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, it can also give us a mode for affirming our values, provide kids a buffer against peer pressure, and clarify our goals for our children. 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 shape):
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 during occasions when the family is together to communicate that as a member of our family, everyone is expected to act in certain ways: respect elders, look out for the underdog, or be a gracious loser, are a few examples. 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 time together. And we can take pride in being the family we are.
Identity Shapers: 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. Foods you eat.
Parents' backgrounds – religious, ethnic, geographic, educational (Catholics, Irish, or Texans)
Lara Krupicka is part of an Illini fan, board-gaming, book-loving family that includes her husband and three daughters. She is also the author of Family Bucket Lists: Bring More Fun, Adventure, & Camaraderie Into Every Day.