Why am I writing a post on how to strengthen your family, on a travel blog? The motto of this blog is “Travel Strengthens Family”. I’d like to share more about the underlying purpose for this blog…using travel to strengthen families. While travelling has been a big part of our strategy, there’s so much more to creating and maintaining a family that loves and supports one another, weathers the ups and downs in life, and contributes to the community in caring and responsible ways.
Here are the things we felt were absolutely necessary for strengthening our family and raising four successful adults.
1. Have family dinners
On a daily basis, this might be the most important. Having a family dinner together every evening gave us time to be together, to discuss the events of the day and to plan for the week. We could talk about what the children learned at school, how things went at work, and the challenges and the triumphs we all experienced. We also shared a family prayer of gratitude for our meal and the things Heavenly Father provided for us. This is a daily dedicated time that can really strengthen your family and provide an anchor of faith and family love. Don’t let this simple but important family gathering time get pushed aside.
2. Create and maintain meaningful family traditions
Family traditions are the glue that help maintain continuity, consistency, and fun. Plan things your family loves to do, and then keep repeating them! I asked my kids and husband what their favorite traditions are. One daughter loved the way we went around the table during Thanksgiving dinner, with each person sharing what they were grateful for. My husband loved making up silly substitute names to put on our kids’ Christmas gifts so they wouldn’t know who each gift was for. My son mentioned our breakfast meal schedule that included “Waffle Wednesdays” and “Cereal Fridays”!
We have so many traditions (both small and big) that it’s hard to count them all. Family-strengthening traditions can include celebrating good grades, fixing a favorite dessert for a special occasion, making an annual trek to Disneyland, attending a family reunion or going camping during summer break. Find something you all enjoy or derive meaning from…and do it on a regular basis. We are now continuing many of our family traditions as we include our grandchildren!
3. Pray, study scriptures, and worship together
If giving your family a solid foundation of faith is your goal, then this is indispensable. It is crucial to set the example you want your children to follow. We prayed as a family every morning before the children left for school. We also tried to read a few scriptures together while everyone was eating breakfast, and we were consistent in our Sunday church attendance. Even if we were out of town we found a local congregation where we could worship. As we made the effort to pray and read scriptures together, we found that our home also had a more peaceful atmosphere. The influence that came into our home as we turned our hearts to a higher power definitely helped to strengthen us as a family. I’m sure it will strengthen your family too.
4. Create opportunities for spiritual experiences
No set of parents can raise their children alone, and the best source of additional parenting is from our Father in Heaven, who loves and cares about our children even more than we do. Spiritual experiences can happen anywhere, but there are places and situations that make it easier — church, temples, religious retreats, camping, hiking, listening to sacred music, religious historical sites, and more.
One of our family spiritual experiences included a road trip to Nauvoo, Illinois, where we visited a restored temple and the surrounding town and historical sites where early church history was made. We also made a trip to the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, NY where we believe Joseph Smith received a personal visit from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Being there in person helped our children better understand the history of our church and appreciate the sacrifices of our church leaders. Whatever your faith, help your children appreciate and understand it by providing opportunities for them to receive inspiration and personal conviction.
As we hiked trails in beautiful Zion National Park, we discussed God’s hand in creating the magnificent features we saw there. We also had strengthening religious discussions as we visited cathedrals and temples in Europe.
5. Travel and play together
Traveling for recreation and to visit other family members was such a big part of our effort to keep our family strong. In fact, that’s why travelling is so important to me. There’s something wonderful about getting your family away from the everyday routine AND the electronic devices and social media that consume our lives and create barriers to getting closer to each other.
We also make time to play games, go to movies, go camping or ice skating, visit museums, and go to concerts or theater productions. As a family we also tried to attend each other’s activities: sports games, dance or choir concerts, and music recitals. This definitely helped us feel closer to each other.
6. Express love
This should be a no-brainer, but sometimes we are not good at expressing our feelings. Find a way to share your love AND take the time to discuss what makes you feel loved. If my husband feels loved when I make him lunch, then I’d better be sure to take the time to do that once in awhile! If my daughter feels loved when we support her dance company performances, then by golly, we will! Notes and pictures and special gifts that express love to each other are also greatly appreciated and certainly add to our family’s strength. It may seem awkward at times, but taking the time to express your love to each other can only strengthen your family.
7. Do hard things together & serve others
I could make a long list of things our family has done together that were not easy. An important thing to understand is that working through a difficult task makes us stronger as we struggle and work and help and overcome as a family. When my husband and I and two of our teenagers went on a pioneer handcart trek together, we had to sleep on the ground, eat primitive meals, and pull heavy handcarts many miles over tough terrain. We were tired and dirty and hungry. But when we pushed those handcarts up the last long hill and finally went home to eat a good meal and take a shower, we were intensely grateful for our shared accomplishments.
We learned we can do hard things together and accomplish what we set out to do. Difficult things we did included building a retainer wall, putting a new roof on our home, and helping with community clean-up projects. We also had some medical challenges to overcome.
If you don’t have any challenging tasks to take on, count your blessings, and then go find something you can do. It is SO important to experience working hard together. Sign up for a team-building ropes course…or train for a relay race. Help the elderly couple down the street with their chores. Serving others makes your own burdens lighter. Not only will your family be stronger, but another side effect of hard work is gratitude and confidence.
8. Teach individual responsibility and accountability
This might seem a daunting task — to teach your children to be responsible and accountable for their actions. It primarily requires you (as a parent) to set expectations and consequences, then to follow-through consistently. When children learn they must answer for their actions and be responsible, they are more likely to make good choices. You can motivate responsible choices with appropriate rewards for tasks completed. But you must follow through with consequences for unacceptable behaviors…or your children will not learn accountability. Also…be sure your children understand fully what is expected of them. Review rules and responsibilities regularly.
We had a regular list of age-appropriate chores for our children. They included things such as taking out the garbage, making beds, vacuuming, and taking care of a pet. We loved giving rewards for jobs completed cheerfully (allowance or extra TV/computer time). Everyone also knew and understood there would be consequences (loss of privileges or even extra work) if they didn’t do what was expected. This wasn’t always easy to track or to enforce, but it IS worth it. I can happily report that our children carried a strong sense of responsibility with them into adulthood.
9. Have things to look forward to
I think it is safe to say that everyone works harder and better if they have something to look forward to. As a family, plan fun activities that you and your children will be excited about. You don’t have to spend money and the options are endless. Game nights…making a favorite recipe together…going to the park…visiting grandparents…or going on a road trip — these are all things we looked forward to doing as a family. It doesn’t have to be complicated at all to provide recreation or enjoyment.
One summer, after school got out, we approached our elementary-school-aged children and asked them what they’d like to do to celebrate their good grades. As parents, we were expecting an answer such as “Let’s go to Disneyland!” We knew that would be expensive, but we were prepared to make it happen if it was what they really wanted to do. But the answer was “Let’s bake a cake!” It was a great lesson for us as parents. Our kids don’t require a lot to be happy, and sometimes the simplest things bring great joy!
That’s not to say that we never did anything big. When our youngest children were in high school, we took the entire family to Europe for two weeks. It was a trip we planned for over a year. We saved award miles from my husband’s business travel, found the most affordable family lodging, and found inexpensive things to do. We all looked forward to that trip for months! And the memories we made together will last forever.
10. Emphasize honesty and integrity
I feel this shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m including it anyway…just in case there’s any doubt. There’s no way our family would be close or successful at communicating and working together if our relationships and our interactions weren’t founded on truth and integrity. There’s no room for lying in a family. Untruthfulness was always dealt with swiftly and strictly. In fact, our children will attest that the consequences for lying were always worse than any other family rule violation. We also lovingly encouraged our children to confess their wrongdoings, rather than be “found out.” Being honest in this way was rewarded with a reasonable discussion. There might still be consequences (see #8), but no big scene.
11. Make music a part of your family experiences
My husband and I personally believe that good music is a powerful force for good. It also helps children develop their brains and cognitive abilities. And it can also be a lot of fun. We sang songs during family home evenings or in the car during road trips. All kinds of music was regularly played in our home. Participation in a band, orchestra, or choir was required, but each child could choose their preferred instrument. (Yes, I did say ‘required’. That’s how strongly we felt about it.)
Today, all of my kids can sing, read music, and play an instrument quite well. Three played in band or orchestra while another learned to play piano and now teaches piano lessons. My oldest went on to direct a contemporary dance company. When we are together, we often sing special music numbers at church, and we carol during the Christmas season. A lot of our family memories include music and it has been significant in strengthening our family. Now, we sing to our grandchildren and enjoy seeing how music lights up their eyes. Sharing good music brings people together.
12. Have a family home evening
This is nothing more than a weekly family night. If you set aside a regular time (ours were always on Monday nights) when you will gather as a family, I am sure you will see how it can strengthen your family.
- Use the time to do fun things — Work on a puzzle or play games together. Sing songs or play charades. Go on a hike or play basketball, or whatever you enjoy doing.
- Use the time to teach: Share a favorite scripture and discuss it. Teach about the importance of saving money or the history of Thanksgiving. Show your teens how to fill out a simple tax return. Teach your five-year old how to tie her shoes.
- Use the time to plan — Plan a family outing or fill out your weekly calendar with the kids’ sports & lessons, so you can coordinate your comings and goings. Discuss any concerns you may have and brainstorm solutions with the entire family.
A family night isn’t just about the parents sitting the kids down and running the show. Your children should be a part of the process too. Let them teach what they’re learning at school or a favorite dance step. Have them play a musical piece they’re practicing for band. Or maybe they want to lead a family geocaching excursion. Our family home evenings typically included a song, a prayer, a lesson, an activity, and a treat. We all took turns rotating these responsibilities. Everyone’s favorite assignment was choosing the treat!
A family home evening is a tool for you…to help you and your family to learn and play together. If you set aside a regular time and don’t let it get pushed aside, a family night will be something everyone looks forward to and another opportunity to strengthen your family.
13. Respect differences; everyone is unique
As a parent, sometimes you just can’t figure out how your children can turn out so differently when you raised them all in the same home, with the same set of rules. But the truth is, everyone comes from heaven with their own personality and unique qualities. Be kind to one another. Allow for differences of opinion and desires. Find your common ground and focus on it.
Everyone needs to know they are loved for their uniqueness as well as the things everyone enjoys as a family. Be flexible and willing to consider new things, whether it be new foods, music, games, activities, or the best way to study. Challenges WILL come up. Perhaps sisters don’t like to go to bed at the same time and one needs to learn to get ready for bed quietly because the other is asleep. Or maybe one child likes McDonalds while everyone else prefers Jack in the Box. There is room for more compromise, flexibility and sensitivity in every family!
14. Encourage the development and use of talents
I know a few parents who have already determined what they want their children to pursue in the way of extra-curricular activities or education. We preferred to give our children many opportunities and let them choose, for the most part, what they wanted to do. Of course, finances, location, and other variables had to be taken into consideration. If we saw a child leaning towards a particular skill or interest, we checked out books or signed them up for beginning classes or purchased inexpensive supplies so they could try out the things they were interested in.
It’s interesting to note that my oldest daughter first showed interest in gymnastics at age 5. But after one class, she was no longer interested. She joined Girl Scouts for awhile, and she played in the school band in junior high. But it wasn’t until her younger sister signed up for a dance class that she finally became interested in dance. She seemed to have a natural gift for it and successfully auditioned for the high school dance team. She’s still dancing now and is the director of her own dance company.
Why does encouraging talents strengthen your family? It is so validating to have your loved ones care about what you do and support you in what you are interested in. It means so much when you have a “fan club” who will cheer you on as you try new things and learn what you are good at.
15. Create a family legacy
A legacy is what gets handed down from one generation to the next. Think about what you want that to be. What does your family represent or what makes your family unique and special? How would you like to be remembered? Share family stories and experiences. Visit grandparents and other family members regularly. Display your family tree and important family heirlooms where they can be seen and remembered. If you focus on things that will strengthen your family, most likely, you will also be creating your family legacy.
Can you strengthen your family?
I want to say that no family is perfect. And either is any parent. I definitely made more than my share of mistakes, and so did my husband. Fortunately, children are pretty resilient…and forgiving, too. Especially if you express love regularly and often. Of course you can strengthen your family! Despite weaknesses and imperfections, if you will make consistent efforts to do some or all of the fifteen ideas listed here, you will create a strong family and family legacy that will bring your family great joy! And as your family grows, so will the rewards from the efforts you have made to strengthen your family.
Every family is different…what do you do to strengthen your family?