Wednesday, April 27, 2011

All in a Day: Fostering Family Unity

Today the All in a Day bloggers are tackling the topic of How to Create a Close Family and Tips for Encouraging Family Unity.

One of my overriding goals as a mother has been to create a close, loving family.  My desire is and has been for my children to build relationships with one another that will last a lifetime.  Thus far, I feel like I've been mostly successful at accomplishing that goal; although, time will be the true test. 

I've tried to identify the specific things that I've done through the years to help create a close, unified family.  You may want to incorporate some of these ideas into your family, but as with any child raising methods, your specific mileage may vary!  ;) 

Here are my Top Ten Tips for Encouraging Family Unity:

1.  Embrace a Homeschooling, Home-Centered Lifestyle.

I don't want to imply that this is the only way you can achieve a close-knit family; however, I can't underestimate the crucial role this decision played in our family.   It was the foundation for creating a close family unit, and everything else I did was really just laying bricks on this foundation.  Choosing this lifestyle as a foundation meant that we would all spend a lot of time working and learning and playing together, which is essential to building a strong family.  It also protected the children from investing most of their time in relationships outside of the family, helped to insulate them from looking to their peer-group for approval rather than their parents, and it forced them to look to their brothers and sisters for companionship.

2.  Build your Foundation on the Solid Rock.

Even building a strong foundation is not enough, if your foundation is built on the sinking sand of worldly values and thinking.  (See Matthew 7:24-27.)  Therefore, it is crucial to build your family on the solid rock of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Eternal Word.  (See 1 Corinthians 3:11.)  This foundation enabled our family to build primarily with bricks of love, kindness, generosity, and forgiveness, and to reject the bricks of mean-spiritedness, selfishness, unforgiveness, and bitterness.   One verse that I quoted often through the years was:

 "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:32, King James Version)

3.  Work and Play Together as a Family.

A family needs to spend time working, playing, and ministering together.  The more the members work together around a common goal, the more strong ties are formed.  A family will also go through storms together.  Not having our children tucked away in a school classroom meant they were right there when we received life-altering news, struggled with morning sickness, miscarried a baby, endured a job loss, or struggled through dark, difficult days.  We went through it all together.  It is amazing how bonds are built as you struggle together to navigate the storms of life.

4.  Share Fun Experiences, Memories and Secrets.

As we played games, watched movies, read books aloud, took trips, and did a variety of things together through the years, we not only enjoyed fun family times, but also made memories, filled up photo albums, and filled a treasure chest with "inside jokes" that continually serve to bind us together in a fun way.  It seems that having little family secrets and inside jokes ties strong bonds among family members.

5. Guard Viewing and Reading Habits to Avoid Popular Themes that Tear Down Families.

Many of the popular movies, TV sitcoms, and children's books of our day all encourage an attitude of looking down on brothers and sisters as "not cool" (not to mention an attitude of disrespect for parents and for God!)  They also encourage the development of sarcastic, witty putdowns of younger brothers and sisters.

When the children were younger, we avoided all such "entertainment."  Unfortunately, some of those Disney shows and movies have found their way into our home in recent years via older brothers and sisters.  I regret to say that my younger children have been exposed to some attitudes and ways of talking that I don't like.  We are working to remove some of these sneaky infiltrations!

6. Require older children to include younger children.

I did not want our home to be a place where the younger children were pushed aside and rejected, so I did not allow the older ones to leave them out of their play, as a general rule. Of course, I did provide times when the older ones could have a "special time" without the younger children messing up their stuff! But the majority of the time, the younger children were included. None of the children adopted the idea of younger brothers and sisters being "nerds" or "dorks" or "brats" or whatever, and are always surprised when they encounter this attitude in their public school friends.  It is amazing how much younger siblings can "rise to the occasion" when they are included in the activities of the older children!  Luke learned to play football well at an early age, from playing backyard football with his much Older and BIGGER brothers!  And little Bethany has learned an amazing amount of TOUGHNESS from playing with her older brothers all of the time!

7.  Encourage older children to invest in younger siblings.

I've always encouraged the older children to take time to invest in the lives of their younger brothers and sisters.  My two oldest girls helped teach the younger children through the years.  They listened to beginning readers, drilled math facts, taught Bible verses with hand motions, drilled phonics cards, helped with crafts, etc.  They tried to teach piano/violin lessons to their younger siblings -- but quite honestly, that did not have such an harmonious ending!  ;)  Conversely, younger children have also helped older brothers and sisters study for tests, work on projects, practice basketball, or prepare for chess tournaments.  This year Josh (19) helped Tay (20) study for Biology more than once! 

I made the older children watch The Influence of Older Children on Younger Children by SM Davis too many times to count! ;)  My older daughters really embraced this teaching, and looked for ways to invest in the lives of their younger brothers and sisters.  They still pick up little gifts, arrange special outings, and speak words of encouragement into the lives of their younger brothers and sisters.

8.  Emphasize the priority of developing relationships in the family.

I often exhorted our children to make their brothers and sisters their best friends, reminding them that other friends come and go, but family is forever.  Some of the children have developed very close friendships with each other, while others find that their personalities clash.  I've found that the children right next to each other in the line up tend to be competitive and more prone to "issues," while they will "skip count" down to the next child in line and build a strong bond of friendship.  So, my assessment is that my children aren't all best friends with all of their brothers and sisters . . . but they are all friends, with some of those relationships being closer than others!   I'm assuming this is natural and normal in a large family.  A book that may be helpful in encouraging friendships among siblings is

Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends.

9.  Encourage the children to support one another in outside interests and activities.

While some families never allow one child to do something that the whole family can't do, I find this philosophy to be unrealistic, especially as the children get older.  However, it is not wise to have them all going in opposite directions all the time either.  Seek to find activities that more than one child can enjoy at the same time, whenever possible.  Try sending out children in pairs when you can to provide safety and accountability.  However, there will be times when one child will be invited to do something without all of his brothers and sisters.  As long as you feel good about the situation, I've found that this can be a beneficial thing, making the invited child feel special and giving him a valuable experience outside of the family, while teaching the uninvited children that there will be times in life when they won't be included in special events.

As the children got older and began to develop their own unique interests, I encouraged everyone to support that child in his or her interests.  The boys did not like going to piano/violin/voice recitals, but they were there!  The girls got tired of going to football, basketball, and baseball games . . . but attended many of them, often cheering enthusiastically for their brothers!  And when Taylor ran for Student body Vice President, his brothers and sisters helped him make campaign signs saying, "Big T for Vice P!"  (I'm sure those signs helped him win!)   ;)

I definitely encouraged the children to learn to "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep."  (Romans 12:15, King James Version)

10.  Create a Crazy, Fun, Unique Home and Family!

Years ago, I tried to create a unique family identity through dressing the children in matching clothes, but eventually kids outgrow the willingness to match all their brothers and sisters all of the time!  ;)  However, this was fun while it lasted, and helped keep us all together on vacations and field trips, and reinforced the idea that we are all one family.

We also created a unique family identity by adopting our own family standards, with the disclaimer that, "Others may, but we may not."  This is a great way to teach certain standards that your family has adopted, that may not be adopted by other families you know.  However, as children become adults, freedom must be given for them to adopt their own standards which they will apply to their lives and families.

We've established many family traditions, centered around holidays and birthdays that make our home fun and help to build memories.  The more the better!  These family traditions all help to create a unique family identity, and make your children feel a part of something special!  They also draw their hearts back home in the years to come.

Anything that you can do to create a fun, unique family identity is extremely valuable.  Naming your vehicle falls into this category.  We now have the White Elephant.  I know another family that has BEV (Blue Enormous Van)!   Do you have a name for your family transportation?

We know one family that always called their home "the world's greatest place to live!"  They answered the phone with, "World's Greatest Place to Live -- may I help you?"  The even set their clocks to a different time than the rest of the world, meaning that in their home you went by "Lewis Time!"   :)  May sound crazy, but it worked for them!

If you have a videocamera, make your own reality show a la the Duggar Family -- just for fun!  :)

We have crazy songs we sing (out of tune!), crazy things we do, and many outrageous personalities that keep our home lively these days! 

How about you?  I'd love to hear of ways you make your home and family Fun, Unique, Crazy, Memorable!  How do you turn your children's hearts towards each other and towards home?  I can't wait to hear your ideas and suggestions!

I'm sure the other All in a Day bloggers have some great ideas to share on encouraging a unique family identity, so be sure to visit their blogs and see what they have to say:

Carrie @ Our Full House

Christi @ Where the Creek Meets the Lake

Elizabeth @ Yes They're All Ours

Kathy @ Kathy Mom of Many

Kristy @ Little Natural Cottage

Lori @ Happy Busy Mama

Monica @ Natural Mama

Renee @ Bakers Dozen

And don't forget to leave a comment or link up your blog, sharing your ideas with the rest of us.
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MamaAnt said...


Sam said...

Great post!

tlmalcolm said...

Excellent!! Our family is much smaller that yours but my goal as well was to create a family who loved to be together! I wanted my two sons to choose to spend time together not just because they had to but because they wanted to. They are in totally different live places right now. One is a dad of two boys, owns a house and has all the responsibilities that go with that as well as working full time and being a part time student. The older one is free as a bird except for a dog, he works and plays very hard. But they do make time for each other. It usually is centered around sports, camping or some other "guy" thing. But I'm so happy they like each other!! And they enjoy each others girlfriends and friends. And they actually like to hang out with us!! Home is a place where we give our children both wings and roots! Hooray for family!!

Hannah said...

Thanks for trying to "bond" us, Mom. ;) We definitely have a crazy family...

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