Monday, November 24, 2008

What's your family "all about?"

I know I said my next parenting topic was going to be Sibling Rivalry, but I've decided that there are other very important topics that are part of a foundation that you need before you can address sibling rivalry. The first was Respect, which I wrote about last time. This time, it's Identity.

What is your family "all about?" Some are all about volunteering in their communities. Some are defined by their involvement in sports. Others are all about working, education, hunting, fitness, or something else. A sense of belonging, of unity, is a very basic human need, and a family that has a healthy identity has strength and unity.

Every family has an identity, but some are more deliberate about shaping that identity. If you let your family's identity "just happen," you are likely to feel like something is missing. You'll find your family members are disconnected; busy, but not involved with each other so much. If you, as a parent, don't take a leadership role and guide your family, someone/something else will. A family that's all about watching TV or playing video games is okay, but if that's all you ever do together, it doesn't really add strength or meaning to your lives.

One way to shape your family's identity is to start your own traditions. We have several that include Christmas Eve dinner in our pajamas, serving meals to the needy at Thanksgiving, volunteering at church, camping every summer, and eating meals at a table together at least a few times per week. That's "who we are." Our traditions are the glue that connects us and keeps us strong.

Another important way to build identity for your family is to use "we" and "our" when talking about your family, rather than coming from an individual perspective all the time. Define your family together; talk about what your family stands for. "Our family is special." "We love each other. We care about other people." When you come from a family defined this way, there's really no room for hate, selfishness, or meanness. If a child grows up in a family with a clear, positive identity, he is given a gift that impacts his individual identity as well.

Identity = security = less sibling rivalry.

When you teach your kids from a young age "Our family is about love, not hate," it makes sibling rivalry easier to squash. (And yes, you still have to account for just-plain-cranky-cuz-I-haven't- had-a-nap sibling rivalry, but that's not what I'm talking about here.)

Not sure what your family stands for? Why not have a family meeting to talk about it? Ask, "What do we want to 'be about?' Do we want to be about kindness? Charity? Anger? Shopping? Who are some families we admire? What do they do well? What do we do well? What are our gifts and talents?" Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families was a good guide for us when we had our first family meeting years ago. (I'll admit we haven't had a family meeting in years, but those we when the kids were younger set up a foundation that we still build on today.)

You don't have to start out with anything huge. Begin with a family meeting in which you invite ideas for ways your family could have a little more quality time together. Solicit ideas from everyone, making sure to set a ground rule about not rejecting ideas immediately. Here are some suggestions for possible activities you could do to build your family's identity....

*Start a new family tradition (for a holiday or another time)
*Decide on a family "motto" and make a poster together that displays it
*Start your own "Reading Night" (for those who love books, of course)
*Have a Game Night (every week)
*Buy some T-shirts (or sweatshirts) and decorate with a symbol that you decide represents your family. Wear the shirts (not for teens, of course; they're too busy pretending not to know you in public!)
*Volunteer once per month (or more) at any number of charities
*Clean up your neighborhood
*Plant trees
*Visit a lonely person for a game night
*Go to church together
*Go to a park together to play tennis or b-ball
*Serve meals at a homeless shelter
*Work together to rake the yard of a senior citizen near your home

Doing positive activities as a family takes a little planning and time, but it is so worth it. You'll be nurturing your family's identity (and strength) and having fun.

Next time, I'll write about another very important feature in a sturdy family foundation; Discipline!

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