Families with strong relationships don’t simply happen. It takes intentional choices to improve family relationships and connect with our kids. Discover what qualities a strong family has and ways to strengthen your own family relationships.
We sat down at the parent-teacher conference and expected to hear about our child’s progress since the last meeting. We are used to hearing that our child is helpful and kind, a good student, and a joy in class. What we didn’t expect to hear was how much the teacher loves hearing about all the family things we do. The teacher raved about our child explaining birthday traditions, visits from extended family, and chore systems.
What? That’s what it’s impressive about our family?
The teacher explained that many students these days don’t have such strong connections with their families. Everyone is so busy with their own schedules that time as a family unit gets ignored. And if they do get time together? It’s not really all that together. They exist in the same physical space but the connection aspect is missing.
Even a simple idea like choosing a birthday meal was foreign to some kids. These traditions that our family took for granted as normal life were creating bonds between us that will keep our relationships strong.
Now don’t think we have it all together. Heck, there are days I wonder if anyone likes anyone in this house! But then I step back and see one kid pat another on the back for doing a good job, or offer to help someone with a difficult task, and I realize that maybe we aren’t screwing everything up. My prayer is that the foundations we are laying down now with these intentional acts will continue to build on one another so our family can stick together in any storm that may come our way.
What is a strong family?
There can be lots of opinions out there over what exactly makes a strong family but it comes down to each person being valued as an individual in a unit that works together to build something greater.
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What are the qualities of a strong family?
Each member is valued as an individual
God created each of us uniquely. No matter how much your child might resemble you or two of them act alike, they are still their own person. In a healthy family each person is treated and seen as an individual with unique talents, skills, and identity.
They need to know that we see them and appreciate the viewpoint they hold. For us it means not constantly grouping the kids together as “the boys” or “the little ones” but calling them out by name. We also let them decide on their hair styles and clothing so they are comfortable in their own choices. One of our kids does not like jeans - period. This child is far more comfortable in athletic pants or khaki type pants so it’s what we buy. Another child prefers longer hair and as long as the hygiene aspect is kept up it can keep growing.
Strong sense of safety
The family unit should be the safest place for your child. They should feel able to come to you with anything and know that your love will not change. We want our kids to grow up knowing they can call us or come to us no matter what happens, not fear the punishment or backlash that will happen because of a decision.
A family needs to work together to function. One of the most practical places is in keeping the house in running order. We have a rotating chore system for our kids and we step in with the kids to make sure tasks are being completed on time and at the level we expect. As much as we want to back off more from the older kids they still don’t see jobs the same way we do. Dirty socks on the bathroom floor aren’t exactly part of a finished job.
Sometimes working together means an older child helps a younger child with homework. Sometimes it means doing a chore for someone that had a hard day and is need of a break.
Uses strengths of each member
Because we are all individuals, we all have different strengths. Despite my awesome abilities at MarioKart for going up against everyone in a race, I don’t do well when it comes to wrestling with the kids. Micah is great at taking on all five kids at once, allowing each of them equal time, and keeping all of them safe.
One of our kids is the go-to helper. This kid is always willing to lend a hand and often goes above and beyond. Another is our knowledge vault - accessing millions of facts about anything and everything that we could ever wish to know about. As they grow and their strengths become more obvious they will be put to better use than just “hey, can you vacuum the rug for me?” or “what was the name of that dinosaur with the spikes?”
Supports one another
We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. Whether it’s a great score on a test, learning to ride a two-wheel bike, or performing in the school play, a strong family is there for each other. One of our kids is a phenomenal speller. This child rarely studies for spelling tests and usually gets a perfect score. Another child really struggles. Spelling does not come naturally so even with constant study there are still mistakes. But you better believe we are all cheering when tests come home that show how hard that child works. And when a tough score comes home? We are all still encouraging because we know the kid needs it.
We all attend performances and events, even if it’s sometimes less than convenient. Keeping toddlers quiet during a choir concert is not easy and keeping their hands off the art displays for art show night is a whole different challenge, but we want our kids to remember that we all showed up and we all support each other.
We have made a point to never lie to our kids. For us this meant skipping Santa and the Easter Bunny, but it also means when we tell our kids something, they know we are speaking the truth. They trust that our words are honest and that we expect the same thing from them.
Sometimes the conversations won’t be comfortable, but they should still happen. Knowing you love them unconditionally will help your child share what is on their heart instead of hiding it inside or sharing with someone else.
How can I bring our family together?
The absolute best and most important thing you can do for your family is to pray for them. Pray that God would give you and your spouse wisdom in your parenting, eyes to see your children as He does, and hearts that hold tight to Him and each other.
One of my dear friends has the best family motto - “See a need, fill a need.” I can’t remember how long they’ve had this motto but I adore it. From a young age her eight children have been taught to open their eyes to the needs of others. This goes from inside their family - helping the younger kids put on shoes, clean up toys, and find a snack - to outside their family - serving in the church, supporting missions, and creating playgroups. Their kids are always looking for ways to serve others and it’s so refreshing from the selfish behavior many kids exhibit.
Think of what your family goal is and how you can make that an easy to remember phrase. Use it to teach the behavior and attitude you want your family (including yourself!) to put into the world. The easier it is to remember, the easier it will be for you to put it into action.
Jennifer at Intentional Traditions has all sorts of ideas for family meetings and Connie Albers explains them in her book as well. These don’t need to be formal or complex - in fact, the more you try and bring to the table the faster your family will probably tune out!
A family meeting is a chance to get everyone on the same page. This could be due to a busy schedule coming up or a more serious matter that needs to be discussed. You might only need one meeting per month or you might need to make it a weekly habit, especially as the kids grow and activities pull everyone in different directions more frequently.
Having fun together is probably the easiest way to grow closer as a family. Laughter is healing. Laughter breaks down walls. Discovering what your family enjoys doing together might be a challenge with so many different people, but once you find that pastime I encourage you to make it a regular occurrence. You might need to rotate through a few if there are some activities that others enjoy more.
We have frequent MarioKart tournaments and Super Smash Bros. battles. We go on bike rides during the summer and visit an indoor amusement park together each fall. We go grocery shopping as a full crew, as often as possible. Okay, that last one might not sound fun to you, but it’s become something our kids look forward to doing with us!
What activities can strengthen our family?
It has been proven time and time again that eating together as a family is important. Food brings people together and sharing meals as a family allows for easy flow of conversation, a sense of community, and builds healthy habits.
Not every family can do the typical dinner time together. Our family can’t because of work schedules so instead we eat breakfast together before school and work every day. I make sure breakfast is ready by 730am and we all sit down and eat together. I know our kids go off to school each day having eaten and with some family time in.
When we hear the word tradition we often immediately think of holidays. And while holiday traditions are great and it’s good to find some that work well for your family, I think it’s even more important to establish non-holiday related traditions.
Every Friday night in our home is homemade pizza and movie night. We rotate through the kids for picking movies and everyone gets to create their own perfect pizza. We sprawl out in the living room and often bedtime gets extended by a little bit to finish the movie. This is by far our favorite tradition and I love the idea of doing it for decades to come.
Non-holiday traditions don’t need to be elaborate or time consuming. Maybe it’s finding a new recipe to try each month or going out for donuts on the first Saturday. It’s not about the cost, the what you are doing, it’s being intentional about your time together (seeing a theme for this whole idea of a connected family?)
We tend to have game afternoons instead of game nights right now but it doesn’t make it any less fun. Get silly with charades and Pictionary or keep it more serious with Catan or Monopoly. Soon I’ll be sharing our favorite family games that the kids and parents enjoy enough to play more than once ;)
Device Free Time
Parenting now is definitely different than parenting twenty years ago. Devices are both a blessing and a curse and when the kids ask you “How long do you think you could survive without checking your phone?” you know you need to take some time off. Make everyone stick their devices in another room and do something that doesn’t require technology. Play a game of twenty questions, bust out some story dice, or read a book aloud together.
Devotions & Bible Study
Because our only guaranteed family time is at breakfast we use this meal time to do a family devotional as well. We use the Bible app to find a kid friendly devotional or Bible study that works for the youngest kids up to the oldest kids. I prefer series that offer questions so we can get the kids talking but any time we get teaching them the Word is great.
One summer we were having a struggle with kind words between the kids so I found a kids’ Bible study about the power of our words. It came with coloring sheets and memory verses and we went through it, one each week, after dinner. Having our words of “speak kindly to each other” backed up with scripture helped put it into perspective for the kids.
Not everyone loves physical activity, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Take a walk to the local park, go on a family bike ride, or visit the pool together. Pack a lunch and make a day of it. Assign each person a job to get ready - water, snacks, sandwiches, produce, napkins, etc - to work together and make the activity happen.
When the kids are little, this can be a big challenge. Loading them up with everything they need seems like a workout in itself. But do what you can and leave when you need. I’ve found that my mindset is often more of a challenge than the actual activity turns out to be! If you only get to walk around the block, cool - you did something. Maybe next week you can make it around twice and the week after you can make it up to the park. We are all about progress here, never perfection!
While connecting as a family as a whole is incredibly important, I think it’s just as important to work on the individual relationships as well. Remember, a family is made up of individuals and we need to remember to treat everyone as such. It’s all in great to work together but I want to know who my kids are on a personal level. It’s hard to do that if I only spend time with them in a large group.
Because we have five kids, it’s not easy to get one on one time with each of them at home. We started taking them on dates at least five years ago. My husband and I each take a two month window to complete our five dates which gives each kid six dates per year - three with mom and three with dad. We get uninterrupted conversation and a chance to talk about whatever is on their hearts.
How do I emotionally connect with my child?
Listen Without Planning Your Response
I’m incredibly guilty of this! I’ll be talking to someone and a word will trigger something in my brain and I start formulating my response before I realize that I’m not fully tuned in to their words anymore.
Listening, truly listening, is not always easy. It requires focus and energy. It asks that we ignore anything else vying for our attention. It means putting aside our own thoughts to hear the words, catch the tone of voice, see the body language, and put them together to create a full picture. If we are planning what we are going to say we are bound to miss something.
Understand Their World
As much as we want to think that we get what it’s like being a kid, every generation is different and the things our kids worry about and deal with is different than what we did growing up.
When I left school each day I was removed from any other students. I didn’t need to worry about them having access to me constantly. Now with social media kids have access to their peers 24/7 and this isn’t always used for good. I didn’t need to worry about being rejected for not playing a certain game. The risk of a rumor spreading in a matter of minutes was not a thought that crossed my mind.
Become a student of your child and learn about their world. Meet their friends, be involved in their lives, and keep your head out of the sand.
Admit When You’re Wrong
We all screw up. We say something we shouldn’t have. We make assumptions. We react less than awesomely. It’s not easy to admit we made a mistake or that we were wrong but it’s absolutely vital to the relationship we have with our kids.
They already know we aren’t perfect and when we humble ourselves to admit it and ask for forgiveness we build up that relationship. It also models behavior that we want to see from them. If they have experienced us coming to them and admitting when we’ve screwed up they will feel the security in admitting their mistakes to us, knowing we are still there for them.
Creating strong family bonds is not something that can happen overnight and it’s also not something that can be ruined in a single moment. Sometimes it feels like it, but no relationship is beyond redemption if we bring it to God. It takes purposeful and intentional choices to make our families stronger, but it’s something we can absolutely start today.
And I don’t have all the answers - after all, my oldest isn’t even eleven yet. But I also have learned from my own childhood, my husband learned from his, and we’ve both learned from various mentors and friends what has worked well and what could be improved. We know we will make mistakes (we’ve already made plenty!) but we keep pushing forward to make every effort to create bonds with our kids that will keep their hearts in our family and point them toward Jesus.