A strong family is not just the sum of its parts. Like an orchestra, it has synergy when all work together.
My three children all play a stringed instrument. They have spent countless hours practicing and performing with the community orchestra. The conductor centres her attention on what the group can create when they come together. My children also take regular private lessons. The private music teacher coaches and supports them to enter the group as a strong contributor.
Parenting is a bit like these dual roles. We are both coach and conductor. We build the individual and then we bring the group together in hopes of something more than just a collective of parts; we aspire for something beautiful. Here are a few keys to help us on this journey of coach and conductor.
The Individual Coach – Support Your Child
1. Give Your Time
In the busyness of day-to-day life, it is easy to make the bait and switch of quantity for quality. Of course they both matter, but relationship and connection take time. It is in the context of relationship that we can mentor, guide and affirm. Time is a gift. It is a measurable expression of our willingness to invest in our children.
2. Guard Their Time
It is not just our time that needs to be managed, but also our children’s. If we want strong families, we need to not over commit to activities and opportunities. Many families, mine included, struggle with competing schedules of multiple children involved in multiple activities. Saying yes to great experiences can sometimes result in little time or energy left over. Question your commitments and know your boundaries.
3. Make Opportunities for One-on-One Time
Look for and make opportunities to have one-on-one time with your child. When they are younger it is a little easier to find activities. As they reach the teen years it sometimes can require creativity. Look to their interests for ideas, and ask them what they would like to do together. Pick them up for lunch, go see a movie or begin a project or hobby together, or whatever is the right fit for you and your child.
4. Be Available
Be ready to talk or initiate when your children are open. Sometimes kids want to talk; other times they are not interested. We can’t make our children open to conversation, but we can take time when they are receptive. When the door opens, be ready and give your undivided attention and listen. This means we put aside what we are doing, or stay up a little later than we like to hear what’s on their mind.
5. Express Affirmation
Affirm your child for who they are, not just what they do or accomplish. The world of school, sports and work is plenty competitive enough. Smile at them, hug them, tell them they matter and that you like them as a person. Let’s ensure our presence is the place they know they are cherished.
The Group Conductor – Build the Team
6. Work Together
Take advantage of household chores. You may complete the task faster than your child, but working together has multiple pay-offs: you get to be together, children learn valuable life skills, things get done, and everyone feels like a valuable contributor. Cook a meal, fold laundry, set the table, organize a closet, get rid of old toys together or ask them to do the job with a sibling. Time to plant the flowers or rake the leaves? Make it a family event where everyone is involved.
7. Have Fun Together
Think back to the happiest times with your family. My guess is that they have to do with some kind of fun activity. Trips are wonderful, but playing together should not be only a yearly event – it should be a regular experience. Bike rides, a round of cards, games, heading out for ice cream or throwing the Frisbee at the park. Sharing playful experiences builds our family’s sense of collective identity and bonds us together in powerful ways.
8. Eat Together
One of the most powerful family traditions is meal time. Meals activate all of our senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and listening to the voices of those dear to us. It is time to come together, pause, decompress and hear about what is going on in each other’s lives. Family meals provide a sense of unity and group identity. They also are a way to carry on family traditions such as a favorite dish on birthdays, certain foods to celebrate holidays, or Sunday brunch.
9. Celebrate Together
Emotions are contagious and building celebration into the fabric of our family fosters happiness. Strong families celebrate both the big wins and the small accomplishments of each other. They sit on the side lines and cheer during sporting events, they make sure to take in performances, they high-five for passing the killer math test – they recognize milestones. Model celebration and encourage each family member to celebrate when others overcome obstacles and to support each other’s interests.
10. Evaluate Yourself
Continually self-evaluate. We often forget to stand back and assess our contribution and leadership as a parent. Where are my strengths? Where are my weaknesses? Do I treat my children with gentleness and respect? Do I hug and physically affirm my child? Do I have reasonable expectations? Do I say, “I’m sorry” when I make a mistake?
Creating a Caring Team
By focusing on the keys to building a strong family we provide the opportunity for our children to reach their potential and the family unit to be a vibrant and caring place.
Growing strong families is about creating a team, a group of people who function together. A group of people who need each other, appreciate each other and are willing to sacrifice for each other.
There are no guarantees. We don’t get to script the outcome. We do, however, have the responsibility and the privilege to guide and facilitate what we can. I can’t imagine a better investment of our parental time and energy.