Creating families with character is something most people value. Given the demands of our lives, we often give it more “lip service” than the real commitment and focus that it requires. Here are some tested tips to help grow your family from the inside out.
Pay Attention to What Each Family Member Offers to the Whole
No matter how large or small your family may be, each individual within it has unique qualities that contribute to the family as a whole. Sometimes, these qualities may feel more like challenges than positive attributes, but a family of character learns to translate these perceived difficulties into strengths that everyone can learn from. I happened to have two very strong-willed children. One would quietly dig in his heels and the other was significantly more vocal. They each found ways to be heard even in the face of my frustration as their mother.
Over time, for me, I learned to shift my style of communication and open to considering something unfamiliar, so they could each find their place in the family and later in the world. Respecting differences enriches our lives. If we don’t do something a certain way, or look a certain way, we may believe we are harming our children and causing them greater difficulty. In fact, children are resilient in ways that as adults we have long forgotten. Finding a place to feel comfortable and safe starts at home. Learning to navigate difficult feelings by acknowledging our unique strengths contributes to building sturdy character.
Identify Your Own Values and Create Experience Around Them
It takes commitment to create “teachable moments” for your children and for your family as a whole. From early in their lives and into young adulthood, there are abundant opportunities to exchange ideas and feelings that reflect the core values of your family. Creating a family dialogue, opportunities for conflict resolution and problem-solving are essential to moving your family from one that just talks about values, to one that embodies them. As your family evolves, so will your strategies.
Creating language around the values you consider an essential part of your family’s life becomes your family narrative, rich with beliefs and practices that will serve as a foundation moving forward. Pay attention to the words you use. Notice, as an adult, what you tell yourself and where you put pressure on yourself. Children are often “mirrors” for us. They reflect the areas of conflict that we need to resolve. Be careful not to shame or judge yourself or your children too harshly. When you feel “stuck”, take a step back and pause before you react. Be willing to be vulnerable and to apologize.
Pay Attention to What Moves You Forward
There is a time in the life of every family in which the values that have been so important, become the source of challenge and conflict. This often happens as the children enter into adolescence, but it can also occur if your family has challenges in other ways. This could be a trauma, death, divorce, disability, loss of a job, or a move to a different community, to name a few.
Learning to respond to unanticipated challenges in ways that reveal the character and values of your family can be a powerful opportunity. There will be many emotions to experience and move through. On the other side of these feelings, lies the fertile ground of self-awareness and personal growth. No matter how young or old, everyone has choices about the ways that difficulty moves them forward.
Learning to focus on acceptance and possibility is a practice that ultimately releases us from focusing on regret and shifting to something more hopeful. Within this practice is where substantial character building occurs. In the face of challenge, we can learn a practice of gratitude and appreciation. Life is filled with disappointments and missed expectations. It is also filled with love, with abundance and joy. Where you focus becomes as much a part of building character in your family as any other practice.
When all is said and done, acknowledge yourself and each member of your family on a regular basis. This is not gratuitous praise, but rather authentic acknowledgment for displaying character in a variety of situations. Encourage your children to name the quality or value they feel they displayed and the way they felt when they acted with character. Release the temptation to compare or judge. Always strive for better feeling experiences and you will discover the joy that results from creating a family with character.
Diane Turner is a Licensed Psychotherapist, Certified Life Coach and Author of “Heart Wisdom, A Concise Companion for Creating a Life of Possibility”. For more information, please visit, www.dianesturner.com, or connect with Diane on Facebook!