Spirit: Strategies To Promote Togetherness --
Practical, Useful Tips on Building Family Solidarity
My daughter Jenny's right leg swung
forward with equal amounts of force and precision.
Her foot connected squarely with the soccer ball
and sent it on an arching path over the goalie's
head, under the crossbar and into the net. The
goal, her first in 43 American Youth Soccer Organization
games, was greeted with the traditional back-slaps,
high fives and wide grins.
The spontaneous 90-second celebration
that followed Jenny's first goal was warm, genuine,
and esteem-enhancing. It recognized her individual
accomplishment as well as the total team effort.
But more importantly for us, it served as a signal
to activate one of our favorite family rituals
-- for Jenny had just achieved a First.
Firsts: This term has special meaning
in our family and is cause for celebration. Firsts
are defined as any event, success, or goal achievement
that occurs for the first time. These Firsts are
benchmarks in our lives that signal an active
participation in life and a willingness to take
risks. They are visible reminders of our growth.
As such, they deserve special recognition. Some
Firsts we have recognized include: Randy pitching
a shut-out; Matt learning how to read; me publishing
the "Our Classroom" book; Jenny getting
on the honor roll; me doing a workshop for teachers
in a foreign country; and Matt learning to ride
Our celebrations of each First is
done on purpose, with a specific format and for
a specific reason. We showcase Firsts by going
out to dinner together. The individual who achieves
the First becomes the focus person. He or she
chooses the time and place for the celebration.
At the appointed time we come together
as a family to share a meal, acknowledge the individual,
and practice our collective caring. The focus
person takes the spotlight and tells about his
special moment, communicating feelings, reactions,
impressions, or any new goals he or she has set.
The rest of the family listens without interrupting
the narrative. When the focus person has finished
sharing, the rest of us participate by telling
what we liked about either the First or the reaction
of the person who produced it. Informal conversation
follows until the conclusion of our celebration.
Celebrating Firsts is a ritual in
our family that didn't just happen. I designed
it intentionally to meet a specific desire. I
want my children and our family to feel a strong
sense of belonging and family pride. And because
attainment of that spirit is so important, I deliberately
work to create what we call the "our family"
Togetherness and family pride don't
occur accidentally. Luck, magic, or happenstance
are not responsible for producing feelings of
connectedness and belonging. Parents (or a single
parent) produce family spirit. And they do it
by purposefully structuring activities that allow
for it to develop.
Firsts is one example of an activity
that builds an "our family" feeling.
Some others follow -- read through the techniques
described and see which ones have meaning for
you and your family.
Individual Journals. This
device can serve as a special connecting link
between you and your children. Buy a new spiral
notebook for each child and special pencil. Explain
that children who write in journals get to stay
up 15 minutes later than usual for just that purpose.
After children have written in their
journals and are tucked into bed, read their journal
entries and write a response. On the following
evening, children will read your response before
they write their new entry. Your mutual understanding
and feelings of connectedness will grow steadily
as journal writing becomes a habit in your lives.
Be advised that journal time is
not a time for making corrections in spelling
or penmanship. Nor is it a time to make value
judgments on your child's written comments. Journal
time is designed to effect a dialogue, to facilitate
a meaningful exchange between you and your child.
Nothing will shut down that exchange faster than
judging or correcting your child. Simply use journal
time to share from a feeling level. Let your children
know your perceptions, thoughts, and feelings
without criticizing theirs.
Warm Fuzzy Clothesline. A
warm fuzzy is a compliment (written or oral) given
to another person. A warm fuzzy clothesline is
a delivery system designed to promote regular
sharing of those compliments.
To begin a warm fuzzy clothesline
in your home, have family members decorate a clothespin
in their own image and include their names. Fasten
each to a clothesline or string. Family members
then use these mini-mailboxes to share positive
messages with one another. Note: it helps if you
model this technique by writing and sharing at
least one warm fuzzy a day yourself.
Family Goals. Another strategy
to use to create the "our family" feeling
is to work together to achieve a common goal.
People moving in the same direction for the same
reason are living lives of active interrelatedness.
They are united by their pursuit of a shared goal.
Effective goals are set mutually,
with all family members agreeing on their importance.
Reaching consensus is important here. Without
it, you will not have a shared commitment to the
goal. Goals can be to finish a 400-piece puzzle
in three weeks, clean up the basement or save
enough money to visit grandparents. It matters
less what the goal is and more that there is one.
Start with goals that are clearly
achievable. Work up to more difficult ones. Remember,
the more difficult the goals, the greater the
satisfaction felt and the greater the unity produced.
"I Can" Places.
An "I Can" place is a special area within
your home where you celebrate the things your
family members can do. It's a place specifically
designed to showcase successes.
Most homes have an "I Can"
place and it's usually the front of the refrigerator.
That's where pictures, photos, and school papers
are displayed, attached with magnets or tape.
Our refrigerator quickly suffered from overload
and we moved the "I Can" place to larger
Several cork pieces placed together
and nailed to a kitchen wall now form our "I
Can" area. Stickpins facilitate display and
easy changing of the items.
Our "I Can" board has
held awards, ribbons, certificates, letters, photographs,
report cards, newspaper articles and numerous
other memorabilia over the years. These items
have been put on display to help each of us see
ourselves as able, capable, and responsible. Their
display has also helped us develop positive pictures
of our individual and collective strengths.
Nostalgia Corner. A Nostalgia
Corner is a special place within the home where
memories of past events are stored. Ours is in
the living room and consists of photo albums bulging
with a collection of family history.
As the self-appointed family historian,
I clear off the "I Can" board every
couple of weeks. I place appropriate items in
large photo albums in chronological order. The
albums are then stored in a prominent place to
facilitate easy access by all family members.
A favorite pre-bedtime activity
in our home is to lie on the floor and peruse
the albums, now numbering over twenty. A postcard
from Grandma, ticket stubs from a movie, photographs
of special events or examples of past schoolwork
promote conversation and reliving our shared time
and space. The Nostalgia Corner becomes one more
way we can connect and experience that family
The Family Journal. Seven
years ago today I got the flu and Matt scored
two goals in his soccer game. I know because we
recorded and preserved that information in our
Family Journal. The Family Journal (a blank book
we bought at the local bookstore) is another strategy
we use to create the "our family" feeling.
It is an integral part of our Nostalgia Corner.
Our Family Journal has evolved slowly
over a seven-year period and now contains numerous
entries telling about significant events in our
lives, how we reacted to them, and what we expect
in the future. Reading it privately or aloud at
the dinner table helps us to re-experience our
shared time and space. It helps us to connect
as individuals and as a family.
Share a Hobby. While it may
not be true that the family who collects stamps
together stays together, it won't hurt. In our
family the collecting focus is on baseball cards.
Going to baseball card conventions, garage sales
and poring over mail order magazines are unifying
experiences that revolve around a shared interest.
If baseball cards aren't your thing, then try
stamps, coins, insects, Beanie Babies, bottles,
buttons, bumper stickers or whatever.
Service To Others. Doing
service by giving or sharing with others can produce
family spirit. Bake cookies together and spend
an afternoon delivering them to friends and relatives.
Clean up that vacant lot, rake a senior citizen's
yard, or help a friend with spring cleaning. Watch
your collective sense of worth grow as you band
together to do something for others.
New Year's Eve. Some parents
see New Year's Eve as an opportunity to get away
from the family to celebrate in private or with
friends. Going out to dinner, attending parties,
and emptying bottles seems to be the order of
the day and night. I recommend another alternative,
one that can help your family grow closer. Spend
New Year's Eve together. It's an ideal time to
celebrate connectedness, reflect on the past year
and look ahead to the future.
For us, deciding what treats to
purchase, shopping together and decorating occupy
much of the day. Dinner and card games fill the
early evening. When interest in games dies down,
we assemble in the living room, sit in a circle,
and begin the most meaningful part of our New
Year's Eve together, "Topic Talk."
Topics are ideas we dream up to
structure our conversation. One family member
suggests a topic like "A new friend I made
this year" or "My favorite song this
year." We each take a turn, responding orally
to the topic, telling as much as we choose. Listeners
do simply that -- listen until everyone as responded.
When each person has had an opportunity to respond
to the topic, we ask questions and elaborate on
our remarks. Topics we have used in the past that
have helped us get in touch with each other and
reflect on the previous year include: My favorite
book this year; Something I did that I am proud
of; Something I wish I could do over; My favorite
place I visited this year; Something I bought
for myself; Something I did for others.
At 11:00 o'clock we end Topic Talk
and get out "Our Goals." A list of goals
were shared and recorded a year earlier and preserved
in the Nostalgia Corner. Again, we take turns
reading our goals from the preceding year and
telling whether or not we reached them. One New
Year's Eve, we shared how we did on the following:
Jenny: Go to horseback riding camp.
Matt: Get a medal in wrestling.
Randy: Make the high school baseball team.
Me: Finish my manuscript on "Talk Sense To
Yourself" and run a marathon with dignity.
After sharing in depth about how
we achieved or didn't achieve goals, we set new
ones for the upcoming year. Jenny acts as recorder
and takes down our statements as they are dictated.
The goals are then put away until our next New
Year's Eve celebration.
As the time nears midnight, we turn
on the TV and count down the minutes and seconds.
The traditional hugs, kisses and noisemaking are
included in our celebration.
There is no single idea presented
in this article that will in and of itself create
an "our family" feeling. Taken together,
though, these ideas can go a long way towards
strengthening feelings of connectedness and belonging
among members of your family. Adapt these ideas
and implement them slowly throughout the year.
Watch as your family evolves into a more cohesive
Why not begin with New Year's Eve?
Gather your family together and lead off the celebration
by sharing your goal for the new year -- to promote
togetherness and build family spirit. It could
be a first!
Chick Moorman is the author of
numerous books on parenting and relationships
and also offers a free parenting e-newsletter.
Learn more at www.chickmoorman.com.