After three weeks with my oldest son home from his first year away at college, tonight we send him off again. It is a bittersweet goodbye, as he is so happy at school, yet we will miss him so much. This time with him home, seeing all four of my sons together again, made me appreciate afresh what a blessing family life has been for us these 19 + years. Our family is not perfect, and even over the holidays we had a few conflicts, disagreements, or the healthy-brotherly wrestling matches that thankfully most-often end in laughter. But the truth is, we do get along really well. My boys really are best friends. They respect their parents and help out at home. They make good choices and come to my husband and I for advice. We all have a ton of fun together.
I have a good feeling we will all be good friends for a lifetime. :)
So: Is there a secret? A key to having a happy, well-connected family? I think the answer to that is no. And yes.
No, there's not one secret to a happy family. But yes, there are many keys, that when working together will give you a pretty darn good chance at having a great family.
Below I am sharing eight things that we have focused on in our own family. And the good news is, they aren't complicated. I have a feeling many of you are doing a lot of these things already. So it might just be a matter of keeping it up, or refocusing on a thing or two. Pick a few to work on, then watch and see if your family might just grow stronger in the year ahead!
EIGHT WAYS TO MAKE YOUR FAMILY GREAT THIS YEAR
1. Spend time together consistently. Relationships are built on time and shared experiences. Families are no exception. Research has shown that families who regularly sit down to meals together are much stronger. Even the busiest family can find time to gather for a meal or two each week. Make it happen, then be sure to keep it a pleasant and positive time for the family. (tip: a "no devices at the table" rule is really helpful!)
2. Have clear expectations. For a family to function well, the members need to know what is expected of them. Though you might have raised your kids a certain way, they might be unclear as to what is expected of them as they get older; They might have picked up on attitudes or behaviors from friends or the media and think it's ok to start bringing them into your home. Aaaand they're likely to continue to do that until a line has been drawn. Don't wait to have to correct wrong behavior; instead, be clear on what is and isn't ok. Communicate your family's values or standards. (write them down if possible!): What is the expectation for how kids treat each other? Their parents? How are conflicts worked out? Are there rules regarding language, entertainment, etc? No one will know unless they are told. PS If they do break rules, be sure to have consequences ready. (Be clear, and be firm.)
I often call for spontaneous "team meetings" with my boys. I might call everyone together when I need to clarify a schedule, or state a specific expectation for chores or some upcoming event. Similarly, when I begin to pick up on a rude tone or disrespect in my kids' voices, I will stop everything quickly to remind that kid how they ought to treat me and how we treat one another. Interestingly, kids most often rise up to meet an expectation if it is reasonable and clear.
3. Talk about stuff. As a family, we need to talk about what is going on in each other's life. We need to have a safe place to work through questions and conflict. And sometimes we need bring up uncomfortable subjects. Family should be the safe place for all of these things to happen.
I hear from a lot of parents who assume that when their kids pull away, or put distance between them, they have to respect that and just leave the kid alone (most often in their bedroom.) And though there certainly is a time to give our kids space, oftentimes this leads to an excess of isolation, where most often the kids just plug into technology/gaming or get on the internet. (none of which helps whatever caused them to pull away in the first place.) What these kids often really need is some good time with their parents. They need healthy connection, even if they don't know to initiate it. So we must be the ones to go to our kids and offer to talk. Sometimes just quietly being in their presence will be just what it takes to make them feel comfortable to open up. Parents: it is crucial that you are not afraid to reach out and initiate conversations with your kids. Then be a good listener, and when it is time: share from your experience and wisdom. They want to hear from you much more than you might think!
4. Make memories! Let's be honest: Families get stuck in ruts. (hopefully it isn't just us!?) Someone needs to break the monotony and it might as well be you. Get creative and plan some things that are out of your normal routine. Grab the tennis rackets and make a family play date. Have a pillow fight, build a fort, have a dance party, or do a home project as a family. Surprise everyone by going out to breakfast, or going for a random ice cream date after dinner. If you need motivation, try this: Imagine your kids coming home later in life and recalling the super fun things you did as a family. Now go do them!
5. Laugh together! Laughter bonds us in a really special way. We all face stress every day of our life, whether it's at school, work, or in the house, so a focus on lightening things up is super helpful. I wrote an entire post on why laughter makes a family better (with links to resources) so you might want to revisit that one. Laughter should be a part of every single day.
6. Set the family thermostat. Parents, it's our job to set the mood thermostat in their homes. We all know that families get busy and life can be hard, which can make the overall tone in our homes unpredictable, or a steady-state of tension. So set the tone very intentionally. Play peaceful or upbeat music, try to keep the house tidy (that alone really affects my mood! ), and be mindful of your own disposition around your family members (a simple smile on your face can change everything!) It may not be easy (we aren't all in good moods all of the time) but it is super important. You'll find that when parents set the tone positively, the kids all tend to follow. (and the opposite is also true I have learned the hard way.) Test me on this one!
7. Build up your marriage. The tone of your marriage absolutely affects the kids' sense of happiness and well-being. Take this seriously. If you tend to take your marriage partner for granted, stop today and make some changes. No marriage is perfect, but there are always positives to focus on. Treat your spouse well, be grateful for them, and let your kids see, hear, and know that you love and support your spouse. Hug and kiss and compliment them in front of the kids. This will impact your family as a whole more than you might expect.
8. Pray! None of us are perfect, and trust me, our kids have already figured that out. Yet we have a God who is, and He is able to fill in our gaps and make all grace about to us. One of the greatest keys to my family's happiness is that we humble acknowledge that we are never gonna get it all right, but God will always be there to help us. This takes the pressure off of us to be perfect, and it also gives us motivation to extend more grace to one another.
So pray for your family when you're alone, and pray when you are together. You can pray before meals, before bed, at the beginning of the day, and any time in between. By doing this you are both modeling a life of prayer and also strengthening your family's bonds.
I wish you a very happy New Year. I hope a few of these ideas will encourage you to build up your family to be its very best in 2019!