because it's about the music. If possible, go to as many as you can with family and friends. You'll learn more about the music that's influenced each other's lives. 

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Have a hobby that's all yours

It's easy to lose yourself in parenting, work or family demands, which is why you need to have something just for you. According to an online article published by Kettering University, having a hobby gives people a chance to escape their everyday lives and the opportunity to do something they love and are passionate about. Even better, hobbies can also be turned into a lucrative side hustle.

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Take a multigenerational vacation

When it comes to vacations, multigenerational trips are currently one of the biggest travel trends. Even though you might need a few family travel tips to survive, traveling with family is an opportunity to spend time together away from distractions and daily stressors. Despite any relationship issues that crop up, multigenerational trips can create lasting memories for the whole family.

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Sleep in, all day

Being a parent can sometimes feel like boot camp, especially when your kids are little. With countless middle-of-the-night wake-up calls for everything from feedings to fevers, getting enough sleep is a top priority. When you get the chance, sleep in as late and as long as you want. After you wake up, keep your pajamas on and make it a lazy day of doing absolutely nothing. You've earned it.

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Make a family soundtrack

Music could be a backdrop to significant moments or periods in someone's life. A study published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website concludes that music is linked to memory-building and can shape how someone sees themself. Make a playlist of songs that have meaning or are family favorites and it'll serve as your soundtrack for years to come, bringing back memories every time you hear it.

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Play hide-and-seek

Hide-and-seek has been around since the second century and while everyone probably plays it a little differently, the game of hiding and waiting for the seeker to discover you is classic. Every parent should engage in at least a few games sometime in their life and not just because they're fun. A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that playing games like hide-and-seek helps kids problem-solve and develop motor skills.

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Make it a date

Between changing diapers and running to soccer practice, going on a date may not be a priority, but it should be. It doesn't matter if you've been married for years or are single, making time for date night is essential for mental health and maintaining good relationships. So, book a reservation at the most romantic restaurant in town or totally do it on the cheap because according to the Institute for Family Studies, couples that plan monthly date nights have a higher likelihood of staying together.

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Trace your family tree

With so many genealogy apps and companies out there, tracing your family tree is easier than ever. Knowing about your ancestors and where they came from is not only interesting, but key in understanding your health and what potential risks DNA might hold. Based on what you learn, you can modify your lifestyle and get regular screenings for diseases that run in the family.

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Shake up your routine

Having a set routine is good for you because in some cases, repetition helps alleviate the stress of making decisions, according to an online article by Piedmont Healthcare. But too much of the same can lead to predictability and boredom. So, break it up occasionally by trying something completely different. Make reservations at a new Italian restaurant, attend a performance or see something you've never encountered before at a weird museum.

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Go back to school

After having kids, many parents reflect on things they wish they'd done in their lives. The good news is that no matter what stage of life you're in, it's never too late to go back to school. Whether you want to learn a new skill, language, or even get your degree, studies suggest that going back to school has positive benefits like boosting brain power and helping to keep aging minds sharp.

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Record your favorite childhood memory

If a trip to Disney World or a vacation along the coast is one of your most cherished childhood memories, write it down or record it for your kids. Even if you've told them about it a million times, having it documented is more meaningful and will be a future keepsake for them and their kids. It's also a chance for you to relive fond memories.

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Eat something totally ridiculous for dinner

Who says you have to wait until after dinner to have ice cream? Though it's important to stick to healthy eating habits, it's OK to eat dessert for dinner at least once. Your kids will love the unexpected treat. No kids in the house? No worries, it's good to treat yourself occasionally, too. Your meal doesn't have to be dinner either. It can be breakfast or brunch if that's when you decide to indulge in your favorite guilty pleasure.

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Cross off at least one bucket-list destination

In recent years even the most remote regions of the world have become accessible by airplane and Americans are traveling more than ever. Whether it's a vacation in the mountains or a stay at a charming boutique hotel, you should try to visit at least one dream destination in your lifetime. According to a study in the Journal of Vacation Marketing, travel promotes a sense of well-being and can make you happier overall. And depending on where you decide to go, it might be a travel experience that will change your life.

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