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The Intentional Family

...keeping your family connected Our family struggles to keep up with demands of everyday life. Life seems to get busier each year. We long for the time when life was simpler, and support of family and community was available. In the daily grind of parents workload, childrens homework and after-school activities, weekends overloaded with housework, church and social engagements, and a home that is plugged in to the outside world 24/7 through multimedia devices, how does the family stay connected? The intentional family can navigate these times and remain connected. Charles Dickens words, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...1 aptly describe these days for the family. Global financial uncertainty, increase in crime, decline of values and disintegration of the family structure make it the worst of times for families. However, we are also living in the best of times. We have unprecedented opportunity to meet the needs of a high-tech generation that is hungry for high touch, authentic relationships. Ephesians 3:14 & 15 states, For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. The Greek word translated as family is from the root word pater, meaning Father. Family is Gods idea. He created us to be part of His family, the body of Christ. He also placed each person in a human family. The spiritual family and the human family are designed to be interdependent: connected to each other in a deep way, providing a safe haven for members to grow towards full maturity in Christ, organically connected to Jesus, the source of Life. There is a way forward for our families a way to intentionally establish and deepen its sense of connection, meaning and community. Dr. Doherty defines an intentional family as one whose members create a working plan for maintaining and building family ties, and then implement the plan as best they can. An intentional family rows and steers its boat rather than being moved only by the winds and the current.2 Tides of progress and individualism from the West have weakened families in Trinidad and Tobago, but we have a fighting chance. Our families are rooted in ethnic origins which deeply value family heritage and a sense of community. How does the intentional family establish and deepen its sense of connection, meaning and community? There are three things 3 Ts which we can begin to do right now that will not add to our list of things to do, but simply requires a new way of looking at things. The 3 Ts for the intentional family: Transform routines into family traditions; Tame technology; and Take time to build your family identity.

Transform Routines into Family Traditions


1

Dickens, C. (1868). A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Books.

Doherty, W. J. (1997). The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties. New York: Avon Books, Inc.

Every family has routine activities - repeated activities involving more than one family member, which are done in a familiar way. Family routines can be daily activities such as driving children to school, meal times and bedtimes, or seasonal events such as weddings, funerals and holiday celebrations. The intentional family can strengthen family connection by re-examining these routines, and transforming them into family traditions by making one or two simple changes. A routine is transformed into a family tradition (or a family ritual, as family scientists define it), when meaning or significance is added, involving emotionalism, symbolism and special behaviour. A tradition, which is actually a ritual of connection, serves as glue that strengthens relationships and a sense of security within the family. Daily routines do not necessarily increase family bonding. It is the intentional elements included in the routine which will deepen family members sense of connection. Healthy families connect with each other on a daily basis. With a little creativity, the routine of driving children to school can be transformed into a meaningful family tradition by introducing an agreed-upon activity during the drive, such as reviewing memorized Bible verses together, singing inspiring songs, or praying for loved ones in need. The drive home from school can be transformed from a routine to family tradition by asking the children the same question, so that they come to expect it when they enter the car, such as What did you learn today? or What made you happy or sad today? (parents should also answer the question). In this example, as the children enter teen-age years, the activity or topic of conversation needs to be adjusted. The routine of family meals can be transformed into meaningful family tradition. Family researchers recommend that families have at least one meal together each day, in order to connect with each other. Families who eat dinner daily in front of the television, for instance, can transform dinner into a family tradition by moving it to the dining room to encourage family conversation. Families who already eat dinner together around a table can add meaning to the routine by adding one or more of these elements: getting children involved in meal preparation or setting the table, ending the meal by reading a portion of Scripture or literature and asking everyone to share what it meant to them, or dressing up the meal by lighting scented candles, using company dinnerware, or even banana leaves!. Seasonal events such as weddings and birthdays can be transformed into family traditions by introducing symbolisms that reinforce your familys cherished values. I recently attended a simple wedding reception, which impressed me with the high value placed on family by the bride and groom. A member of the immediate family of the groom publicly welcomed the bride and her family into their family circle. The brides family reciprocated. By adding this symbolic and meaningful gesture, both families were ushered warmly into each others lives. Momentous celebrations are made most meaningful not by expensive arrangements, but by the depth of meaning and connection involved. The idea is to introduce one change at a time into a family routine, to transform it into a family tradition. To ensure buy-in from every member of the family, it would be wise to consult and get everyones ideas and thoughts on making these small changes. It will ease acceptance of the change, and improve its chances of success. The key is to relax, sensitively and slowly experiment with the changes, and enjoy the transformation. Meaningful family traditions help

create healthy emotional ties, ease membership changes, promote healing, identity, belief expression, and celebration (Day, 2003)3. Tame Technology Our families face daily pressure from outside, but also from inside the home courtesy our 24/7 connection to media. We enter our home and close the door on the world, only to realize that our supposedly safe haven remains open to constant demands on our time via the television, telephone (mobile, landline, or Skype), ipods, PDAs, and the online community (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). Personalized entertainment further disconnects each member of the family, as each one picks up their favorite device to be entertained by themselves. When can we finally say we are at home and available to connect with each other in our family? The second way we can increase family connection is by taming technology. Technology is supposed to simplify tasks and save time, not eternally distract us. When technology threatens to take over our family life, we need to fight back. It would be healthy, upon consultation with members of your family, to declare a ban on all media for a few hours each day, reserved only for family interaction. Decide to daily disconnect from media and go off-line, at least from the time family members arrive home until the end of dinner. You can also go on a media fast, in the same way you may choose to fast from food and drink to concentrate on praying. You would be surprised at how these disciplines can improve your ability to focus on each other as a family. Time to Build your Family Identity A strong family identity makes the difference between families who feel merely thrown together by blood ties, and those who feel they truly belong to each other. Identity is a socializing process by which a person identifies himself with a group he is familiar with, attracted to, or feels empathy with. We derive from our identity associations our sense of belonging, and we give back to these associations various degrees of allegiance. (Ezzo & Ezzo, 2001)4 We need to ask ourselves: How strong is our family identity? Have we cultivated a team spirit in our family a we-ism attitude instead of a selfish me-ism attitude? When our children are grown up, would they still seek out their siblings, and us, their parents, as friends with whom they would like to spend time? Is our family the primary source of core values and comfort for every member? The third way we can strengthen family connection is by taking time to build family identity. From research, it appears that peer pressure on a child or teenager is only as strong as family identity is weak. Time spent now in strengthening family identity means less heartache and negative behavioural consequences in the future.

Day, R. D. (2003). Introduction to Family Processes. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates, Inc.
4

Ezzo, G., & Ezzo, A. M. (2001). Growing Kids God's Way: Biblical Ethics for Parenting. Simi Valley, CA: Growing Families International.

What are some things we can do to build family identity? Having strong family traditions serve to define our family identity. A helpful exercise for husbands and wives is to talk about how they would like their family to be described. One family I know is well-known as a family that loves community their home is a favourite hang-out for extended family, neighbours and church friends. Another family is known for being there for friends and family in times of need. A family may consider themselves beach lovers or lovers of gardening. Forging a family identity together helps create a sense of belonging. Creating special bonds between family members strengthens family identity. After learning about the concept of spending special times with every child, our family started having Mommy time and Daddy time. I take each of our two daughters out, in turn, for a brief outing just to have fun and talk. My husband does the same. The outings are simple and inexpensive coffee & chocolate chiller at a coffee shop on campus, walking to a favourite spot under the trees to read, sharing dainty pastries at a tea shop, or going for doubles & coconut water the important part is just talking about whats going on in our lives. Fathers and sons may enjoy biking together, or playing football. These outings get lost in our busy lives sometimes, but we joyfully pick up the habit again when we remember. For busy parents who travel, these times are opportunities to make deposits into our childrens emotional bank account for the days of separation that lie ahead. Becoming an intentional family offers a ray of hope for these confusing times. Even single parent families and blended families, who face additional challenges, can begin to take steps to strengthen family connections intentionally. Single parents would need to call on friends and family for support in the process, but it can be done. In blended families, sensitivity is needed, with the biological parent leading the way in making the small changes, because children tend to resent a step-parent who assumes a parenting role. Whatever kind of family you have, you can grow in oneness as you dream together for your family, and plan the way forward. When we transform routines into meaningful family traditions, tame technology, and take time to build family identity, we feel more connected to each other, and there are fewer arguments and attention-seeking conflicts. One word of caution: go gently. Introducing changes into family routines requires prayer, sensitivity, timing, diplomatic skills, and humility. The way forward may be slow, but take courage: the rewards for your family are priceless.

Maria Cecilia Reyes-Mohammed Certified Family Life Educator National Council on Family Relations, USA