How Lori Builds Family Relationships
There's nothing I love more than spending time with my family, but it's not easy to make it happen. My husband is a pediatric cardiologist with a busy call schedule, and my four children span a wide age range—from 7 to 16. Finding a time when we can all be together, and finding activities that we all enjoy takes large measures of both planning and creativity, but this crazy family of mine is up to the challenge.
The key for our family is planning ahead. We have systems and traditions in place that help us prioritize time together, from individual dates with kids, to fun family outings, to serving each other and people outside our family. I also put a lot of thought into cultivating individual relationships between all family members. Teaching children to love one another is a big challenge and a big responsibility.
On the first Sunday of the month, my husband and I set aside the afternoon to meet with each child individually. These meetings usually last 10 minutes, but sometimes up to 30 minutes. We try to make them more of a conversation than a lecture or intervention. The purpose is to check in with our kids and see where they are in terms of their goals, challenges, etc., and just to keep track of what's going on in their lives. Here's a typical outline of one of these meetings:
- We try to start very positive, bringing up times we've noticed them behaving well or doing nice things for others. We give specific praise, so they know it's sincere.
- We ask them to tell us something funny that happened to them that month.
- We talk about their goals. We let them identify something to improve, and then we share some of our own ideas. For example, we've been working with one of our sons on encouraging others. We challenged him to do at least one thing to encourage others each day. When he leaves for school, I just say, "EO" and he knows what I'm talking about. Another child is working on being kind to siblings.
- We also take advantage of this time to reinforce what we've taught them about safety issues. We ask if anyone has done anything to them that has made them feel unsafe or uncomfortable and teach about stranger danger and Internet safety.
Once or twice a month, we take one child out on a date, rotating among the children. We used to split up and do one-on-one dates with the kids, but it's been more fun doing it with both of us. Of course this is more possible now that a couple of our kids are old enough to babysit. Sometimes we just bring a child when we're out running errands and just grab lunch. Other times, we do something the child has really been wanting to do, like go to a movie. Sometimes we just watch a movie at home with one child, and that turns out to be a special thing.
We love to go out and have fun together as a family. We love family nerf gun battles, laser tag, glow in the dark capture the flag, hide-n-seek, kickball, dominoes & board games, trampoline battles, swimming, movie nights, dance-offs, talent shows, frisbee, going to local events, etc. One of our favorite activities was when the kids created an obstacle course in the backyard for American Ninja Warrior—Brescia Edition.
Family outings are another great way to work on individual relationships. For example, if a couple of my kids have been struggling with each other, we'll make sure they're on the same team for laser tag.
Secret Service Santa
Each December we do a twist on the traditional Secret Santa. We call it Secret Service Santa. We pick names among family members and then quietly serve the person we have chosen. It always starts out as a secret, but we usually figure it out pretty quickly, based on the type of service we're receiving. It's supposed to be random, but I won't lie, sometimes I rig it to specifically build some relationships that need work.
Some of the service the kids do for each other includes:
- Making beds and/or cleaning rooms
- Doing someone’s laundry
- Cleaning their room
- Breakfast made and at their spot at the table when they get up
- foot rubs
- dollar store toy on their pillow
- drawings & handmade gifts
- lunch packed & in the fridge before school
- doing one of their chores before they wake up
- helping with homework
- baking them a special treat
- listening to them talk about their day
- words of comfort/encouragement, or just not saying something rude when they would really like to
I frequently talk to my children about how they can build each other up. When two of them haven't been getting along, I think of things they would enjoy doing together and then suggest to one of them that they invite their sibling to do that activity. For example, I ask my oldest son to take his younger brother out to do basketball drills. I also asked him to take his sister out to lunch, on me. They were both excited about that and came home talking and laughing.
Our kids fight with one another, like any siblings. When they're fighting or arguing, I make it a point to talk to them about the argument one-on-one, so I get an uninterrupted story, and they feel like they're being heard.
We have friend birthday parties every other year. I usually pull in all the siblings to help with the planning and execution of the party. They help set up, help with the games, food, and clean-up. I want them to be comfortable making a special day that is all about their brother or sister. I’ve noticed that often, quiet gifts from the siblings emerge by the time the birthday party starts. Coupon books seem to be an affordable favorite. I have to say it brings in a sweet feeling when they do this for each other without prodding from me.
Although a lot of what we do as a family is planned, because it has to be, some of the best bonding experiences just happen naturally. Probably my most favorite thing to do when my kids were little was snuggling and reading a book together. I still try to make them do this with me, but sadly I’m not always successful at getting their cooperation, especially with the teens. Now one of my favorite times is talking and laughing together at the kitchen table, the teenagers making the younger ones belly laugh. I’m not sure it gets better than that.