A few months ago I woke up and came out of my room to head downstairs for the day and this sign was posted on the wall just above the stairs.
With out any thought to the children I would be waking up I immediately burst out laughing. My husband had purchased the sign and put it in a place where only our family and very close friends would see it, and it was the warning message you saw as you left your room for the day.
I grew up in one of the strangest families I have ever met. I had 11 siblings, we moved at least every 14 months, and we mostly lived off of things we produced ourselves or things that were given to us. I was definitely taking sack lunches to school before it was popular, and we didn't get the nice, white sandwich bread from the store. No, we had home made, whole wheat bread that usually hadn't risen long enough and was heavy and crumbly. On top of that we wore hand-me-down clothes, sang all the time, and drove one of the ugliest vans I have ever seen.
There's more, but it would take to much time to write all the weirdness of my growing up here. Needless to say, my family was not "normal." I was definitely made fun of, particularly when people first met me (which was all the time since we moved nearly every year.) However, it never seemed to effect me that much, and it usually died down fairly quickly when people realized that I was not ashamed of my family. I've thought a lot about this in the years since, and it wasn't until I was in a business class in college that I really put the pieces together of how my parents had created such a strong sense of family that we were proud to be different. We were discussing large companies that had achieved a strong sense of unity and culture amongst their employees. Our professor pointed out that these companies worked very hard to create special things that were unique to them and helped build a sense of company culture. Some companies would gather all of their employees together for a few minutes during the day to say a chat or sing a company song. Some would use company parties or artwork around the workplace to build a strong sense of their unique cultures. The outcome was that companies that employed this method successfully had employees that were happier, more loyal and more committed to the company goals.
My mind has returned to this class discussion many times since becoming a parent. I couldn't help but feel that this method would work in a home as well as a corporate environment. I wanted a family where my children felt a deep connection to each other, not just a group of people eating the same meals and sleeping under the same roof. I wanted my children to feel like it was okay to be different when they were younger and trying to fit in with everyone else, and then when they got older and were ready to mold their own identity they already had something to build on and could proceed in a healthy way instead of choosing a less desirable path to being different.
With these goals in mind, my husband and I have come up with several things that we do in our home to create our family culture.
Creating Team Family:
In our house we call ourselves a team. Mom and Dad are the team leaders, but every member of the team is needed and important. Mom and Dad can't do all of the work, so we need help with cleaning, cooking, yard work, laundry ect. Everyone has to do their part. That doesn't mean that we all do the same thing or the same amounts, but we all have to work together to make our household work well. If one person doesn't do their part our team is weakened and doesn't function properly. Also, we don't yell at other people on our team even if they mess up. That brings moral down and doesn't build a sense of trust among our team members. Instead we make sure the failing team member knows what their job is, how to do it, and then we encourage them to do it well so that our team can be successful.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely competitive. I love to win and be ahead of the pack, and I've noticed that my children tend to compete a lot with each other. When one of my children would do well on a test, or score a goal or win a contest another sibling would downplay their success and justify why they happened to get lucky that time. I thought back to my own childhood when my parents would take all 12 of us to the soccer fields in our ugly clothes with our weird sandwiches. Because there were so many of us there were often several siblings playing at the same time. My parents would split whoever wasn't playing into groups to go support and cheer for our siblings that were playing. Each player had a cheering section, and we yelled and coached from the sidelines as loud as we could. We were invested in their game, and every small success of theirs was a family celebration. When we get together now we still talk about a games from 20 years ago that were played by 4 and 6-year-olds. They were regular, crazy, little kid soccer games, not big news stories, but they mean a lot to us. We take our children to each others concerts, athletic events and award's nights and encourage them to cheer for each other. In our family we are each others biggest fans and we always cheer for team family.
Weekly Family Nights:
In our house Monday nights are sacred, not for some TV show or Sporting Event, but because it is Family Night. No one is allowed to schedule any practice, lesson or other event away from the home on Monday nights. This can be challenging but is oh so worth it. After dinner we gather together in the living room. It's pretty informal at our house, but attendance is required. The first thing we do is ask for any announcements and go through our schedule for the week. We have younger kids so of course they all want to make announcements of various sorts like "I can't wait to go to Kindergarten in a year," or "I love my new Baby Alive." Some of the older ones make more relevant announcements like, "I have a concert on Thursday," or "It's someone's birthday this week." Whatever their announcements are they get a chance to speak and be a part of our planning for our team. Then we have a family discussion often about something we've noticed about our house or family that could use improvement. We talk about how to solve the problem and make some goals. Then comes the best part, Family Activity and Treat. The kids take turns planning a short but fun family activity and someone gets to plan a treat. Our activities are anything from Duck Duck Goose to a movie night. Either way we are having some fun as a family together.
Weird Family Traditions/Holidays:
My husband is particularly good at this one, and I love him for it. Back before I met him in college he started a tradition with his friends called Coma Fest. It is a holiday over spring break where we make special logo pajamas, watch movies and eat ice cream all day for 2-3 full days, not something I would typically recommend over the long term, but for one weekend a year it's perfect. It has become a huge thing even in my extended family and neighborhood. We now have out of town guests that come for the event, and we are getting to the point where it is difficult to find space for everyone who wants to attend. This last year we had to schedule it on a not spring break weekend and my kids were supposed to be in school. They made a very strong argument for getting out of school because, "Mom, Coma Fest is a holiday, and you're not supposed to attend school on holidays. Do people go to school on Christmas? No." How do you argue with that logic:) We do other things as well like celebrate Guy Fawkes day because my husband lived in England for several years, and we always have Steak and Eggs for Boxing Day breakfast. There are lots more. The important thing isn't what your weird traditions are, just that you have them, that you make them special, memorable and fun.
Growing up my family may have been the weirdest family that I new, but then again we were also probably one of the closest families that I knew. Building a strong sense of family culture takes planning, commitment and time, but the results are grown children who stay up talking all night when they're together, adult children who still cheer for each other's successes, and grown children who still call each other best friends. That's what my parents were able to create with my very large, not normal family, and that is what my husband and I are now working hard to create for our own children.
Labels: building a strong family, family culture, family night, family traditions, family unity, parenting