Do your children belong?
I realise that's a funny question. I'm not appealing to the ethereal concept about whether they belong to the universe, I'm appealing to the practical concept: Do your children have a strong sense of belonging?
When you brought your first child home you might have had all sorts of feelings, but the one thing you'd have been certain about is that your child belonged in your family. Yet, statistics show us that in a few short years, they can struggle with their sense of identity. Parents are often concerned about the fact that their teenagers seem to identify more strongly with their friends than their own family. Is there anything we can do in those first ten years (and beyond) to cultivate a strong sense of belonging, and why is that necessary?
Belonging (along with love) is our key human need, after our physical needs and safety have been taken care of. Having a sense of belonging in our own family affects self esteem, security and confidence as well as our metal and emotional health. A child will take their values and habits from the group they feel they most strongly belong to.
If we’ve thought carefully about our values and habits it’s because we hope they’ll influence our children for the better. Especially in this world of many influences (not all of them healthy).
Belonging is twofold. We can have a birthright, but we also need a sense of ongoing belonging. For example, you can get a place on the first team for hockey, but the feeling that you are really part of that people group comes from ongoing experiences that reinforce your place in that group.
The next few blogs are going to look at how we can enhance and engender that experience of belonging so that our children feel it securely.
The first of these is – Family Circle. I’m not talking about family meals. This is about an intentional time together where the children (from very young) get to contribute ideas and where they feel heard and valued.
You can probably come up with a far more inspiring name than Family Circle, something unique that reflects your family. You can also create a tradition around it – we like hot chocolates, others like having a football for the person to hold who’s doing the talking. Whatever characteristics you give it, will make it all the more significant.
Having a topic to discuss is helpful. Over time they’ll start coming up with their own. When they ask general questions about why you do or don’t do ‘that’ as a family, you can suggest you chat about that at the next Family Circle.
I’ve got an aversion to chewing gum. I’m a bit of a hypocrite as I don’t mind it myself, but I don’t like them chewing it, or finding it stuck to carpets or furniture. So, it was brought up at family circle. They all put their points across and a compromise was agreed. For me, it was never about the chewing gum. It was about them owning a boundary, contributing to its parameters, feeling the powerful sense of being an influence for change. That creates a sense belonging.
These meetings are a great time to bring up an issue in the news, planning the holidays or half terms, asking them about meals and favourite foods, solving issues that keep coming up. Ours enjoyed a season talking about values.
Lots of things get chatted about naturally over dinner times, but in a specific meeting, there’s a motive to come up with a conclusion; a place where everyone gets heard, nobody’s ideas get laughed at or put down. It’s more about the means than the end. A process that reinforces belonging.
It’s just one small way. But if belonging is the sum of its parts, every small part is important.