What makes a family strong? Not money or material things, but that ineffable thing called love. Love is both expressed and strengthened when a family does things together, things that create traditions and positive memories.
With that simple principle in mind, here are 15 things you can do to make your family stronger. In this new year and every new year to come, may your family be a fountain of love, strengthening all family members and our great nation, as well.
1. Eat the evening meal in your own home, every immediate family member present, at least four nights a week. For the sake of quality, turn off the television. Ensure that the meal is not hurried by places to go and things to do. Just relax, eat and talk.
2. Go out on occasional "dates" with each of your children. Dinner and a movie, perhaps? These occasions do not need to be at night, nor do they require spending a lot of money. Dad can just as well take his 8-year-old daughter fishing, as to Chez Franoise. This is about relationship and memory, not the final tab.
3. Make a significant reduction in the family's "screen time." In the electronic age, nothing so isolates us from one another as the screen. Instead of watching or surfing or zapping, talk to one another, take walks together, or just sit in the same room and read together.
4. Schedule an hour every week as uninterrupted family time - during which you play a game, plan your next vacation, discuss and resolve a family issue, or just sit and fidget. After all, sitting and fidgeting together is better than doing nothing at all together.
5. Teach your children domestic skills. Teach them how to do their own laundry, cook, repair a leaky toilet, and so on. You not only help them prepare for their futures as independent people but enable their contribution to the family unit's welfare.
6. Create and maintain a family vegetable/flower garden. Grow your own tomatoes, broccoli and daffodils. Teach your children what's involved in bringing forth bounty from the earth. Make Thanksgiving come every day of the year.
7. In recognition that only adults who take good care of themselves can take good care of children, hire a sitter one night a week and go on an adults-only date. If you're not living with a spouse, call a friend and do the town - or part of it. Adults need to get away from kids to places other than work.
8. Practice good family manners by emphasizing a good practice each month. In January, for example, emphasize saying "thank you" to one another. In February, stress "you're welcome," and in March, highlight "excuse me." Respect for others, demonstrated through good manners, begins with respect for others in one's family.
9. Take a historical and/or educational vacation. Instead of packing off to Dizzy World or the beach, go to Williamsburg, Va.; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; or the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Your children may complain endlessly before they get there but will appreciate immensely after a few hours. Lasting family memories are made of such excursions.
10. Introduce your children (and perhaps yourselves) to different cultural experiences. Go as a family to a symphony, a play, a ballet. Be prepared to trade a Britney Spears concert for "Swan Lake."
11. Go to the public library as a family once a week. Teach your children how a library is organized and what it offers. Lots of libraries host children's programs Saturday mornings, a great alternative to cartoons.
12. This year, create a new family tradition, something as simple as making a gingerbread house together during the holidays.
13. Get involved as a family in charitable work. If you don't know where to start, your church or local United Way Agency can direct you. The hand that gives to those in need always comes back filled with riches.
14. Produce family plays. First, parents develop and present a play to the children; next time, it's the kids' turn. This is the kind of tradition that can be passed from generation to generation, brightening every family gathering.
15. Hold regular family "silences." Everyone sit in a room together, turn down the lights, close your eyes, and do nothing but listen to the sounds of your home for 10 minutes. As that becomes tolerable, increase the silence. See if you can get to an hour. This is relaxation as a family art form.
Copyright 2003, John K. Rosemond
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