Fall as here, and as we begin to look forward to the holidays and spending quality time with family and friends, we reminisce about past happy times and look forward to the shared adventures ahead. While most of my blogs discuss ways to help your child learn and move forward with their educational goals, this one will be a little different.
I have been a mom for a long time – over thirty years! My kids are grown and gone, and my third grandson is due this month. And yet, my husband and I are as close to our kids now as we ever were, and we spend hours each week skyping with the two who have moved out of the area, and we see the one adult child who lives locally at least weekly. And we still all vacation together. Last November, our whole family including our three kids, our two sons-in-law and two grandchildren went on a ten day family vacation to Texas. There is great joy in having loving relationships with one’s family.
What I have learned over these many years of being a mother is that relationships and strong character matter more than academics.
That may sound odd coming from a teacher and a tutor, especially one who homeschooled her kids from kindergarten through high school. Wait, aren’t we supposed to focus on academics so that our children can succeed in the world? I am the first to admit that knowledge and strong skills open doors for students who have worked hard to acquire those abilities.
And yet… isn’t it much harder for children to really succeed in the world if they do not have the character and relationships that come from a strong family culture?
I have been getting together with old friends recently, and it is interesting to hear their perspective on my family that they got while watching our children grow up. Here is what I have heard from a few longtime friends who spent years observing my family.
As I look back, it is surprising that my husband and I were able to build the family that we did. Neither one of us had an ideal upbringing, and as a child of divorced parents and a broken family, I had few tools to build the supportive and character focused culture I wanted to create with my own family.
I read many books as I tried to build a family culture of laughter, encouragement and forgiveness, and one book that helped with that is Families Where Grace is in Place. The author discusses the importance of training and empowering our kids and not controlling them through shame and manipulation. My bookcase is full of books like this and include: Siblings Without Rivalry, Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-indulgent World, The Family that Works Together… Turning Family Chores for Drudgery to Fun, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and so many more. Building a strong family is not something that comes naturally to most of us, and it is important to get help from books and mentors.
I started making a list of the many things I learned through the years on how to build a strong family, and my list is filled with over twenty key ideas, and the list continues to grow as I reminisce over the past thirty years. I chose three to include in this blog with an idea that I might put it all down in a book someday. Here are some things we did to build our family.
1. Eat Meals Together – This one is first because when I asked my three kids what were the most significant parts of their childhood, this was number one for all of them. Dinner was the most important event of the day at our house. It was a chance to discuss what was learned that day, evaluate national and world news events, make plans for future activities and discuss dreams and desires.
2. Have Fun Together: I love parties and travel and games and outdoor adventures and…. Well, I like to have fun. I also like to feed people, and that played into all the kids wanting to be at our house all the time. There were always fruit smoothies and homemade oatmeal cookies for snacks, and dinner was on the stove for whoever wanted to stay.
And part of having fun includes creating new memories and new traditions. We read a book entitled Walk When the Moon is Full, so we started taking monthly night hikes during the full moon. We created a lot of interesting memories together and had fun.
3. Work Together: Kids need to feel important to the running of a family. Kids need chores. Our family dishes have always been kept in the lower cabinet next to the dish washer. From the time they were each four years old, all three of my kids were in charge of unloading the dishwasher. I would first take out the sharp knives and the few items that were stored above where the kids could reach, and
So, as Thanksgiving approaches and we begin to count our many blessings, the thing I am most thankful for is my family, and the most important thing I have learned over all these years is that relationships and strong character matter the most. And what you get to keep (if you are fortunate) when your beloved child finally grows up and moves away are memories of happy times and a lasting and fulfilling long term relationship with your adult child.
My advice – don’t sacrifice your relationship with your child in pursuit of the perfect college or the most prestigious job. Even better than those two goals is having children who can’t wait to spend time with you and who want to come home for the holidays.
Wishing you joy on the journey,
P.S. Here are some other ideas: Learn together, Have Systems, Build Habits, Teach Finances, Say please and thank you, Read a lot, Resolve conflict early, Actively listen….the list goes on. I might write a book about all this…. Someday.