It started with a text conversation I had with a mombestie. She sent me pics of something they were doing that day and I told her that I admired the culture she was building in her family. What I mean by this is the special lifestyle, traditions, stories, practices, beliefs that are unique to this family and the way they are weaving it into the way their children’s way of living.
Every family has a culture to it, sometimes it’s positive sometimes it’s negative. If you stop to think of the families you know, you can probably come up with a few words to describe their culture. What words would describe yours?
The culture is part of their identity, their legacy, their outlook, the way the love, the way they live. It is how they spend their time, how they speak, the activities they pursue, how they treat one another, how they eat their meals, it is in everything the family does on their own and together.
I don’t think there is a cookie-cutter way that can apply to everyone. Some may want to be surrounded by lots of extended family learning values of rural life and over-sized family dinners, sleeping in late on Saturdays and eating hot dogs every Tuesday night. Some may want to be nomadic and crossing the countryside pursuing an entrepreneurial business, getting up at sunrise each morning to have a paleo breakfast quietly together, moving on to the next town to meet more new people, ever socializing. Whatever culture you are passionate about is the one you should pursue, and pursue it like you mean it.
Later after this text conversation, Conor and I started having a talk about the culture of our family. You know waffles, laundry mountains, garden fails, blah blah blah. As with everything in life, we can do it on purpose – with intention and direction – or we can let it happen, being reactive to how it plays out. By now you know I’m on a mission to make things simple and purposeful, so it got me thinking, what are simple intentional ways a mom can ‘build the culture of her family?’. Not that the mom is solely responsible for all this, but as Great Uncle Herb once told me, ‘the mom is the heart of the home‘ and we have more control over things than sometimes we realize (or want).
I had some ideas on how to do this, and I also looked to the experts of Google and seasoned moms I heard on some podcasts to make this list of…
Simple ways to build the culture of your family
1. Make a family mission statement.
This is something we sat down to do a couple years back and it has allowed us to make space to think about and write down the way we wanted our kids to grow up versus the way society was funnelling us to live. The Art of Manliness has a really great post on questions to ask and the benefits of a family mission statement. Not to get all dramatic, but this is a must. If there is only one step you ever take, let it be writing out the ways you and want to raise your family. You gotta take the time to get on the same page, identify what you want, commit it to paper. It is like ‘building the lighthouse’ – you need to site it, build it, and light it before you can use it to navigate you across the waters.
2. Have lots of traditions.
Traditions are part of the family story, they are the glue that bonds us, the inside jokes, the constants we can rely on. I bet you already have some that have happened by coincidence. At Christmas I wrote about making simple traditions, it can really apply all year round.
3. Yes and No like you mean it.
If you have a mission statement your decisions on what to do or not do with your time/money/energy/resources become easy to determine. So if you are a family who believes in travel and hospitality maybe you will take in a foreign exchange student, and you will wholeheartedly expend your resources to this because it is in line with your values. If you are a family who values homesteading and self-sufficiency perhaps you won’t spend the time and money to go on an extravagant all-inclusive holiday. Instead, you will spend it on building a new chicken coop together, and your kids will be so impressed at your commitment to your family values that they will be all, ‘who needs all-you-can-eat-mozza-sticks and water parks when we have the satisfaction of growing our own food!?’.
4. Celebrate like it’s your job.
When someone in the family accomplishes something, or a special event is happening, celebrate it! It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, just consistent and meaningful. I remember reading about a family who had a special red plate for the person who did something special that day. It is easy for parents to gush over their kids (‘look! they picked a daisy and didn’t eat the petals! into the vase it goooooeeees!!’) but I think my children need to celebrate one another more rather than pester one another more. I plan on instigating many sibling celebrations over the years with some of these ideas.
5. Brainwash your kids with family history.
I have a special connection to the out of tune, beat up piano in my basement. My mom told me her great Aunt had it brought over the ocean with her from England to Canada. I don’t know if this is true, but this piano that I grew up playing is part of my family history.
I heard this podcast with Sally Clarkson about how they share family stories to teach their kids to hold their family history in their hearts. I realized that was what happened with my piano. I’m so attached to it and its place in my family legacy. Storytelling is the original record keeping system of our history. When we share stories with our kids of our ancestors, ourselves, themselves, we are giving them the stories of their family’s history that they can carry in their own identity and share with their own kids.
It can be in the stories we tell our kids, the records we keep for them, the way we display photos – I love the way my friend Amanda does it at Memory Momentum, because she is a pro photo organizer, each month she can quickly make a video montage of all the videos she took that month. Then her family gathers round to watch the videos. What a cool way to build and share your family story.
6. Rally around one another.
To keep a family culture from fragmenting, the mindset has to be ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. This means supporting each other in their passions and goals and holding a very pious toilet bowl funeral for their first dead fish. I had a friend in school whose family would wash the car together every single weekend. Or some who attend one another’s basketball games. Maybe it means picking rosehips each fall with your mom or helping your dad clean his shop. The team mindset has to be there, we even go so far as to call ourselves Team Scafe. Don’t be surprised, you know I have ulterior motives to make everyone wear nerdy ‘family team’ shirts, have family handshakes (if it’s cool enough for Fresh Prince, I want in!), maybe start family chants like Louise at Talk Nerdy to Me.
7. Take time to be up in each other’s space.
I often look back on my teenage years with sadness that we had stopped having family dinner each night. I think this was a big rift in maintaining the closeness of my family. Not to mention I started eating tortillas with cheese and salsa for every dinner. I wasn’t dining alone though, I had anemia to keep me company.
From the moment I learned I was pregnant I knew that family dinners would be a must because I needed it to be. We need regular time to check in, without distractions. We need to have face time where we look into each other’s eyeballs and speak without emojis. Whether it is a family meeting, weekly bonfire lunches, morning walks, after school snacks, family dinners, or (since listening to the Sally Clarkson podcast) we’ve recently started a regular tea time each afternoon.
8. Display it in your home.
Your family culture is something that is also expressed in your house. What is inward is subconsciously displayed outwardly. Make it on purpose, make your home show the culture of your family. From the art on your walls to the cups in your cupboards, think of ways you can encourage your family culture. Maybe it’s a Spanish music playlist blaring out your speakers (or Reba, just saying), a wall gallery of family homestead portraits or family tree, quotes on your walls, a table that is always set with nachos and margaritas (can we be neighbours?), or the deck that is lined with sporting equipment to get everyone playing outside together. Your culture will seep out into the way your home is run.
9. Stay motivated.
Find yourself a mentor. Start a Pinterest board. Read books. Nerd out to podcasts. Write down family goals and hang them on the wall. Make bucket lists with your kids. And when in doubt go for a family walk together then eat waffles for dinner.
Maybe this all seems daunting to you, to intentionally create a culture in your home when you probably haven’t even checked your mail or eaten a vegetable in the past five days. I’ve been there. Then I realized I was already doing a lot of things my own way that was in line with our family values. I bet you are too.
But it does take time. I feel like we are still learning ways to translate our vision into things we do every day to build our family culture. Like any change, it is in the little daily things done on purpose. And waffles.