As summer winds down we are given the opportunity to take stock of what matters most. Are there daily choices we can make that would make a difference in our homes this year? Can we implement behaviors and attitudes that help our family grow stronger?

Friendships are important but family is forever.

When a family feels bonded, parents and children share life experiences on a different level. Difficult times are filled with moments of strength, connection and encouragement. Happy occasions become sweeter, brighter, and more joyous.

Here’s how to strengthen your family bond:

1. Loyalty

For families to thrive there needs to be a sense of security. We create a home that is a haven by allowing each child (and parent) to feel safe with one another. Together time should never evoke sentiments of fear or insecurity. No family member should feel the need to withdraw within a shell to feel protected.

How can we build family loyalty?

  • support each other’s dreams and stand up for one another

  • don’t use verbal zingers, sarcasm, or derogatory comments to strike each other down

  • convey that ‘family’ sacrifices for one another. Sometimes it is physical, like sharing a crowded space or cutting a favorite piece of cake in half. Other times it is emotional, like giving time or a listening ear.

  • parents model respect when disagreeing with each other; they don’t shame each other.

  • create a tone in the home that does not cultivate fear. This means that verbal abuse, yelling, screaming at one another, or looking for someone to constantly blame are all off limits. (Of course physical abuse and fighting is never allowed).

  • siblings show concern when one is hurting, experiencing pain or disappointment. While we can’t fix the situation the least we can do is care. Indifference shows a callousness of the heart.

2. Acceptance

We all need to feel that we belong. If a family member feels alone, there is the danger that he or she will look elsewhere for love. Acceptance means that I can lean on you when I fall and you will encourage me when I fail. If I make a mistake, I am not afraid to confide in you because you are approachable. You believe in me; flaws and all.

This does not just apply to children. Husbands and wives, too, need to feel accepted by their spouse.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t give consequences or ignore misbehavior. Rather, there is an underlying sentiment of being loved that allows the relationship to flourish despite the discipline. Acceptance means that we feel positively about our place in the family even if we have caused disappointment.

How can we create an environment of acceptance?

  • get to know your family. As kids grow parents realize that they are clueless and wonder where ‘my little guy’ or ‘girl’ has gone. Here, too, it is crucial for husbands and wives to continue to make time for one another as years go.

  • find your child’s inner star. Some children naturally shine and other’s need to have the light brought out. But all of us have been given a Divine gift; make no mistake. Help reveal each child’s inner gifts by showing interests in their likes, challenging their curiosity about the world, and joining them in this quest of discovery.

  • encourage uniqueness. We are all different, even if we were born to the same parents. Don’t try to raise ‘cookie cutter kids’. Allow for individual likes and tastes.

  • don’t overschedule your child. Seeking exceptionality brings parents to over expect. Children are made to feel as if they are inadequate if they do not invent a start-up, star on a team, score high on their ACT, or play the violin. What about just being a wonderful human being who is kind, sensitive and a pleasure to be with?

  • never slam a door on a family member or do something that creates the feeling that they are rejected from the home. Be careful when upset not to say something that can be interpreted as being hateful. While we can dislike the behavior, we must not allow a child or spouse to feel discarded from the family.

3. Appreciation

The foundation of every home must be gratitude. Appreciation is the oxygen of marriage. Children’s gratitude towards their parents, life opportunities, natural gifts and numerous physical blessings creates an environment of respect. We don’t take our family or things for granted. We speak thoughtfully. We take care of our possessions. We don’t allow our children to grow entitled. The entire atmosphere in the home is transformed.

How can we encourage an attitude of gratitude?

  • parents model thankfulness to one another. This means that acts that we take for granted-like making dinner, driving carpool, family leisure time and trips, buying clothing are all recognized and voiced with appreciation. Children should be taught to follow in parent’s direction.

  • don’t over buy. We want to create happy homes so many of us make the mistake of equating happiness with ‘things’. We overindulge our children. We keep getting them the latest fads and can’t deal with their tears when we say ‘no’. Then we are surprised by their lack of appreciation and shocked by their disrespect. Truth is we are to blame. The cycle of great expectations has been created. Somehow, it is never enough and they’ve never learned to be happy with what they have.

  • stop texting while talking. When we look down at our phones while communicating with our loved ones who are standing in front of our eyes, we are clearly showing that they are not important enough for us to even look at. How can I value you if I cannot take the time to see you? Checking emails when returning home from work or when children (or a spouse) are trying to share thoughts with you is plain disrespect. Family time becomes downgraded in children’s eyes.

Combined with the traits of loyalty, acceptance and appreciation is the ability of parents to create an environment of spirituality that anchors the home. Strong roots keep the family grounded. As we approach the Hebrew month of Elul, we near the High Holidays. Contemplating our priorities, values, tone of communication and desire to connect with our traditions become the next step to building families that endure, which will be the topic of our next article.