What makes a family work? What are the qualities in a family that support each member in enjoying time together, trusting each other and prioritizing family activities?
All parents and kids want a family with these qualities, but the reality of creating it is harder than it might seem. In our experience working with many families over the years, we have found that family members are almost always doing the best they can given what they know about parenting, which is usually based on what they’ve seen growing up. However, many families do not support one another in a way that brings out the best in each member.
For example, a common phenomenon in many families is for children and parents to fall into predetermined roles that become increasingly solidified over time. Sibling roles may consist of such labels as the successful one, the underachiever, the free-spirited one or the stubborn one. Parents also frequently fall into roles that become predictable over time such as the disciplinarian, the nurturing one, the bread winner or homemaker. This development of fixed roles creates barriers to communication, builds frustration or even resentment and anger.
Part of what makes a family so complex is that every individual within it has his or her own temperament, interests, and personality style. We are all very different and as family members, we need to honor and cherish the diversity among us. We can’t do this when we put each other, and ourselves, in boxes no matter how accurate these labels appear on the surface.
Today’s families are more important than ever as a source of comfort and support in light of the pervasive violence, inappropriate sexuality and narcissism that we are too often exposed to in pop culture, our community and the world at large. Few people would disagree about the importance of family. However, making family a priority and strengthening it to meet the competing needs of its members is not easy. Standing up to the negativity of external influences while simultaneously allowing the many positive aspects of today’s culture in can be a daunting task.
It’s never too late to begin to strengthen and reinforce the priority that we know your family is for you. Spending time together helps break out of roles and redefine relationships. When you spend enjoyable time together and ask questions it is amazing what new information you can learn about your children and in turn your children can learn about you. Below we offer five suggestions for building and strengthening family connections. As you will notice this need not be expensive or time consuming, in fact doing casual day to day activities as a family can be the best way to strengthen your relationships.
1. Prioritize family dinners every night with only few exceptions. Teenagers in particular often have lots of excuses and try to get out of this, make family dinners mandatory unless there is a very good reason. Make it fun by inviting kids to plan the menu, make a fun desert or help cook.
2. Take advantage of the things you have to do anyway as ways to bond with your child. Have your child do projects with you, help with gardening or plan a family vacation. Don’t set it up as a chore or family obligation but a fun way for your child to spend time with you and maybe even learn something new. Most kids enjoy working side by side with their parents. They will also learn the value of hard work and the satisfaction of a job well done.
3. Find at least one solid hour per week to do something fun with all family members. Family game night, going for a hike, a concert in the park or taking advantage of one of the many other wonderful outdoor activitiesPortland has to offer in the summer are all great ways to reconnect as a family. No matter how much your kids has been driving you crazy you must do all you can to make this time positive with no discussion of rules or problems.
4. Include extended family in your child’s life on a regular basis. If you don’t have family in town, prioritize giving your child an opportunity to visit out of town family as often as possible. Family need not require shared genes. Incorporate close friends who share your values as a way for your child to receive additional support and connection. Placing a value on having strong connections with extended family further demonstrates to your child the importance of building and maintaining a strong relationship within your immediate family.
5. Make a big deal out of rights of passage and family rituals. Rights of passage may include graduations, receiving a driver’s license, landing a job, receiving a special award or accomplishing a special achievement. Family rituals may include birthdays, holidays, and any traditions that would be relevant given your family’s unique cultural and spiritual identity. Also don’t be afraid to start new family traditions. These are the things that kids balk at when they’re young but appreciate and pass on to their kids when they’re older.
Remember that teens hate change even more than us adults. It you are going to make a change to the way your family spends time together we suggest that you put careful consideration into these five suggestions and only select those of which you are prepared to fully commit and be consistent with. Kids quickly loose their motivation if they don’t see their parents following through. The more of these you take on, the more your child will thank you…eventually!