We all aspire to have a harmonious and joyous family life, but sometimes we’re at a loss to know how to achieve that. There isn’t a single magic bullet, but there are some basic things you can do to build a strong and loving environment. There is no guarantee that you will end up like the Brady Bunch or Leave It to Beaver – and you probably don’t want to – but you will find things are just a little bit better if you put in the effort.
The single best thing you can do for your home and family is to eat together. The kitchen is the heart of the family, and making time on a regular basis to break bread together reinforces your family bonds. As a minimum, try to have dinner together at least three times a week, and make it an occasion where you share and talk about things. Don’t let the kids wolf down their meal and race off to watch TV – talk to them about how their day has been, and what their plans are. You might even want to follow the meal with a family game – for example, Scrabble.
Building rituals is also an effective way of strengthening your family. These could be religious, such as all going to church or the synagogue together. On the other hand, it could be as simple as having pizza on Wednesdays, or all watching A Christmas Carol together every Christmas Eve. The thing about rituals, however, is that you need to make them flexible. There’s no point in insisting that your kids stay and eat pizza when they’ve got a one-off chance to go to a concert. Otherwise, rituals become a duty and a burden, rather than a chance to build family ties.
As parents, you set the tone of your home. Now, no marriage is perfect, and you’re going to have arguments with your spouse from time to time. However, there is no point in making the kids listen to you telling each other off. Not only does it set a bad example, but it’s also disturbing for your kids. You want to be seen as a stable and calm influence, giving your kids something that they can rely on in a world that seems just a little bit hostile to them.
You also need to encourage good manners. This isn’t about creating a 1950s Nirvana where everyone smiles all the time and says please and thank you with metronomic regularity. What it does mean is that you need to create a calm and positive environment which your kids want to come home to. Make sure that you never raise your voice, and that your kids know the best way of getting along is agreement, not conflict. Try to create sibling harmony by telling your kids how fortunate they are to have each other. Teach them to always be considerate of other people’s feelings, and to ask themselves how they would feel if they were in the other person’s shoes.