- Kind words
- Consistent boundaries
- Show respect and love for your spouse/partner/children
- Incorporate faith, prayer, and/or thankfulness
- Share chores and responsibilities
- Identify your family’s core values and live according to them
- Teach character, morals, and healthy communication
- Show how to give back to your community
- Be affectionate
- Incorporate FUN and special memories into daily life
Family, The Great Compilation Album
Creating a family is a lot like making a great compilation album – each member contributes themselves to the whole and creates something beautiful. Your family is a reflection of the total sum of each member. While it takes time and energy to build a thriving family unit, the effort is worthwhile.
A good way to think about culture is to consider the unseen parts of your family life – customs, values, and personal behaviors are a few. Think about any family traditions, routines, or the way you, your spouse, or your children respond to events – good or bad. For instance, how do sibling react to each other when they are angry? How do you react to your partner when you are angry? How do you feel about sharing? all of this is part of your family culture.
So much of what we know about family, especially as children, is learned by osmosis. It is absorbed over time. Nevertheless, while most family culture is unconsciously formed, it is always present.
Our family discovered all of this first hand when we made an unusual addition to our family. About the time our oldest biological daughter was ten, a seventeen year old girl moved in and joined our lives. Having an older teenager move in with our family highlighted two things: every family has a lot of family culture and grafting into a new one is difficult. Our biggest source of conflict during the first few years of living together was simply trying to navigate the difference between our family culture and the family culture Stevie had been raised in.
The Culture of Family
Every group of people has a leader and a family is no exception. You, the parent, are the natural leader of your home but leadership is either used or given away, so be wise to use it. As the parents of your home, you have the privilege to define the culture of your family unit and create something together that brings everyone joy. Creating this culture requires thoughtfulness and taking note of what is happening around you. This starts with asking questions. “How do I want my kids to feel about money” “How do I want my kids to practice faith or prayer?” “How do we want to spend downtime?” “How do we want to have fun together? “What holidays are special to me and how do I want to celebrate them?” “How do I feel about discipline?” These questions and so many more will help you and your spouse create a family culture. Remember, each parent has ideas and customs from their own upbringing that mean something to them and will effect their ideas so take time to talk together and find a combined family culture that brings about the best for your family.
A note: Over the years the culture of our family was created by what my husband and I were actually willing to pursue not by what we said we wanted. Remember, culture is created over time by actions not by wishes. Also, no one creates the perfect family culture in minutes. It takes time to create this and adjustments will need to be made. Take one of the ideas on the list below and spend some time considering it and talking about it before trying to put it into practice.
The list below is created from notes I’ve taken over the years plus conversations I’ve had with my husband, friends, and even my children. It isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list or a burdensome one. My list has during 20+ years of parenting and I’m still learning to do each of these better and better. Don’t feel pressure to try the items listed here all at once. See it as a guideline of sorts that can give you a starting point for developing your unique family culture; make this list your own by adding and subtracting from it.
- Kind Words: I believe words hold power which can be used in a positive or negative way. I’m a huge advocate for using kind words when speaking – especially children who need adults who will speak and treat them in consistently kind ways. Kindness is a worthy cornerstone of family culture.
- Consistent Boundaries: Children need stability to thrive. You and I both know creating stability 100% of the time is impossible so make whatever you can control predictable: mealtime, bedtime, house rules, discipline, the way you speak to them, etc. When you make a rule, don’t change it suddenly. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. This consistency increases your child’s sense of well-being and helps them thrive.
- Show Respect and Love to Your Spouse/Partner: An important part of building a strong family unit is showing respect and love to your spouse or partner. How you speak, treat, and think about your partner influences your child and how they feel about the stability of family. In the case of divorced, separated, or blended families, how you speak about a child’s parent effects them and their understanding of themselves. Search for ways to speak value and show affection to each other and give children a sense of stability about themselves and their family unit.
- Incorporate Faith, prayer, and/or thankfulness: Building faith within your family gives your child a sense of the world being big and life being more than what they can see. and teach them wonder. You don’t have to attend church to incorporate faith, but it should be genuine. Children are smart and they can tell a difference between what you say and what you do. Find ways to incorporate prayer at the table in the morning or acting out faith by how you treat each other inside your home when no one is looking. The more genuine the more trustworthy it will be. There is plenty of scientific evidence that incorporating thankfulness in everyday life changes a person for the better. If you have reservations about incorporating a faith into your everyday life, creating a life of thankfulness is a great option that will bring long-lasting joy to you and your family.
- Share chores and responsibilities: Children who have household responsibilities grow up with a sense of independence and pride at what they are able to accomplish. Being able to provide self-care in the form of cooking or cleaning or money managing is a big deal. Consider including chores and responsibilities as a part of your family culture. It’s good to teach children the value of hard work offer them ways to make additional money through doing extra chores or jobs around the house.
- Identify your family’s core values and live according to them: What values drive your family? What values do you have that you want to pass onto your kids? It can be as simple as taking your kids hiking several times a year because you value spending time in the great outdoors or maybe it’s attending church weekly without fail. Spend time as a family creating your list of values; you can print them off and stick it on the fridge, create a special piece of artwork for your wall, or simply keep it as a note on your phone. It doesn’t matter how you make your core values look but knowing them and using them!
- Teach character and morals: Your children need a code of ethics to guide their behavior as they grow. Building up character and morals in the life of a child gives them the tools they need to make sound choices and helps them in the future. Choose what you teach wisely because teaching morality and character is a two way street. You can’t just tell your kids to have a certain character trait or moral without living it out in your own life. For instance, if you ask your kids not to lie, don’t lie either. If you want them to be on time, don’t be late all the time.
- Show them how to give back to their community: Researchers believe kindness and acts of service are as beneficial to the one giving as to the one receiving. Joy flows back to you after helping another person. Plus, community flourishes when we work together to meet the needs of those around us. This is no different for children. They also receive a benefit from helping. Taking your kids along to serve in your community gives kids a view of their life outside their own. It helps them realize the world is bigger than they imagined. Serving also gives your kids permission to make a difference – no matter their age. Your community has lots of places that benefit from free labor. You can do a coat drive for a local homeless shelter or high school, you can volunteer with Meals on Wheels and visit elderly members of your community (my kids loved this one), you can sign up to walk dogs at a shelter, visit a local nursing home, serve meals at a homeless shelter, set up a free library in your neighborhood, check in on a lonely neighbor regularly, or take a meal to someone who just had a baby. The possibilities and the joy of service are endless.
- Be affectionate: Affection is a gentle feeling or a tender attachment to another person. It is often communicated by healthy physical touch. As a parent we communicate physical affection to our children by hugs, kisses on the cheek, back scratching, spontaneous dance parties, sitting next to each other, walking arm in arm, and holding hands. But you can also communicate affection by listening to your child without interruption, using kind words when speaking, reading that extra bedtime story, or staying up late into the night to chat with a teenager. Affection forms attachment (which is incredibly important), gives a child a sense of value, helps them feel seen and known, confident and stable, and most importantly loved. The benefits are far reaching and long lasting. Affection is just as important to a toddler as it is to a high school senior – kids need appreciate affection for a long time – so don’t be afraid to hug your teenage son and tell them how proud you are of them!
- Have FUN: Life can be a grind and sometimes that grind helps us forget how important it is to have fun together. How important it is to laugh. As a parent, you can create special moments in each day by doing small acts of fun. Have a 5 minute dance party in the kitchen, share funny Tik Toks with each other, make up knock knock jokes with your second grader, have an indoor picnic, make a blanket fort in the living room. Creating special pockets of time in your life for fun and laughter is such a great way to build up your children and family. Create big moments too. Celebrate a random holiday together and make this celebration tradition. Create traditions around Christmas or the first day of school. Shared experiences make lasting memories which create strong relationships within a family.
You and your spouse are creating a living compilation
Parenting is hard work but it’s good work. Instead of trying to be “the best parent” I’m now more interested in spending time doing the good work of parenting.