Creating A Unique and Positive Family Culture
Robyn Manzano, MA
For most people, the summer season is greeted with much excitement. Not only is there a shift in pace and schedules, there is an anticipation of more time to relax and enjoy the warm weather. The summer season typically allows families for more time to connect, bond over new and special experiences and reminisce about memorable events of the past.
However, it is nearing the end of summer and soon it will be time for the regular routines of school and work, chauffeuring and participating in extracurricular activities, setting goals, meeting deadlines and just overall busyness! How do we build on the positive family connections established in the summer and carry it forward into the rest of the year?
One way to do this is to establish and maintain positive family culture. Perhaps you are unsure exactly what ‘family culture’ is but you can infer some general concepts from the business world (i.e. organization, processes, levels of morale and work ethic, etc.), exploring other cultures (i.e. rituals, values, language, food, art, etc.), or perhaps from trying to understand the unique/quirky cultural elements of the younger generations (i.e. attitudes, beliefs, dress, shared passions or goals, etc.). Consider Merriam-Webster’s definition of culture:
- the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
- a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
- a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)
In short, culture directs the way a group of people think, feel and act. An interesting phenomenon is that culture is created either by design or by default. For example, if a business wants to create a culture of excellence, the leaders need to be intentional in providing and maintaining: vision, values, and goals; clear structure and processes; enticing incentives; and support in the face of challenges. Just as it would be nearly impossible to establish this kind of culture by default, so it is with families. Parents may assume that values will be imparted and close bonds will just form as the years go by but then wonder why things have not turned out the way they had vaguely pictured and hoped for. And so, although establishing a unique and positive family culture takes planning and hard work, the pay off can be amazingly meaningful, satisfying and rewarding.
According to a 50-year research review, family routines and rituals are important to the health and well-being of today’s families.
- Routines: “involve instrumental communication conveying information that ‘this is what needs to be done’ and involve a momentary time commitment so that once the act is completed, there is little, if any, afterthought,”.
- Rituals: “involve symbolic communication and convey ‘this is who we are’ as a group and provide continuity in meaning across generations. Also, there is often an emotional imprint where once the act is completed, the individual may replay it in memory to recapture some of the positive experience.”
In other words, routines encompass ways in which families work together, problem solve and accomplish daily tasks for life to happen while rituals include elements that foster a sense of “we” and belonging that ultimately provide people a sense of identity. Not only are they powerful organizers of family life that offer stability, predictability and comfort during times of stress and transition, they are also associated with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement and stronger family relationships.
Make a list of routines and rituals you already uniquely do in your family. Another approach is asking yourself what kind of values do I want to impart and think of things you could do to establish the value into a norm (value in action). Remember to let the principle of building a sense if unity and emotional intimacy as a guide. Here’s a list to just to help get you started:
- Creating and using nicknames
- Secret handshakes
- Family meals
- Dance parties
- Karaoke in the car
- Surprise notes or drawings
- Hugs & kisses
- Evening walks
- Bedtime story or song
- Family prayer time (i.e. beginning the day, before meals, before bed, etc.)
- In the car: playing games, sharing (i.e. things you’re grateful for, learning or wondering about, what is challenging, dreams, etc.)
- Games night
- Movie night
- Take turns offering ideas for family activities each month (i.e. bowling, mini golf, batting cages, picnic, hiking in the mountains, etc.)
- Watching sports together
- Cooking dinner together or taking turns cooking
- Out of the ordinary: ice cream for dinner, eating in a different part the house, trying a different type of food, get into PJs or costumes, etc.)
- Communal chores or collaborative house project
- Special Saturday/Sunday breakfast
- Grocery shopping
- Family meetings
- Sibling dates
- Family volunteer day
- Taking turns inviting friends to join family events
- Flip through old photo albums or old family videos
- Sharing history: how parents met, what kids were like at different stages, sharing stories about grandparents and extended family, etc.
- Celebrating holidays in your own way
- Family time capsule
- School: School supply shopping, a new outfit/shoes, first day of school pictures, putting art/assignments on the fridge, celebrating accomplishments, etc.
- Birthday: time capsule opened on 18th birthday, growth chart, celebrant picks food or activity
- Camping Trip
- Planning family vacations together
- ___________________ (insert your own!)
In this day and age, the focus is often on finding time in our busy and jam-packed schedules to spend time as a family. It is important to keep in mind that sometimes doing things together does not necessary lead to a deeper sense of connection. In whatever routines and rituals you decide to try out, make your intention or goal to connect emotionally and to learn more about each family member. For some parents, it may be frustrating or discouraging when your kids are vocally resistant, don’t seem to want to share much or don’t seem engaged but I encourage you to be patient, be gentle and be curious. Perhaps initiating a general conversation about your current family culture and discussing where each member would like to ideally be could be a good starting point. One of our psychologists could help too!
Sources & Additional Reading:
- Mike Myatt – Forbes writer as cited by Brett McKay @ Art of Manliness. http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/07/22/family-culture/ (contains more ideas and links to other articles related to creating positive family culture)
- Fiese, B., Tomcho, T., Douglas, M., Josephs, K., Poltrock, S., & Baker. T. (2002). A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?. Journal of Family Psychology, 16 (4).