When it comes to family, I am a pretty lucky person. Granted, I am also a person who can become stressed and frazzled by said family very easily. I guess that’s just to be expected when you have four children under the age of 8. We are a family of six with strong opinions and personalities and one of our greatest challenges and blessings in life is simply learning how to live together. I do not believe I am unique in that respect — no matter who is in your family, you have to learn to compromise and to live and grow. So how does a family comprised of people with different opinions, goals, dreams, and even tastes do that?
A good question, and one that the Search Institute has spent decades learning how to answer. In their recently completed “American Family Assets Study” they interviewed and surveyed more than 1,500 families to learn more about what assets they have and how those assets help them to be strong and healthy. Using the data, they developed a framework which can be used to assess the strength of your own family but, perhaps more importantly, the framework can be used as a starting point to identify areas your family can focus on to become stronger. The best part of all? Assets are something EVERYONE can build in their family. It’s not rocket science, it’s not expensive, and it doesn’t require special training. All it requires is some time and a desire to make your family stronger. Check out these “shovel ready” suggestions and try one with your family tonight:
- Show family members that you care in little ways. Find a new, small but visible thing you can do to show others in your family that you care. Even a note on the bathroom mirror can brighten someone’s day.
- Talk about the everyday stuff EVERY day. Don’t wait for “important” conversations to have good conversations with others in your family. Find times to talk together every day. Ask questions like, “What was the best question you asked today?” or “What were the high and low points of your day?”
- Make family meals a priority. Work together to figure out how you eat together and what makes meals enjoyable for everyone and then make a plan for your family meals. Be creative! Take turns picking out the menu, try new recipes, or set a theme for the meal conversation like “favorite movies that include food.” If you can’t eat dinner together, try breakfast or lunch!
- Plan regular family fun nights. Brainstorm the kinds of things you like to do together and that fit your budget. Some families like to go out to dinner together. Others play board games at home. Some may take a walk or a hike (like mine!). Find something that works and is fun for the whole family.
- Be intentional about maintaining meaningful traditions in your family. These may include how you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones in life. For some families, these may include religious or spiritual traditions like worship, prayer, readings, or music. Whatever the tradition, tell stories about its importance, history, and meaning — both across generations and for each member of your family.
- Use the news to bring up tough topics. It can be hard to bring up a difficult issue with your parent or with your child. Sometimes a story in the local or national news can help you get those conversations started. Ask others in your family what they thoughts about a story your read or how they would respond in those situations.
- Be proactive in setting expectations together. Sometimes we avoid setting expectations and addressing tough topics because they can be uncomfortable. So we wait until there is a problem, which is often the MOST difficult time to bring up a topic or set new expectations. It’s much more effective to be proactive, bringing up issues long before they become a problem or a big deal.
- Recognize that everyone contributes to making your family strong. It’s not just the parent who makes a family strong and builds its assets. Each person plays a role in whether your family functions well, whether everyone feels comfortable at home, how tasks get shared, and whether it’s enjoyable to spend time together. Talking through what each person wants to contribute (and is able to contribute) is a good starting point. Then monitor to be sure that what needs to happen does happen — and adjust as needed.
- Give back to people and places that matter to you. Thank family friends for being there for you. Send a note of appreciation (and maybe even a financial contribution) to organizations that have made you feel welcome. As a family, volunteer to help in programs and organizations together. Not only will you give back to a place that matters, but you’ll also benefit from spending time serving others.
These are just a few ideas. To learn more, click here. In reviewing the Search Institute’s suggestions I learned that my family is doing a lot of things well — and that we have a lot of room for improvement. I’m excited to embrace some positive change, helping my very opinionated family to grow together through some small but significant changes. Please join me in committing to taking just a little more time to focus on your family — the rewards are life changing!