My husband and I often discuss what it actually means to have a strong family culture and what the implications are. I think we’ve always wanted to create a safe place for our children to explore the ideas the world has to offer, but the conversation inevitably changed when we decided to homeschool. Now, I realize that not everyone has their kids at home 24/7, but as someone who does, I have learned a lot about what it means to shape family culture and lifestyle in a more meaningful way.
For over 7 years I was a stay at home mom with few or no breaks. Throw in some homeschooling, sprinkle it with feeling touched out , and add a dash of 3 kids in diapers and it’s a recipe for burn out.
But I knew my family needed me. And they needed the best version of me not the one who was feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious to the point of collapse.
Beyond the obvious, it’s because I was starting to see habits forming that I know would shape a negative family culture — I didn’t want that.
As a former history teacher, I love studying people and societies and their customs. Through studying humanities and sociology, we learn so much about people groups from their signs and symbols to what they find valuable. It was something I focused on a lot with my students when studying world history. So let me take you through an exercise I did with them.
Imagine a can of soda or some other drink you see often. What do you see? What are the distinctive hallmarks of the brand?
Are there words or symbols that convey messaging whether subliminally or otherwise? Think of what’s included on every single can.
A recycling symbol.
A measurement of how much is inside.
These things tell us what’s important in modern society like a focus on counting calories or a need for organization through bar codes.
If we apply this idea to a family, what makes of the very character of who we are and strive to be? How do we operate? What do we find valuable? What keeps up functioning smoothly? How do we measure a meaningful life?
11 ways to create and establish rock-solid family culture
The details for each of these will be different for every family, but knowing the specific habit you want to repeat in order to shape a certain way of life for your children is important. Therefore I encourage you to write them down and revisit them often while discussing it with your kids where applicable.
Know your family values and priorities
This is as intimate as fostering a faith and prayer life or as broad and practical as valuing problem solving skills in children.
Detailing what you find important and articulating why and how will help guide your family to develop stronger habits over time. For instance kindness is a great value, but it’s vey abstract.
A short statement can help expand and articulate what it really means. For instance, something like “Everyone has bad days or seasons and we want to show kindness by sharing our excess to those who lack the means to fully provide for themselves.” That would be very different from “To spread kindness, we seek to do good deeds for the friends and strangers around us.” They both have a place, but what’s your mission?
Establish a framework for teamwork
Our teamwork motto is “the littlest person to do the job does.”
This encourages our kids to continue to learn new and harder ways to pitch in. It gives a natural progression to the chores and tasks in our house as they get passed down to the youngest child that’s now able to participate. I am sure as they get older this motto will change, but for now it’s the healthiest one to demonstrate everyone’s important role in accomplishing the needs of the day.
Don’t be afraid of boundaries
While we really try to use positive language and not say no when possible, we still very much believe in helping our kids know where healthy boundaries are, and we also give them room and space to explore what crossing the line means and what natural consequences result.
But we’re still a safe place to explore. And I personally this means our children head our warnings more often because they can see, experience, and trust what we say.
In fact, let kids fail to allow it to teach resilience. Learning from experience is one of the best ways to understand how or why something is done a certain way.
Related articles on overcoming failure and teaching resilience:
Establish safe communication
This is ever-more important as your family grows. There needs to be a safe spot, maybe even a code word. This triggers the need to talk one-on-one or in a family meeting setting when maybe someone has crossed a boundary or maybe it’s simply a hard conversation to have in front of a lot of people.
There have been a few times my oldest started to retreat and I simply asked “chat on the bed?” I do this because she’s a crier. She cries when she’s happy, when she’s sad, when she’s mad. And sometimes she doesn’t like showing those emotions and hides under a blanket. So we have the hard conversations where most of the time she’s hiding on the covers, but I have her look at my eyes when I say something she needs to really remember. [They have been everything from defining some words she thought meant something completely different to talking about if she should even eat meat.]
Which bring me to a subtopic of safe-communication…. Create a game plan for taboo situations and topics. How will you address drugs, sex, race, gender roles, and more.
Eating together doesn’t even have to mean gathering around a table. I remember for years when we moved, we didn’t have a table. But we sat down to eat with each other regardless.
Eating together means sharing in your blessings, talking, and carving out time every single day to be together. For us, it also means praying together and actually talking about what ways we felt like we were able to serve others or be served.
Family dinners also help children see manners and etiquette modeled which are also an important part of strong family culture and expectations. We teach that the person serving the food itself dishes out for the oldest person first and themselves last in showing respect. But I also know some families serve the youngest first whether it’s because they are hungriest first or take the longest to eat.
Encourage life-long creativity and learning together
Much of society believes learning only happens in a classroom, but taking the time to show children that as parents, you’re also constantly learning and doing it by teaching yourself and encountering new experiences shows that live is constantly moving and that we must move with it!
When we also challenge our children to be create, thinking outside the box, our family pushes them to be creators and not just consumers. It’s one thing to watch a video on how to do a craft or activity, it’s another to continue to create origami, art, or even timber-framing. That last one might be random, but for us it’s a reality. My husband starting watching videos about timber-framing houses and sheds and was really intrigued… now this summer he’s going to be taking a 2 week long course to teach him the requisite skills and gain experience.
The reason valuing life-long learning creates strong culture is because it also builds in keeping each other accountable. It’s pretty natural as a family to start asking questions or say things like:
“How are swimming lessons going?”
“How many projects have you finished since learning to crochet?”
“I am so proud of you for shattering your goals!”
“We are really thankful that you’ve learned new skills.”
“Taking that extra class will really serve you well in life.”
Don’t miss this post on raising kids that can set goals and develop processes.
Talk about the future with each other
How do you envision living life out together in the future? Especially for young kids, it’s easy to only think about today. And in many ways that’s all we have. So definitely live it to the fullest. But make it a part of a plan for the future.
We discuss that the way our kids treat each other impacts their future relationship and that they will be a part of each others’ lives for a long time.
In our modern society it’s common to shoo away our children at 18 and let them figure life out on their own. It usually results in an expensive degree, inability to buy a home, and suffering through crippling debt.
We personally want to change that narrative with our family. We’ve told our kids that we don’t care if they go to college. We want them to be well-educated and love learning and doing, but we don’t believe it takes a sixty-thousand dollar degree to accomplish it. And the stigma against kids that love art and that they shouldn’t pursue it because it doesn’t pay? Forget that! I want my children to chase hard after the things they enjoy and have a gifting in. So if that means our kids live with us, then can — and not just in the basement.
If that’s not for you, just choose a narrative that shows how you plan on interacting in the long-term.
Establish family traditions
This is similar to discussing how you plan to live together in the larger scope of life, but really puts it into perspective now.
I think that knowing how you’ll celebrate Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, or other occasions plays into developing character and showing what your family truly values. Are you really big on gifts or do you spend more time together than money? Do holidays mean slowing down a bit more to simpler existence?
When you know WHAT your traditions are, it’s a special moment to start sharing WHY even when they’re young. For instance we do a 4 gift rule alternative that emphasizes sharing because it’s a value we want our kids to know and cherish at birthdays and Christmas. But maybe you do random acts of kindness for one solid month every year. Maybe you value reading and do a book advent calendar. Whatever it is, let them know why and how it has meaning.
Don’t be afraid to let your kids become a little obsessed
I once saw a quote that said the parent would rather pay for private tennis lessons for their child that was thriving at tennis than tutoring lessons when they were struggling with math. I loved it because what a shift in thinking. Our kids don’t have to be well-rounded, they simply need to make a living and be able to function in society.
So of course every kiddo should know how to read, write, and do basic equations. But does every child need calculus? Is every student required to understand the intricacies of biology? Of course not. I know plenty of people that rely on calculators to do their math and with the constant evolution of technology, I am certain that we will have the resources to have a lot more information at our disposal without a lot of thought going into it.
So if your kids is seriously passionate about something, let them pursue it. Let them take lessons in what interests them and what they show so much promise in accomplishing whether it’s art, sports, or something really obscure.
Your household culture will change because of it. And your mentality as a parent will shift from “no you can’t” to “how can we explore this fully?”
My oldest is enamored with chickens. She builds them with LEGO bricks, loves them in minecraft, and she really wants to have chickens in our yard and maybe even move to a farm one day. So we’re exploring it!
Lift each other up, sincerely apologize, and know when the whole family is in a funk. One of the best things we can do as parents is help our children recognize emotions and empathize. We can also have a powerful impact on the collective mindset in the home that no human is perfect and there is grace, empathy, kindness, and forgiveness that can be shared with each other and those outside the home.
Related articles on family togetherness and grace for hard moments:
Want to help develop a more positive family culture?
Using the word “SMILE” this is a cheat sheet on how to reframe negative thoughts and words into something more positive for the family to focus on. And it’s an immediate shift from negative to positive!
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!