Rafed English

Family Culture: Shared identity and belonging

How do you hold a family together? How do you make kids WANT to spend time with the family? How do you give your children the motivation to work things through with their siblings and with you? Much of the answer has to do with the family culture you create, which can take your family life from good to great.     Here's how.


1. Consciously create a family identity.  Obviously, you want this identity to be positive and expansive, not limiting. Is yours an athletic family?  Do you all follow current events?  Talk about who's reading what? Most families have several identities:  The Traveling Smiths can also be the Bookworm Smiths who love to cook together or collect funny jokes.


2. Eat dinner together whenever possible.


3. Seize any excuse to celebrate and have fun together whenever possible. Sock fights while folding laundry? Impromptu silly songs in the car?  A race to see who can put the groceries away fastest? Food limericks at dinner? Getting drenched in a warm summer rain? The family that plays together builds relationship glue for the hard times.  Not to mention, they have more fun!


4. Find ways to enjoy each other.  Her music choices may sound like noise to you, and she may have no interest in that stroll on the beach that makes you happy just to be alive. But if you put a little energy into it, you will find ways to enjoy each other, whether its making waffles together on Sunday morning or a shopping trip with lunch just for the two of you.


5. Honor each others' passions. Take an interest in each other’s fascinations. If you started dating someone whose ruling passion was antiques, you’d probably want to understand what they loved about old things, and maybe read a book or accompany them on an antiquing foray. Your son’s obsession with Star Wars novels may be seem like a waste of time ("Why isn’t he reading the classics?") but your interest in hearing about the plots, even if they all sound the same at first, will go a long way toward making him feel comfortable talking with you about what’s important to him when something’s bothering him.


6. Keep the tone loving. Every household has an emotional tone, which changes but tends toward a particular range of notes. I tend towards a cozy sanctuary feel, my husband tends toward funny and raucous; either can be embracing. The point is to notice what creates discordance and avoid that. That may mean reducing screen time, or agreeing that certain sections of the house are for quiet pursuits, or simply monitoring tones of voice and reminding kids when they start shouting at each other. (Obviously, with young kids things tend to be loud, but that doesn't mean the tone isn't loving.) 


7. Develop family rituals.  Rituals, through their repetition, reinforce particular feelings and values. They may be the single most effective tool in creating family culture.


8. Consider drawing up a Family Mission statement.  It may seem artificial, but families who do it say the process helps them focus on what matters, and annual reviews/rewrites keep them on track. There are many resources online to get you started.

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