The Christensen boys play basketball—a lot of it. And they can be seen in the stands at each other’s games watching intently and keeping track of the score in the family’s official game book. Attending and watching their siblings’ games is part of who they are. It’s part of their family identity.
Family identity is a central expression of our values. As such it can be a positive tool in parenting, when approached with purpose through shared experiences. Family identity can create not only a sense of belonging, but also a means for affirming our values, providing a buffer against peer pressure for kids, clarifying our goals for our children and providing an opportunity for our children to identify their own personal goals. Here’s how you can make the most of your family’s time together (and a few tips on fun ways to influence your family’s identity).
Unity and Belonging
Positive family identity results from actively participating in life together, not simply occupying the same space. This involved togetherness creates a sense of unity and belonging.
And as author Mary Beth Hicks says in her book Bringing Up Geeks, “belonging is especially crucial for children as they develop a sense of self. Kids need the support and encouragement of their families as they explore and establish their personalities and character.”
Janice Christensen takes this responsibility seriously in her family. “We go together to as much as we can—people see us around town as a group. They know the Christensens are around.”
Mom of four, Karen Kurtz agrees. “If possible, we participate in activities that involve more than one child at a time.”
Conduit for Communicating Values
Family identity not only embodies our values, it provides us with a reference point for communicating those values in a non-judgmental way. When discussing why we do (or don’t do) certain things that other parents might condone, it helps to say, “In our family we do this.” Naturally we’ll want to give the reasons for why our family adopts those behaviors and not others, which further strengthens those values.
To be purposeful, parents can seize opportunities when the family is together to communicate certain behavioral expectations, such as respecting elders, looking out for the underdog or being a gracious loser. Our family identity gives an anchor on which to hook those expectations.
“We tell the boys there are some things we do or don’t do simply because that’s what our family is about,” says Christensen.
Many values will be caught as part of our identity, rather than taught. Whether we eat vegetarian or local foods or neither may appear behavioral, but over time those behaviors become woven into our family’s identity. And the more time we have together, the deeper the roots of those values will grow.
“We think our kids have to be here—a lot—in order to absorb the strength, support and values that form their personalities and character,” says author Hicks.
]Buffer against peer pressure
While it may not be much of a factor in the early years, our family identity can play a major role in curbing the impact of peer pressure on our older children. As kids are faced with choices about who to associate with and how to act when they’re out of our sight, our family identity will stand in our stead to guide our child. Our children will take their cues from what they learned in the presence of family during our time together.
Kurtz notes the result of emphasizing and enjoying family time in her home is that, “our children have cultivated strong, healthy friendships with others who are like-minded and share common values.”
Clarity of Goals
Taking time to be intentional about the type of family we want to be pays dividends in clarifying our goals for our children and our vision for the people we’d like them to become. Those goals then provide a framework for making decisions about how we will spend our time—both together and individually. We can ask the question: does this fit with who we wish our family to be?
As Hicks says, “regardless of your family’s particular make-up, you still are the head of the household and it’s both your right and your responsibility to create a family identity your kids can embrace.”
When we do, our kids will own the family name with pride and look forward to our time together. And we can take pride in being the family we are.
Many factors contribute to creating your identity as a family. Some factors to consider:
- Shared passions. A sport, a hobby, a common ability (you could be a singing family, gymnastics family or a bookworm family).
- Traditions. How you celebrate holidays and special occasions, where you spend vacations and what you do there and foods that you eat make up your family’s traditions.
- Parents’ backgrounds. Religious, ethnic, geographic, educational (such as Catholic, Irish or Texan)
A Local Expert Weighs In
We asked Gayla Westbrook, MA, Program Director of the Parents Assistance Center (PAC) for her thoughts on the importance of family identity: “Our family is the training ground for all types of relationships, and we should nurture our family relationships through traditions, sharing time together and communicating openly. Focus on trust, consistency, communication and time to build unity.”
How our Readers Create Family Identity
Having fun as a family is a great way to strengthen family bonds and create a strong family identity. We asked our readers to weigh in on how they spend quality time together and here are some of their favorite activities:
- Family outings like seeing movies or exploring a new place to have fun
- Making art together & doing craft projects
- Going camping and leaving all electronics behind
- Simply being present—just doing anything together, without being in a hurry
- Playing games and drinking hot cocoa
- Walking the dogs together in the neighborhood
- Cooking and baking
Thanks to @DCTshop, Lindsey M., Kami M., Nicole C. Aprillynn N., Rachel T., Jennifer S., Lara G., and Sara R. for contributing to the list. Join the discussion at www.facebook.com/MetroFamily to share your thoughts on other topics.
Lara Krupicka is part of an Illini fan, board-gaming, book-loving family that includes her husband and three daughters.