What does a strong family look like and how is it accomplished?
“Are you thinking about your Family Legacy yet?”
Some of you can’t think that far ahead right now. After all, you are surrounded by toddlers, suffering from sleep deprivation, or in a tough place in your marriage.
Or you may be single but dreaming of what your future family might look like.
Others of you are becoming grandparents, and you long for your grandchildren to know one another. You are thinking about the next generation and wondering just how you can have a positive impact on them.
I have to confess that I did not think much about a strong family legacy when I was young. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to get married. I didn’t especially like kids. However, God has a sense of humor and I married my best friend, John. We’ve been married for over 50 years, have 5 children and 21 grandchildren.
Somewhere along the line, it hit us that we needed to pray down the generations and to become intentional in creating strong family bonds.
Building a family of friends began when our kids were young.
Creating Strong Family Bonds
There were many things we wanted to characterize our family but four in particular:
Respect means respecting one another verbally. Verbal abuse of a sibling is not allowed. There are clear consequences. Respecting one another’s property means asking before you borrow a toy or blouse. Return them in good shape.
Appreciation is lacking in today’s world. We are more likely to take one another for granted than to appreciate each other. When our kids were small one of our favorite family games was “spin the bottle.” We would take an old bottle, sit in a circle, and one person would spin the bottle until it stopped and pointed to someone else. The spinner than shared with that person something they appreciated about them.
Once time Susy (at age 3) spun the bottle and it landed on Allison (age 10). Turning to her big sister, Susy exclaimed,” I appreciate Allie because she sometimes lets me sleep with her and she doesn’t get too mad if I wet her bed!”
Thoughtfulness is one way of acting out the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It doesn’t come naturally. We’d much rather think of ourselves.
We have used the “clue-in” principal to nurture thoughtfulness. What does this mean?
It is simply clueing in one family member as to the needs of another (as appropriate) and suggesting a specific way of meeting those needs.
A hormonal 13-year-old storms home from school completely discouraged because the “right” girls did not ask her to eat lunch with them. She’s mad at the world and down on herself. So take a younger sibling aside and clue her in.
“Your big sister is having a sad day. It’s hard to be 13. She needs some encouragement. Let’s bake her some cookies and leave them outside her door and you write a note to say, “You are the best big sister in the world. I love you.” Don’t expect appreciation. She may not acknowledge the gift, but you are building in habits of thoughtfulness regardless of a response. It’s the habit we want to nurture.
Prayer is one of the best ways we can support one another in our family. When our kids were still at home, we’d go around the kitchen table and ask, “How can we pray for you this week?” And then we’d take turns one person praying for another’s request.
As our kids graduated and left home, we developed a family letter (email or text today) in which we shared prayer requests for the coming semester. Yes, some have been better in this than others, but we keep at it and appreciate it when they do respond!
Today we gather once a year for a Family Reunion. We have adult dinners in which each couple takes a turn to share honestly the challenges and blessings of the past year. After each couple shares, we pray over them.
We’ve failed many times in trying to instill these traits. We’ve become frustrated. We’ve experienced intense sibling rivalry. We’ve felt like the worst parents in the world. At times we’ve even wondered if we’ve ruined our kids!
It helps to remember:
Our ability to ruin our kids is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem them.
They are His kids first. And He’s at work even if we can’t see it right now.
Intentional About Building Strong Family Relationships
Today we are into the “grandparenting season.” For the last 11 years, we have hosted a “Cousin Camp” in the summer for our grandchildren. It lasts 4 days and 3 nights. Our kids live in different states so this is one way we can build friendships between cousins who don’t see one another very often. We want to be intentional in helping to build relationships amongst the next generations.
As we think about creating our legacy our vision is quite simple:
“That our grandchildren (and those to come) would love the Lord their God with all their hearts and take care of each other always.”
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Cousin Camp is one way to foster this vision. Many folks have asked how we do Camp, so I am happy to tell you about my new book, Cousin Camp, A Grandparents’ Guide to Creating Fun, Faith, and Memories That Last.
In it, you’ll find answers to questions like, “Who do I invite? How do we make a schedule? What activities work? What if a family member is estranged? Where do we host it? How do we plan Bible studies that aren’t boring?”
Two-thirds of the book is about Cousin Camp but there’s a whole section for planning any type of family reunions including older adults, multi-generational, a camp run by a single aunt, and many stories contributed by others.
You’ll find Cousin Camp available at all major bookstores and on Amazon—>HERE
As John and I have considered our legacy, we have prayed this prayer from Isaiah for our family:
“My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants-from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 59:21)
Susan Alexander Yates is a mom to five children (including a set of twins) and grandmother to 21 (including a set of quadruplets!). Susan and her husband John have been married 51 years. Susan has written 16 books and speaks on the subjects of marriage, parenting, faith, and women’s issues. Susan’s favorite time of the year is June when all her kids and grandkids are together for a week of “cousins and family camp” in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia.