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When I was a teenager, I spent more than a few hours sitting out on our back deck.
It was my habitual safe place. I came there to ask my deep questions, share my fears, or just watch the squirrels bicker over the nuts we left out for them.
My mom was there. She thoughtfully sipped her coffee during her smoke breaks, sometimes listening, sometimes sharing her own musings. Sometimes one or both of my sisters were there too, joining in these quiet moments in our otherwise hectic lives.
We weren’t what you might traditionally call a “strong family.” We didn’t go to church. We argued a lot. My parents were divorced and remarried, and I was navigating the complexities of blended families in two households. We had a very average amount of dysfunction as I came of age and was trying to figure out the world.
But we had a few things on straight.
A couple of decades later, we’re still close. And I think it’s in part because of the foundation that was laid in our formative years.
I don’t know how you define a strong family, but I define it as one whose members love each other unconditionally. They actually enjoy being together. They support each other for their whole lives.
It doesn’t matter if the core family unit has two parents, one parent, or even a grandparent thrown in the mix.
You can still love each other, no matter what.
So how do you create this strong family culture of unconditional love? Are some families just luckier than others or have more easy-going genetics?
There are a lot of factors that go into family dynamics including personalities and the emotional maturity of the parents. Some things are difficult to control or overcome.
What Are Family Habits and Why Are They Important?
Simply defined, a habit is a regular tendency or practice.
A core habit (also called a keystone habit) is a foundational habit that starts a chain reaction of other good habits. For example, if you practice the keystone habit of daily workouts, you’re more likely to follow other healthy lifestyle habits like proper sleep and nutrition.
You might think of habits as practices than an individual follows: brushing your teeth. Making your bed. Working out. Daily Bible reading.
But habits can be practiced on a group level too. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explores how cultural habits of organizations can ultimately spell success or disaster. The same can apply to families.
Family habits are regular practices that members of your family follow. Habits that occur on a daily basis hold a lot of weight, but weekly practices and other processes can hold weight too.
Logic follows that core family habits start a cascade of other good habits. Families who spend quality time together practicing meaningful rituals simply have more opportunity to love each other in healthy ways.
Think about your own childhood. What experiences helped your family bond?
There were a couple of unshakeable habits I knew I could always rely on when I was growing up. Family dinner was one. Family movie and pizza night
Now, as we shape the culture of our family unit, my husband and I get to build our own habits.
This list isn’t exhaustive or exclusive. You don’t necessarily need to follow all of these habits to build a strong family culture.
But if unity and love in your family for a lifetime are important to you, you might want to consider how you can fit these practices into your everyday life.
8 Habits of Strong Families
1. Weekly Family-Only Time
We treasure all the funny words our kids used to say when they were learning to talk. One of my favorites from my daughter when she was a tot was “pawcone.”
For her, popcorn wasn’t just a tasty snack. It was tied to a ritual: family night.
Every Monday evening, we pop popcorn on the stove and bake chocolate chip cookies after dinner. Then we snuggle up in the basement and watch whatever family film is on the docket for the week.
We eliminate distractions. We don’t have friends over; we don’t make appointments. We stay off our individual electronics. (On the rare occasion when there is an unavoidable commitment, we shift family night to another night.)
I treasure this ritual more and more as the kids get older and our lives get busier. It’s one of the few moments we get each week to slow down and just be together. We laugh at funny movies and groan about bad ones. We get extended snuggle time (a rarity with big kids!). Plus, it just makes Mondays better.
Your ritual doesn’t have to be over a movie; it doesn’t even have to be over an evening. But this time to unwind together can be a vital habit to build connection.
Weekly family time is a practical way a family can choose rest instead of busyness; we are modeling Sabbath in a culture obsessed with productivity.
2. One-On-One Time with Kid and Parent
I chuckle a little bit when I remember how my mom and I used to sit on the porch together. A lot has changed since then. But what hasn’t changed is the open invitation for me to just be with her.
My husband grew up with a family habit called “special day.” His dad would take one child out each week during his lunch break.
As parents, we decided to carry this practice forward; each gets one-on-one “special day” with a child every week (the third kid gets to hang out with their grandma).
This is a highlight of the week for everyone. While the kids like to go out to eat with their dad, they mix up their activities with me. Sometimes we get a “treat;” sometimes we play board games; sometimes we go on a special shopping trip.
Structured one-on-one time has been pivotal for some great conversations and memories (and I’m pretty sure my daughter will become a coffee drinker when she gets older). It also opens the door to good casual conversations at home, just like my mom and I had.
It’s also wise to set aside time every day to connect with your kids on an individual level, playing on the floor or just talking about school. Whatever your frequency, having some time set aside just for one child communicates to them that they are important and loved, and sets the foundation for your life-long relationship with them.
3. Supporting Each Other’s Interests
Whenever there’s a performance or a sporting event, attendance for the family is mandatory.
All of my kids are super stars. Or at least I hope they feel like they are.
My daughter isn’t always thrilled to go to all of her brother’s soccer games. Neither is he all that excited to watch her dance recitals.
But it doesn’t matter, because we are each other’s biggest fans. We put down the electronics when our family members are playing and we cheer for them.
There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes events overlap, and that’s fine. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
This habit helps us build a culture where individuals feel supported no matter what their passions are. I’ve also noticed that it helps the kids feel closer to one another, because they’re involved in each other’s lives.
4. Daily Meals Together
It’s well researched that daily family dinners are crucial to creating a strong family culture. This is the time of day when everyone can sit down together and connect.
To get the most out of family dinner, set a few ground rules. No electronics. Everyone waits for each other before they start eating. No one leaves the table without being excused.
I know the excuses; it can feel overwhelming to cook every night of the week. I have a few hacks to make it easier, including simple meal planning, and letting my husband take a meal or two each week.
Engaging kids in the kitchen is also a fun way to stretch your quality time together. Little kids aren’t so helpful. But don’t worry, stick with it because big kids definitely are!
Also: in my view there is nothing wrong with the ocassional frozen pizza or takeout.
Some families can’t do a regular dinner because of work schedules. In that case, think outside the box; do breakfast together or whatever meal you can.
Even if someone can’t make a meal (perhaps a late work shift or an out-of-town sporting event), sit down anyway with those who are present. That way you’ll still be in the habit.
5. Spiritual Purpose and Growth
When your kids live at home, you have the unique opportunity to help define their values and who they are. While they will ultimately choose their own path when they grow up, you have a lot of influence on which way they will go.
We want our kids to know that there is a God who loves them and who wants a relationship with them. We teach them how to be people of integrity who manage their impulses, try their best, and respect other people.
So, we naturally have a lot of habits built into our lives that reflect these priorities:
- hort Bible lessons and praying together as part of a bedtime routine.
- Praying and memorizing scripture around the breakfast table and saying what we’re thankful for that day.
- Praying at meals.
- Praying together whenever they feel sad, anxious or scared.
- Attending worship services together.
These simple rituals create a culture in which we freely talk about our faith and how to live it out. The kids ask great questions about life and about God, and we wrestle through them together.
6. Going on Adventures Together
My husband and I both have fond childhood memories going on road trips with our families. This was a tradition we were enthusiastic to continue!
We try to go on a vacation each summer, as well as shorter day trips in between. I’m cautious writing about this habit, because I know it can be a financial strain for a lot of families.
But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make memories and have a great time.
One of my favorite memories as a family was a day trip. We drove about four hours to watch the total solar eclipse in 2017. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event that I hope my kids never forget.
Going on adventures, big or small, helps your family bond over a memory that you share exclusively with each other. Life will change, but the memory and the love you shared during these special times will remain.
7. Reading Aloud
You probably know that reading aloud to pre-reading kids is important for their development. But did you know that it not only helps them with their verbal skills; it also helps you connect with them emotionally?
Some parents stop reading aloud once their kids start reading on their own, but they shouldn’t! Kids enjoy being read to as long as there is a good story to be heard.
I have the privilege of being able to homeschool my kids, so we include read-aloud as part of our daily academic schedule. But it’s also something we just love to do.
Since they’re now all school age, we especially love listening to audio books in the car (yes, this “counts”). We’ve gone through epic kids’ novel series together including Harry Potter, The Penderwicks and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
It’s fun to pause in the middle of a moment of suspense and try to guess what will happen next. We’ll naturally want to talk about the books we’re reading together as a sort of informal family book club! If that doesn’t help your family feel stronger and closer, I don’t know what would.
8. Hospitality and Service
Since our Christian faith is a big part of our lives, it’s only natural that we want to include the whole family in regular acts of hospitality and service.
Having people over to you home can feel overwhelming, especially with little kids. You can barely feed yourselves, let alone other people!
But let me assure you of a couple of things. First, you don’t have to have a perfectly clean and orderly house in order to be a host. Second, your kids will benefit tremendously by learning how to practice hospitality from the time they’re young.
When we have guests over, the whole family helps. The kids can help prepare the food and clean up the house. If our guests include other children, our kids can practice sharing what we have with them and helping them feel welcome. These are life skills they’ll be glad to have as they get older.
We also make it a priority to serve others outside our home when we can. Whenever there’s a family-friendly volunteer event, we make it a priority to be there.
By practicing hospitality, providing food for the hungry and cleaning up our community, we’re working together towards something bigger than ourselves. And that is one of the most powerful things you can give your kids.
What If Your Kids Resist?
I’ll end with a quick comment about the challenges to practicing the habits that build a strong family culture. What if your kids resist?
After all, toddlers and teenagers alike are extremely opinionated. Forcing them to practice habits could backfire.
The answer? Involve and empower them as you create your family rituals. They have a voice, so let them use it.
This can be as simple as letting your toddler help pick out the snack for movie night. Or it could be involving your teen in planning for your next outing.
In order to make this feasible, allow space for your kids to offer feedback and be engaged in defining your family’s core habits.
If you’re already having dinners, bedtime devotionals and one-on-one time together, these are great opportunities to get their feedback. Some families also like communicating during family meetings (although try to not only have them when there’s a problem. They should be a positive experience.).
When you’re genuinely listening to your kids and empowering them to be a contributing member of the family, chances are they’ll be enthusiastic about what you get to do together.
Now I’d love to hear from you: what core habits do you practice to create a strong family culture? Leave a comment and share your ideas!
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