By Karen Whiting, Crosswalk.com
Strong family bonds make a lifelong difference. Members lean on one another, enjoy time together, and continue to build memories. According to a 50-year review in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology, routines and rituals are associated with stronger family relationships. Family members’ connections last when they meet the individual’s needs of acceptance and belonging.
The relationships are reinforced through shared memories that reflect time invested in one another, both the happy experiences and the struggles they overcame together. Investing in family is done by supporting one another, showing approval of the individuals, and making the home a safe haven.
Evaluate your family bonds. List what you do together and what shared experiences and interests are part of the family conversations. Ask your children what they enjoy doing as a family and what activities they’d like to do again. Ask what new activities they want to try.
When children can add their ideas, they feel more invested. Ask for their help in planning activities and carrying them out so they will be more involved and feel like an important part of the team. Communication is a key component of creating lasting bonds, so be sure to converse about activities and include everyone’s input. Listening to each individual helps each person feel valued and affirmed, especially when they see their ideas become realities.
As you check out these 8 ways to develop lasting bonds note how your family is doing in each area and where you might work on strengthening bonds.
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1. Routines and Rituals
Predictable routines foster healthier and better-behaved children. They fall asleep sooner and sleep better. They feel a sense of security and belonging when parents provide such consistent care.
Such repeated patterns in early life become the first building block of lasting relationships. Nighttime may start with brushing teeth and piggyback rides to bed and end with a story and goodnight kiss. A song or exchange of familiar phrases that engage children will add to the bonding.
A few words like “It’s bedtime” become prompts to transition into routines. Routines provide security and comfort with the repeating of a predictable cycle as part of the sense of belonging. Healthy routines such as brushing teeth instill good family habits.
Weekly routines such as attending church and a family movie night also provide familiar experiences that connect us to community. Rituals such as confirmation, bar mitzvah, and quincea��era or getting a driver’s license are also rites of passage families celebrate.
Children look forward to those moments and other firsts where the family views them as more grown up. Share the future routines and the faith connections and other reasons of their importance so children will value them. Those too are commemorated and building blocks of bonds and closely related to family traditions.
Traditions reflect and reinforce family values and beliefs with meaningful and repeated practices. They also celebrate the history and culture of a family.
Stories, decorations, and rituals whether it’s how the family opens gifts, games affiliated with the special day, create favorite memories. Grandparent involvement bridges the generations and studies show such interaction lowers maternal stress and increases higher involvement of dads. Photos snapped that become part of scrapbooks capture the memories and joy we share.
The tradition of lighting the Christmas tree, carving the turkey at Thanksgiving, and the family picnic and fireworks for the 4th of July with games played every year all bring up favorite memories. For some, the scent of certain foods conjures up pictures of the family and the associated tradition. Ones that are special such as the way stories of the holiday are shared, an heirloom tree topper, or the passing of a trophy to a winner of the holiday game make it a unique tradition.
Creating a tradition can be as simply as developing a secret handshake, putting together a new family time capsule every decade, a family service project, or a blessing jar where you deposit slips of paper that list a blessing and read them on special occasions. Enjoy traditions and create a few new ones.
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3. Laughter and Play
A study conducted by Concordia University affirms the old adage that a family that plays together stays together. Recreation is a glue that also binds generations.
This may include grandparents sharing hobbies of gardening or woodworking with grandchildren to grow or build something for the middle generation. When we laugh as we play, from sharing in imaginary tea parties to board games and family sports, we create happy memories. Core activities of simple everyday play of games and backyard fun cost little.
Play can be simple such as blowing bubbles and giggling together or extending the bubble blowing into a game of bubble tag. Children embrace the play easily and their natural joy engages adults to laugh with them. I tuck in bubbles and various gadgets to make different bubbles for activities with grandchildren. We remember and laugh about bubble months later in phone conversations.
Special activities that cost more such as horseback riding or excursions to amusement parks, called balance activities, require more planning, time and money. The anticipation builds excitement.
Family leisure fosters better behavior; reduces the chance of children choosing dangerous activities as they hit teen years; and usually increases school performance. Play also lowers stress hormones that helps everyone get along; a key to wanting to enjoy a future together.
4. Disaster Recovery
Going through a tragedy or natural disaster together builds a team spirit that helps family members trust they will get through future difficulties too. This strengthens the individuals and the family ties as they pull themselves together, appreciate their blessings, and proceed to clean debris and start the recovery process. Looking back it’s easier to laugh and chat about those hard times and realize you supported one another and succeeded.
These shared experiences that involve trauma provide opportunities to share emotions, teach children to adapt and be resilient, and trust God as a family while working through repairs and restoring home life. Facing and overcoming challenges helps families become more compassionate that often inspires families to reach out and help other families in need.
The loss of control over nature causes stress and reminds us of our vulnerability that elevates our need for others that brings us together. Facing hard times together makes us realize we can depend on one another.
My family survived a category four hurricane that caused nearly one hundred thousand dollars of damage. We all worked together to clean debris, adapt to changes and long term repairs. We also helped friends hit harder than us. Years later we still talk and laugh about that disaster because of how it brought us together.
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5. Vacations and Trips
Exploring a new area together creates a common adventure. The woes and joys of travel also provide memories to pull from later to reminisce for years to come. Sharing the experience begins at home while planning the trip. That’s the time to ask what each person wants to do and would enjoy about the place being visited. Incorporating those desires gives everyone something to look forward to on the trip.
The long car rides or hassles of airports and plane rides may wear you out, but those moments are also filled with time together that connects you. Challenges morph into funny memories with quotes that bring laughter.
Getting away from a daily routine, work, and other distractions of life allows a family to focus on one another and build relationships. You might discover and rescue a racoon in a trash can at a picnic site as my family did in my childhood. You might enjoy a scenic wonder with new sights and sounds, such as echoes while standing on the peak of a mountain, or the awe of standing by a national monument.
These shared activities inspire new conversations. You can appreciate the world and other cultures together. It’s a great time to deepen relationships as you fill your family history with more shared memories.
6. Heritage and Family Stories
Heritage builds a sense of family identity. A study by San Francisco State University revealed that sharing the lifestyle and sharing more about family ethnic background into the adult years continues to build that sense of identity. Sharing stories, foods, and customs enriches the family and connects them. This promotes adopting family values among individuals family members.
Each family story a thread woven into the tapestry of our family that also gives us a sense of belonging. These stories may depict unique and colorful relatives, ancestors who struggled and learned lessons or met goals that encourage us follow our dreams and embrace our uniqueness within the family.
Learning what shaped parents and gave them courage to work hard to build bridges of understanding. Letters, heirlooms, and recordings add authenticity that preserves the family identity.
Involve children in traditions with a heritage celebration. Let children decorate with photos or traditional memorabilia and cook so they learn more about the family’s history, customs, and favorite foods. Enrich the connections through museum trips, local events that celebrate your cultural backgrounds, and meals at restaurants that connect to the heritage.
Talk to the members of your family and share the hardships and triumphs as well as the humorous incidents that help everyone picture and cherish those people.
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Family reunions that bring the extended family together celebrates legacy. It connects us and helps us reunite as family. We catch up on personal history that adds to the collective history. We share memories that keep us linked. These times also help children realize they are part of something larger and united with people who support them. They have a broader network held together with love.
Cousins, aunts, uncles, and others meet up and rejoice over new members added through birth, adoption, or marriage. Often one person may be the key organizer who pulls everyone together.
My home is the place our family gathers in December. There’s a dinner where the most people show up and a game day where many come to play and laugh.
Over the years I’ve also enjoyed a larger gathering on another side of the family that’s usually held outdoors with room for dozens of relatives to come. There’s security of knowing the past and the hope of looking forward to the future and dreams of the younger generations.
In the past families usually lived near one another, but modern families are more scattered yet share the same family history with a permanent connection. The gatherings provide an opportunity to remember what’s special about being part of the family tree.
8. Family Meals
Food is often the center of relationships. The family meal is a mainstay of a nuclear family that keeps the members united even if it only lasts about twenty minutes. The repetitive action of sitting together, sharing food, and conversing holds many benefits.
Families who begin meals with prayers also connect their faith to ordinary life. Menus that include individual and family favorites show love and acceptance. When parents engage children in discussion of their days, struggles, and accomplishments, that deepens the family bonds. Positive communication demonstrates concern, support, and empathy. Some families have a special plate they put out to celebrate one member and make that person a center of attention.
Meals can be ways of making the day special. During the coronavirus, my friends, the Bridwell family, made dinners occasions with themes that inspired elaborate centerpieces and costumes. They held picnics in the living room and tailgate parties in the kitchen too.
Turning a meal into an extravaganza or family fun night turns an ordinary meal into a memorable event and enriches our lives. A meal can become the highlight of the day and a way to deepen bonds. A meal is also the perfect setting to plan trips, activities, and other future times of bonding.
Bonding takes place whenever we connect and engage in conversation or play that brings us closer. The benefits last and reach into the next generation.
Karen Whiting is a mother of five and grandmother of twelve who love getting together. She’s the author of 26 books, a former TV host, and an international speaker and writing coach. Karen Whiting writes to helps families thrive. Her latest family devotional 52 Weekly Devotions for Families Called to Serve helps develop servant hearts in children and build family traditions.
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