In 25 years as a mom, my best parenting advice centers on building family bonding habits. These have little to do with money spent and much to do with togetherness. They’ve seen us through adversity and kept us connected in strife. Life’s getting more frenetic and disjointed daily. Take time, now, to grow habits that will see your family through.
* Celebrate uniqueness. You’ve heard of branding? That’s not just a sales term; it applies more aptly to families. A family is more than just the sum of its parts. Each member brings special contributions and together they create something wonderfully, indefinably distinct.
* Include everyone. As Stitch said “family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” Honor each member’s ideas, passions and goals. Make an immutable, secure place for each person, that only they can fill.
* Let your light shine. People always say how much they enjoy our family. It’s not because we’re so amazing. We’re just not ashamed to show our love for each other and life. We say “I love you.” My husband hugs daughters and sons.
* Make memories. Most will be happy. Some will be uproariously funny. Like the daughter who cut all her hair off or the son terrorized by a flock of bad-tempered geese. Others will be sad. That’s okay. They’re part of life’s fabric. We lost two daughters in utero. I can still see the older four kids grouped around my hospital bed to say goodbye to their sister. I remember my husband, tears unashamedly streaming down his face as he held his baby girls. I treasure those memories no less.
* Celebrate today (and every day). Commemorate big events and milestones, but celebrate little things too. Winnie the Pooh had “Happy Wednesday” parties. Take every opportunity to make it festive. Use the good dishes. Decorate the house. Go bowling, everyone. Play games. Sing songs. Remember Little Caesar’s Party! Party? It was only pizza, pop and balloons. But my little ones thought it was the event of the season.
* Food, glorious food. The dining room table is the family anchor. We had cookouts, BBQs, picnics and buffets for every holiday and birthday. Certain dishes were required. Green bean casserole for Thanksgiving, German chocolate cake for Father’s Day, Stained Glass window cookies for Christmas, a taco bar for our youngest son’s birthday. I may add to the menu, but woe to me if I forget something.
* Write your own legends. Forget Hollywood. Don’t copy famous people. Their stories have been told. Create your own. Retell them. Our ancient forebears knew the power of oral tradition. They transmitted history in campfire stories. My grandparents understood this. We had a plethora of stories that to us were epic. Grandma would tell it and we’d howl with laughter, though we’d heard it a million times. My husband and I carry on the story-torch. It’s how we grow family. Via shared stories, we give kids roots that will see them all through life.
* Family first. Stay connected no matter what. Last Christmas we took the family to New Orleans to see our oldest and her fiance. We had a big, loud holiday blowout, Sachteleben-style: six people navigating airports and planes on Christmas Eve, eight people squished in a rented Kia Sorrento and scattered across hotel rooms, amazing food, a Bourbon St. adventure. It cost a bundle. We’re used to being very cautious, so this was a departure. We don’t regret one cent, though, and can’t wait to do it again. It’s why was scrimped and saved all those years.
Life’s challenging and full of potholes. Follow these habits and you’ll be able to better weather difficulties.