The 3 T's of Family Culture
Never before have we had a chance to really put our family culture under the microscope like we have in the last year and half with the impact of COVID. Now, as activities are starting to resume and the world is hinting at normalcy, it is a perfect opportunity to asses: what areas did my family really flourish in during quarantine and how can I encourage that to develop more even though the family dynamic is changing and also consider, what bad habits have developed during “Survival mode” that I want to nip in the bud? It is absolutely not too late to hit the reset button and for all the pain and suffering that COVID has caused, if we decide to take advantage of this shift, it really can be a wonderful silver lining.
I would like to propose this definition: Family culture is the way in which an individual family expresses and lives out their mission and identity. Each family’s culture will be unique and unrepeatable because the members of each family are unique and unrepeatable. I remember when I was first married, a source of stress between my husband and I was exactly this question of family culture and traditions and whose family we would resemble more. Of course over time, we have taken a little from both of our families and then had our own traditions and family “personality” evolve.
In the society we live in, with what is acceptable and what is “cool'' changing at mach pace, family culture offers stability and a firm sense of identity that will anchor us regardless of what is going on in the world around us. In order to not establish this foundation, we must be intentional about what our family culture looks like. There are three areas I’d like to consider with you:
The first area to consider is time. What time do we spend together as a family? Is it meals, an activity, a regular window of time (a day), a vacation or trip, a zoom call? It may take creativity but it's really hard to have a family culture if you are not spending time together. When we think about the time we have with our family and developing a family culture, we should strive to have consistent predictable time that everyone in the family knows is “off limits” for other commitments. Sometimes, we have to say “no” to good things in order to defend family time. I know of a family who considers Sunday as their family day--the father explained to the coach of their son’s travel soccer team that while they were committed to the team, their son was not available to practice on Sundays--and the boy was permitted to continue to play. Not everyone will be understanding but we have to be convinced that it is worth the sacrifice if something has to be foregone. Depending on parent work schedules, the family meal that you share together may not necessarily be dinner--maybe it’s breakfast or even lunch on weekends if that is the one that is available. It takes forethought and good communication in order to defend family meals, but it is worth the effort.
This is important even when the older kids are moving out of the house and we are raising the youngest members of our family--they need and deserve dedicated family time just as much as the older ones did--even if it looks a little different. A wise mother of 10 put it this way: “Don’t let the party end”!
The second aspect of family culture is tone. Quantity of time is one thing, but what about the quality of that time? If we make an effort to raise the tone in our homes, not only will that really help to elevate the family culture, but it will pay off in spades as our children start out on their own and start setting their own standards for tone and culture. So what are some things to consider with tone?
First, we can lead the way in having a culture of charity in our homes. Make the expectation clear that our families gossip free zones. We have to lead by example in this department!
Another one that I know I struggle with is trying to correct with patience and discretion. If you have a lot of kids in the house--they pick up quickly on mom or dad constantly losing their cool. I fully appreciate this is easier said than done, but it is something we can work on and improve in, little by little. If we correct with charity, it really will help our kids not be so critical of each other also. Asking forgiveness when we do slip up also goes a long way to smooth the many rough edges that we all have and lets everyone know what the tone should be despite our imperfect execution.
Finally, an important aspect of the tone in our homes is: When we are finally all together, especially when the purpose is to enjoy each other and bond, are we truly present to each other? This means, do we have limitations on when, where and how we are using technology around each other. Obviously, there are some necessary uses of technology and some that can bring families together--like a family movie or even a game, but there should also be time that it is known that phones and the internet are just not around. Great times to go unplugged are at meals, story telling times, or just letting the phone be on airplane mode so that it is just a camera on the family hike or picnic. This goes for both parents and kids--no exceptions!
The last element to consider as we design our family culture is trajectory. What are my goals for my family? The culture of a family whose main goal is to raise professional athletes is going to look very different from the family whose main goal is to have all Ivy Leaguers. What about raising a family of saints? Now, I’m not saying that these different goals are mutually exclusive...by no means! But in the economy of time, how we spend our time is going to move us towards different goals. How much time we spend as a family doing any given activity is going to communicate what priority it has in family culture.
Maybe we are saying a family rosary on the way to the soccer game and drilling latin on the way home! Regardless of how we spend our family time, we do want to make sure we aren’t sending our kids the wrong message about priorities by not giving due attention to one of the goals we have for our kids. Perhaps the obvious example being, not letting that soccer game replace Sunday mass.
An article I was recently reading was describing how running a family farm affected the family itself and one thing the author pointed out that really rang true to me was that strong family bonds are forged when we spend time being productive together rather than just being “consumptive”.
Of course, regardless of the other goals we may have for our family, we all want strong bonds between family members. While we may not have a family farm, there are a lot of ways we can be productive --maybe it’s the entire family being involved in cooking a meal together at the same time in the kitchen, maybe it's working on the yard or a garden, or building some sort of home improvement project--a fire pit, building a piece of furniture, painting a room, or maybe it’s working together on a service project of some sort. There’s nothing wrong with seeking entertainment together as a family but it could be really impactful to incorporate some productive time in also.