Growing a family culture

The atmosphere in a child’s environment makes such a difference.  Of course you have rules and routines to make day to day living easier and yes, they’re vital.  And of equal importance is the way in which family members routinely interact with each other and rub along together.  I say rub along because, truthfully, there are times when we plain just don’t like each other and we all have to figure out how to get along since we’re family.

Uplifting, nourishing, empowering

Is your family atmosphere mainly uplifting, nourishing and empowering for everyone?  Do you hear your kids laughing, chatting and sometimes fighting?  Do you do things together as a family?  Dinner?  Weekend outings?  The cleaning?  How involved are your extended family with your children?  And with you?  And how about your kids friends?  Do you know them?  And their parents?  

Controlling, rigid, critical

Or is the atmosphere controlling, rigid and critical?  A family that lives in a quiet house where people are all busy doing their own things in their rooms with doors closed, shut away from each other and behaving like polite strangers.  

I’ve exaggerated these two mythical family cultures to get you thinking about where yours fits.  Most families would fall somewhere in the middle of these two examples, with some things falling towards the uplifting end and others towards the controlling end.  And however your family rocks, that’s awesome.  It is how it is because that’s what works for you as a parent.  The degree of input into the family culture will vary according to the age of your children, but I’ve found as my kids have grown that their input into the family culture has increased as they’ve been given opportunities to test out ideas and contribute to how they think our family should run.  

If you think there’s too much of a gulf between yourself and your teen in daily life, then try a few of these ideas to bridge it.

Dessert nights

We pinched this idea from their cousins, some nights we have left overs for tea (make your own) and put the effort into dessert.  Everyone has a turn at making dessert and being as creative as they like.

Ice-cream sundae Sundays

On hot sunny summer afternoons it’s lovely to have a strawberry sundae.  Sometimes we even manage it on Sundays but the kids were quick to point out that we can still have a sundae even if it’s not Sunday.  Of course now that they’re teenagers I’m the only one who calls it that …

Unbirthdays

Surprise presents of usually something someone wants but also needs in a just in time fashion.  It doesn’t have to be brought from a shop, it can be a job that has been waiting to get done for sometime.  For example, there’s a piece of gate trellis that could use a lick of paint.  It was a pleasant unbirthday present to come home and find it painted.  Completely unexpected and 100% thoughtful. It doesn’t get better than that.

Swapsies

Breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast.  Just to change things up a bit

Communal cleaning 

Preset and agree on the day and time so everyone knows to be there.  Nominate the jobs, set the timer (usually for about 30 minutes) and go for it.  Celebrate with an ice-cream sundae Sunday.

Tree planting

Or any other community job that is going.  The kids like to know that they have contributed to their local environment and are always pleased with themselves after their big effort.  It makes them feel valued and other adults thank them for coming along and helping out.

Dinner together; with no TV on  

A chance to talk and connect.  It doesn’t happen every night as we’re a busy family and sports practices are now at later times but we do manage it 3 or 4 nights a week.  The kids know that when dinner is ready they are expected to put down what they’re doing and show up at the table.  For a while we didn’t have a table but somehow we still managed to eat together.  

Family meetings

We tried these but found the idea of an agenda too restrictive.  Since we eat together regularly it felt more genuine and spontaneous to just talk over dinner.  

Try out a few things, some will work and some won’t but the most important part is that you get your teenagers buy in and their involvement.  Then you get to spend time together making memories and communicating about what ever happens to be on top.  And there is your big win.