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Strengthening Your Family Culture and Identity

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about family culture and identity, partly because our own family identity is growing more and more, without us even noticing it.

As our kids grow, their individual personalities, likes, and interests continue emerging, but in the same way, some common characteristics emerge – things that don’t apply to just one individual, but clearly reflect our family.

I would rather focus on it and make intentional changes to ensure the culture we end up with is one we want and value. A family culture and sense of identity is inevitable, regardless of whether we focus on it or not.

Due to moving around as well as being married to someone of a different culture, I have grown to appreciate and recognize the importance of having a family culture. 

Regardless of where we live and what societal culture or group we belong to, there will always be things that we are in agreement with and things that are in disagreement, whether because of religious, political, ideological differences, or simply because we don’t connect with certain traditions or behaviors. 

I have seen this not only abroad but also here at home. Sure, I still consider myself an American. 

Is it accurate to say that I identify myself with modern American culture? If I were to attempt to categorize or define modern American culture, could I?

If I had to define it, I might not agree with you. There might be some shared ideas, but there are many different ideas, depending on what sub-cultures and perspectives we come from.

Family is a great way to help kids learn who they are, and how to define their identities. Family is the system set in place by God to help each one of us develop and learn to be an effective member of the community. 

What we learn in our families influences our interactions with the broader social reality as well as how we think about ourselves. 

It lays the foundation for later understanding how we fit into other aspects of identity, such as nationality, culture and religion.  

A positive family culture can be empowering, challenging, and fulfilling. But it doesn’t happen “by accident.” It takes effort.

WHAT GOES INTO A FAMILY CULTURE?

This list of essentials for a happy, healthy family culture is far from comprehensive, but here are a few points I believe are essential:

1. Values: 

Family values give everyone a sense of purpose and orientation. 

Family rules and ways of thinking and acting can also be evaluated in light of family values. This eliminates arbitrariness and promotes an awareness of why our family does x, y, or z. 

As kids grow up and are able to discuss or push back a little regarding different rules or expectations, having a family values list can become the starting point for many healthy conversations. It allows for a measure of flexibility and adaption adhering to the essential principles that define our family life and identity.

2. Traditions: 

Traditions are fun and meaningful memories, and they often get passed down from generation to generation. Values are good, but abstract. Traditions make sense in a concrete, visible way.

3. Time: 

It is impossible to have a unified culture without spending time together. We have the opportunity to listen to each other, share with each other, and grow as individuals as well as members of the family when we’re together. Spending time together creates a sense of belonging, which is needed for having a common culture.

HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS HAPPEN?

All families must determine what works best for them. What brings my family together might not be what draws yours together. However, there are some “tried and true” strategies that many families have found helpful. Have a look, and see if any of them work for you!

1. Family Prayer. 

Yes, you’ve heard it before: “The family that prays together stays together.” As a writer, I deplore clichés. As a mother, I love them because they represent timeless truth that’s worth passing on to the next generation. 

Each family is at a different point in their spiritual journey, and they decide for themselves how often they want to pray together and the form of the prayer they choose. 

It could take the form of set prayers or more spontaneous faith-sharing possibilities. It could happen once a week, every day, or several times daily. Family prayers can bring a family closer together and anchor the entire family in a greater reality. 

It provides a source of power, nourishment, and support to the family that often goes unnoticed, but sustains them in both difficult times and joyful times.

2. Family Meals. 

Maybe family meals are not possible every day because of work and school schedules, other activities, and errands.

Nevertheless, we should do our best to get the family together as often as possible. For instance, we should set times for family meals and stick to them, even when it means saying “no” to other things that pop up.

Again, don’t compare with the family next door. Decide for your family what kind of dinners you’ll have. Are you planning daily family dinners? Dinners all together four times a week? Make a plan in advance and stick to it. 

Family meals teach children that being together is a priority and that it’s important to talk together rather than coexist under the same roof. 

It allows all family members the chance to be heard. It helps kids learn from other family members, and teaches them how to have a conversation. 

It’s a good way to learn the value of family togetherness. What’s important to one is important to all. that everyone can contribute something and that everyone should recognize and be thankful for what they receive from others.

3. Family Study. 

That is a little harder, but you can do it! Pick something as a family that you care about and set aside a little time, even if it’s just once a week, to study it together. 

Learn something meaningful and talk about it. The younger kids typically learn more from the older family members, but parents and older siblings should not overlook what the little ones can teach them.

4. Family Mission Statement. 

Write down who your family is in a brief, succinct statement. Mention the values you use and why they’re important to you. 

Make sure it’s something your kids understand and relate to. Hang it on your wall or refrigerator. 

When chaos reigns, go back to the mission statement. Take a moment to think and consider what your family mission is.

5. Family Service. 

Each of you in your family has unique strengths and challenges. You each have God-given talents to contribute to the family, and everybody can learn from each other. 

Additionally, your family operates as a unit within a larger community, the society. How can you make your mark? 

What can your family learn from your local community or other members of your local community? Discuss these questions together. as a family, and identify a few projects or events you can participate in as a family to help serve your local community. 

This will not only help you become a better family, but also increase your awareness of important values like responsibility and responsibility.

6. Family Fun. 

Have fun. Family is not all about growth and development. It’s also about joy and love. 

Having fun together keeps life sane and makes tough moments more bearable. It also strengthens the bonds and makes great memories.

You can make family time full of joy by attending an event together or laughing together at the table. You will never regret moments spent with smiles and laughter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of family culture and identity recently. Partially because, with two rapidly growing children and a third ready to pop out, our own family identity is developing more and more, without us even focusing on it.

As our kids grow, their individual personalities and likes and interests are emerging more and more, but so are some common characteristics – things that don’t apply only to one individual, but clearly reflect our family. A family culture and sense of identity is bound to occur, whether or not we focus on it. I’d rather focus on it and make it intentional in order to make sure that the culture we end up with is a culture we want and value.

As an international family, both by virtue of moving around and by virtue of an inter-cultural marriage, I have come to appreciate greatly the reality of having a family culture. No matter where we live and what societal culture we form a part of, there are things we agree with and things that just don’t sync, whether because of religious, political or ideological differences, or simply because we just don’t connect with certain traditions or ways of behaving. I have found this to be true not only abroad, but also in my own country. Sure, I still consider myself to be an American. But does that mean I really identify myself with modern American culture? If I were to even attempt to define modern American culture, could I? Would my definition be the same as yours? Probably not. There might be some shared ideas, but there would also be a lot of different ideas, depending on what sub-cultures and individual perspectives we come from.

The best place for our kids to learn who they are and define their own identity is in the family. The family is their immediate support system, and the structure God put in place to give each of us a loving and caring environment that helps us develop as an individual while learning how to be an effective member of a community. What we learn in our family ultimately affects how we interface with broader social realities, and how we think about ourselves. It gives us the foundation we need to later understand how we fit into other aspects of identity, such as nationality, culture and religion.  A positive family culture can be empowering, challenging and fulfilling. But that doesn’t happen magically. It takes intentionality and effort.

WHAT GOES INTO A FAMILY CULTURE?

This is far from an exhaustive list, but here are a few things I believe are essential for a healthy, happy family culture:

1. Values: 

Family values provide everyone with a sense of orientation and purpose. Other aspects of family life, including family rules and ways of thinking and acting can be evaluated in light of key family values. This helps avoid arbitrariness and promotes a general awareness of WHY our family does x, y or z. As kids grow up and start discussing and pushing back a little regarding different rules or expectations, having a list of defined family values can become the starting point for many healthy conversations. It allows for a degree of flexibility and adaption while adhering to the essential principles that define our family life and identity.

2. Traditions: 

Values are great, but abstract. Traditions express values in concrete, visible ways. Traditions make fun and meaningful memories, and often get passed on from generation to generation.

3. Time: 

It’s impossible to have a unified culture without spending time together. Being together gives us the opportunity to listen and learn from each other, share with each other, and grow in an awareness of both who we are as individuals and how we all fit into the family. Spending (meaningful) time together creates a sense of belonging which is essential for having a common culture.

HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS HAPPEN?

Every family ultimately has to figure out what works best for them. What pulls my family together might not be the same thing that pulls your family together. That being said, there are some “tried and true” practices that many families have found helpful. Take a look, and see if any might be for you!

1. Family Prayer. 

Yep. You’ve heard it: “The family that prays together, stays together.” As a writer, I hate clichés. As a mother, I love them – somehow, the old adages that have survived for generations represent perennial truths and are worth passing on some more. Each family is at a different point in their journey of faith, and needs to define how often they want to pray together and what form that prayer will take. It might be something once a week, every day, or several times daily. It might take the form of set prayers or more spontaneous faith-sharing opportunities. Family prayer is a simple way of connecting to God as a family and anchoring the family in a greater reality. It opens up a source of strength, nourishment and support that often goes unnoticed, but helps sustain the family in the tough times and the joyful times.

2. Family Meals. 

Between work and school schedules, other activities and errands, it might not be possible (read: is completely impossible!) to have family meals together all the time. But having them together as often as possible is a good idea. This means setting times for family meals and then sticking to them, even when it means saying “no” to other things that pop up. Again, don’t compare with the family next door. Decide what YOUR family is going to do. Daily family dinners? Dinner all together 4 times a week? Lunch and dinners on the weekend? Make your plan, and stick to it. Having family meals teaches your kids that being together as a family is worth prioritizing. It shows that it’s important to TALK together, not just coexist under the same roof. It gives everyone a chance to be heard, and to listen. It helps little kids learn from the other family members, and teachings children how to have a conversation. It sets the expectation that families SHARE together. What’s important to one is important to all. It’s also a great setting to learn that everyone can contribute something (helping prepare the meal, set the table, clean up, etc.) and that everyone should recognize and be thankful for what they receive from others.

3. Family Study. 

This one’s a little harder, but worth making it happen if you can. Pick something you care about as a family and set aside a little time, even if it’s just once a week, to study together. Read something worthwhile and talk about it. In general, the younger kids will be learning more from the older family members, but parents and older siblings shouldn’t underestimate what they’ll end up learning from the littlest ones too!

4. Family Mission Statement. 

Develop a brief, succinct statement that describes who you want to be as a family. Make sure it includes the key values you’ve identified, as well as a reference to WHY those values are important to you. Include your kids in the process of developing this statement so it’s something they are familiar with, understand and relate to. Hang it on your wall or refrigerator. In the middle of “those days”, when chaos reigns supreme, point to the mission statement. Take a moment as a family to reflect on what your family mission is and how you can reorient your actions and thoughts to be better aligned with your family mission.

5. Family Service. 

Your family is a small community. Each of you has unique strengths and challenges. Each of you has God-given talents to contribute to the family, and each of you can learn from everyone else in your family. At the same time, your family community operates as a unit in the context of a larger community – society. What unique strengths and talents can your family contribute to your local community? What can you, as a family, learn from your local community, or other constituents within the local community? Ask these questions together as a family, and identify a few projects or events you can participate in as a family to help serve your local community. This will not only strengthen your identity as a family unit, but will also help increase your awareness of different essential values, such as responsibility and solidarity.

6. Family Fun. 

Don’t forget to have fun. Family isn’t all about growth and development. It’s also about love and joy. Having fun together is important. It makes the tougher moments livable and keeps life sane. It also forms some of the strongest bonds and makes great memories. It could be a great family vacation, a game night, or simply laughing together at the table. Just make joy is a regular part of your family life – no one ever regrets moments spent with smiles and laughter.