Family time and relationships

By Jim Burns

Family time and relationships

My wife, Cathy, and I stared at each other in disbelief as our oldest daughter, Christy, told us she was running away. When she started packing her suitcase, we knew she was serious. Cathy and I weren't sure if we should laugh or cry — after all, Christy was only 6.

Our daughter told us she was moving to Julia's house across the street because her mummy and daddy were nicer. My wife called Julia's mother to tell her what was taking place and that Christy was on her way over. Then, we stood in the porch and watched our little girl carry her suitcase and favourite doll across the street where Julia's mother waited outside the door to greet her.

A few hours later, Julia's mum reminded Christy it was Saturday night and that our family always went to the neighbourhood dessert shop for ice-cream after dinner. It was a tradition my three girls looked forward to — including Christy. To our delight, she called and asked if she could go. It was a joyous reunion!

The weekly ice-cream run was part of our family identity — part of what made us who we were. Even the neighbours knew our routine and sometimes shouted to-go orders as we pulled out of our porch. Our three daughters are now grown, but when our family gets together, we still make trips to the dessert shop. It's one of those simple traditions that have kept our family bonds strong.

Not surprisingly, a strong family identity also helps children develop a strong and healthy self-identity. Knowing what makes their family unique — traditions, values, ways of relating to one another — gives children a clear starting point for discovering their own place in the world. Studies even show that children who identify with their family's values tend to be less promiscuous and face less risk of drug and alcohol abuse.

Perhaps you're wondering, How can we build a strong family identity? Here are three principles to get you started.

Your presence matters

Children regard your presence as a sign of care and connectedness. Families who eat meals together, play together and build traditions together thrive. Does your family eat together at least four times a week? If so, there is a greater chance your children will perform better in school and be less likely to exhibit negative behaviour.

Although it may seem conventional, a family that plays together, stays together. I'm not talking about just cheering on your children at badminton games or piano recitals but actually playing together. One family I know has a ping-pong tournament each week. The winner doesn't have to wash the plates for a day. Our family had a Fun Day once a month. One of the girls picked an activity, and the rest of the family participated.

Celebrate everything

Don't miss a single chance to celebrate your family. You can celebrate rites of passage and other events such as sports competition victories and last day of school examinations. On birthdays, we go out to dinner then play a game called Affirmation Bombardment, in which each family member shares three words of encouragement for the birthday person.

Talk about faith

Spiritual topics don't always come naturally for families. Discussions about God, however, can help build a family identity. They also help children have strong convictions as they get older.

Maybe you have some anxiety about starting a faith conversation with your children. Remember, your talk doesn't have to be forced or lengthy; it can be simple, short and spontaneous. Let the discussion be as natural as possible.

At some point, storms will come to every family. But when you proactively build a strong family identity, your family can withstand whatever winds and rains come your way. A strong family identity will give your children a solid foundation to cling to during those difficult times.

© 2008 Jim Burns. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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