A year post-Hurricane Katrina, another hurricane was targeting the Gulf Coast. Traumatized by our last experience, my mom, my brother, and I vehemently insisted we evacuate; my dad was more skeptical. Eventually, our badgering won out. But after hours in a car for a storm that barely brought even rain, plus a bed-sharing fight that put us over the edge, we drove back to New Orleans in the middle of the night, all of us frustrated and exhausted. However, twenty years later, this horrible hurricane evacuation, which was very stressful in the moment, ended up being a hilarious anecdote.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove our four kids to Terre Haute, Indiana to witness the total solar eclipse. We had an amazing few days: We had a hotel with a pool and splash pad, and we went to an awesome playground—not to mention the eclipse itself. But the way back was less wonderful: So much traffic, unexpectedly long bathroom lines, a shortage of snacks, and the desperation of eating a Burger King chicken nugget threatened to overshadow the wonderful memories we had created. Only by focusing on the awe-inspiring eclipse and how fun our swimming was (oh, and by breathing deeply) were we able to get home still relatively joyful.

In the following days, I thought often about that trip, how close my husband and I came to turning on each other, how easily we could have let our kids’ tiredness and hunger cloud the fun they had. And maybe even their Spidey senses about their parents’ stress will affect how our kids remember this trip. But these experiences beg some questions: Why do some of our best memories get lost to time while our worst experiences stay pressed in the front of our brains? How does a disastrous evacuation become a joyful story, and how could a wonderful vacation become marred by some minor inconveniences? 

So much of our memory is affected by how we choose to tell the story, not just in our own lives but in those of our kids. As parents, we are not just creating a narrative surrounding particular experiences; we are crafting, hopefully, a memory of childhood for our kids. Parents may often wonder if we are irrevocably damaging our kids or if our children will end up having a childhood they view as mostly positive. Unfortunately, we generally don’t know the results of our parenting job, if we ever get feedback, until long after our kids are out of our homes. 

But if I reflect on my own life, I have found creating my most positive memories, despite the challenges or stresses that arose, comes from the way I focus on and frame those moments. In the hurricane evacuation, we chose to see the humor. In our eclipse trip, we focused on gratitude for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. At other times, we may need to reflect on how we were able to grow from a difficult experience or how our sufferings brought the light of Christ to others. 

The same is true for helping our kids have a generally positive worldview. Yes, parents are imperfect humans doing their best to live sacrificially and lovingly for their children. However, we are all bound to mess up—and probably in ways that we won’t realize until years later. But the Cross reminds us that we have power to shape the story we share and how our kids will view certain moments. We can tell them of Christ’s Passion through a lens of suffering, sadness, and betrayal—and we wouldn’t technically be lying. But what’s left out of the bigger picture is the love and glory that the story ultimately reveals. 

Similarly, we can choose to see our own lives as joyful, despite the inevitable struggles that will come, and help our kids look at their lives with positivity, too. Where were we called to greater virtue? Can we focus on gratitude? Is there an opportunity to laugh at the craziness of human existence? (Of course, this is not to negate traumatic experiences, mental health issues, and the like where professional counseling is necessary.) But we must strive to generally view our lives for their beauty, even in the hardships, not because we should see the world through rose-colored glasses or because suffering is worth hiding from but because even in our most challenging moments, our lives are gifts.I find allowing setbacks to cloud otherwise positive experiences to be all too easy, but hopefully, we can be more reflective on how we react to and talk about our stressful or challenging moments, both for ourselves and our kids, so our sufferings will be eclipsed (see what I did there?) by a true Christian joy.