How Jana Builds Family Relationships

How Jana Builds Family Relationships

Now that I have four kids in college, and three teenagers at home, I've experienced most of the key stages of motherhood. I had four children under the age of three (thanks to my twins coming 3 months premature) so I know all too well the challenges of being the mother of young children.  I also know the “joy” of managing a hyper-scheduled family of teenagers requiring constant transportation. And with four kids currently in college, I'm becoming an expert at balancing digital Facetime with real face time.

Raising children and creating a strong family requires constant, consistent effort. It works best when done as a team with input from all of the players--mom, dad, and children. It is not easy to be a parent but it is definitely at the top of the list when it comes to jobs of lasting impact and value. But fortunately, even though it's a lot of work, it's also really fun. 

Be Together


Our family culture is one of togetherness. From the first sport that anybody participated in, to concerts, recitals, and plays, we all would go together and still do (except for those times you have to divide and conquer). Xan (short for Alexandra), my youngest, was just one year old when Josh, my oldest, started cross country at age 12. We’d all go. She called it "cunchy." It wasn’t always easy, but we felt like it was important for the whole family to be there and support each other.

We love to do fun things together and make even simple things fun. When the kids were little, we would just turn on music and dance with them. We still have dance parties together. 

When the kids were little we would get down on the floor and play with them. My husband Scott is especially good at that. That's one of the things that makes our family so strong--those spur of the moment times when we just decide: "Let's do this together."

Create Traditions


One really fun tradition we have that I absolutely love is going on a winter hike. Here in Minnesota it's so cold you don't even want to be outside. The first year we did it, it was January, and we had a 30-degree day, which, of course, is heaven when you're used to single-digit and below-zero temperatures. So we all got our snow gear on and went out to the park and had a blast walking through the woods, tromping over streams, because of course, they're frozen solid. We have no agenda. We take a couple sleds, and just have fun. We've continued that tradition since then, and it's a highlight of the year. We just love doing things together as a family. 

Every Memorial Day we go camping in Nauvoo, IL. We've been doing that for 18 years now and we absolutely love it!  We have only missed a few years. Even if it's bad weather, the children will insist, "But we have to camp!"  So we go anyway, even though we may not have prime conditions. 

We started our annual Fourth of July party, which we call the Frei-for-All, in 2005. There has only been one year since then that we didn't do it and that was due to a family gathering out of state. Something crazy would have to happen for us to not do it now. Everyone is invited to this huge family party--even people we don't know come with their friends. We have a picnic with homemade root beer, shaved ice, a giant slip-and-slide, a zipline, and lots of fun games to play. The event usually ends with a giant water fight and my favorite time of the party when I get a some runs in on the slip-and-slide along with Scott.


Welcome Others

We love to invite people into our home. When the kids want to have people over we encourage it. It's not always easy, because inevitably, especially with teenagers, they're going to stay up late, but we want to be a gathering place. We want our kids to be in a place where good things are going on and where we can be a good example for others. We don't want to exclude anyone.

Work Together

As much as we like to play together, it's important to us to work together. Often, when the kids were younger, when there was housework to be done, we didn't just separate and do our own thing. We had a list of jobs that needed to get done, and we'd turn the music on, and everybody would just work until the jobs were done.  

A lot of times, especially in the summer, we'd all go out and weed. I think it's really important that we work alongside our children. It offers opportunities to visit, to teach them proper work habits and work philosophy. If they're having a horrible attitude, you can help them in a kind way to change that attitude and help them recognize, "This is just what we have to do. And isn't it great that we can do it together."

Perceive the Need

Another thing that's important to our family culture is that you perceive the need. If we're at a church activity, or a school activity and it's time to clean up, we stay and clean up so other people don't have to bear the brunt of that. As Scott or I have had various responsibilities, the kids will help with that.

We do things to lighten each other's burdens. It's been wonderful to see our children take this initiative on their own as they've gotten older. You don't just sit back. You say, "Hey, I noticed this, can I take care of this for you?" 


Participation is a huge part of our family culture. We participate. If Scott and I go to a youth dance, we dance. We don't just sit on the sidelines. People may think we're crazy, but we have a great time. We play with the kids. If we go to the park, we're playing with the kids. We made up this game called dragons and dwarfs that we play at the park. We even played it this past Thanksgiving! We swing on the swings and push the kids on the swings. We love to be active and participate. 

At the Frei-For-All, the parents often congregate under a tree and let the kids go off and play, but we encourage them to join in, instead of just talking to other adults. It's a family party, so it's way more fun if you're actually playing with your family. 

Parent as a Team

I am so grateful to Scott for all that he has taught me and the good things about him that have rubbed off on me. Scott taught me so much about participating, which has become a huge part of our family culture. I am grateful to him. As husbands and wives we help each other develop. 

It's pretty amazing how much Scott and I agree on. You don't think to talk about some issues before you get married. I look back on when I was choosing a spouse, and I don't think I was nearly as careful as I would be now. There were a lot of things that are important to me that I'm glad he shares. We've always wanted to spend time together, and now we want the whole family to be together. It just happened.

 But with all our similarities, I'm grateful for our differences too. Scott is a much more social person than I am. He gets a lot of energy by being around a lot of people. I love being with people too, but my energy is not as boundless as his is. I get to the point where I need to shut down earlier than Scott does. 

Scott has been a great advocate for the kids to be able to have people over, where I might say, "Are you kidding? I need to be done with my day." But I realize it's not all about me. I realize the kids need to be with their friends. That doesn't mean I disregard my own needs. Sometimes when it hits 11 or 12 I head to bed and Scott will stay up with the kids and their friends. But sometimes I stay up too so I can be in on the fun. 

Be Intentional About Discipline

We try to be intentional as far as disciplining children and how we treat our children. We haven't been perfect. I definitely feel like I've become kinder over the years. I think of when my kids were much younger and it is embarrassing to say that I remember yelling at them on occasion, not in public, but at home. And then there came a point where I realized I shouldn't do that, and made changes. It was so important for me to make that change, because if you want your children to be kind people, you have to be kind to them. Scott is kind to our children as well which in turn helps me be kind. 

If there are issues, Scott and I discuss them. We bring things up at dinnertime or we'll gather the family to confer if there is something in particular we want to talk about. We also talk at informal times, like in the car. You have to look for those different opportunities to discuss issues. 

If an undesirable behavior presents itself in one of our children, we address it as soon as possible. When we are at home we are attentive and correct things immediately. In public we try to be discreet but we will still correct and expect appropriate behavior. If a kid is running around and shouldn't be, you address the behavior right away. You don't just let him run around. In a kind way, in a firm way, you correct him. 

From the time our children could do things on their own we have been guiding and redirecting them.  What I mean by "redirecting" is that you give them another alternative and try to avoid saying "no." For example, when our kids were babies, we designated one cupboard in our kitchen that the children were allowed to open and play with the contents. By consistently bringing them to that cupboard when they opened other ones and saying something like, "Here, this is your cupboard," and then helping them get interested in what is in that cupboard, they learned to leave the other cupboards alone. The concept of redirecting applies in countless other situations as well. It is not easy because it requires effort but in the end it pays off with huge dividends since your children realize that you mean what you say when you ask them to do something different.

Another way to change behavior is to practice doing things the right way.  If they whine or yell you ask them to use a nice voice and then have them practice.  If they run and they should walk, they can practice that.  When the children were little, it was so hard to get them to sit in church reverently. So we went into the chapel one day and practiced.

It's important to address matters right away and be very attentive, so you don't let little things turn into big problems. And not that big things didn't happen, but you have to be cognizant of what's going on and fix it, and let the kids have a say in how you fix things.

Make mid-course corrections

One thing we've learned about family life is that it's always changing. Because of this, we always have to be vigilant and make mid-course corrections. For example, I recently realized, "I haven't really been tucking the girls into bed." When they're little, you have to be involved in that process. You have to say "Get your PJs on. Brush your teeth," or it doesn't happen. We have family prayer and scripture study before we go to bed. As the kids get older, especially in high school, the younger ones go to bed after we finish, and the older ones do homework. I haven't necessarily been tucking them in and talking with them. I am now resolved to take corrective action and tuck them in bed.

At different times various things come up--perhaps arguing or fighting, which fortunately didn't happen a lot because we shut that down quickly. We would recognize, "I don't like this, let's change it. For example, at one stage in our family's life, getting into the car was just horrendous--people fighting about where to sit. So you have to regroup and fix it. Maybe assign seats. There are just different things that come up that you do have to address and focus on and change. 

All families are different and will therefore do things differently than we do, but in the end I truly believe that the successful families are the ones whose members have been kind to and respected one another and have served, taught, strengthened, and helped each other to be better. 


About This Mom:


Jana Frei is the founder and CEO of Transformative You Life Coaching and Parent Consulting and CMO (Chief Mothering Officer) of her husband of 25 years (Scott) and their seven amazing children, ranging in ages from 23 down to 12.  Faith and family top the chart of her priority list.  She loves gardening and hiking (especially along the trails--and in the rivers--of the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior). She has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education, but considers her real life degree of 23 years as a mother as her most valuable education.Check out her website at or email her at to schedule a complimentary life coaching or parent consulting session.


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