As I held my sobbing daughter tightly all I could say to soothe her was, “you have your family, you'll always have your family”. She'd just come inside from playing with the neighborhood girls and they were excluding her as girls sometimes do. I had a flashback to when I was a child myself and my best friend and I were not speaking to each other. She lived up the street from me and as I rode my bike past her house, she and her sister would shout taunts in my direction. I was heartbroken and retreated to my home like it was a sanctuary. My Mother was my one consistent comfort and remains as such to this very day.
It's fundamental to remember these feelings from our childhood so we can teach our kids the importance of family. When you're a child, the way others perceive you defines your whole world and it can be crushing to not feel liked by the crowd. I think as grownups we sometimes forget this having benefited from a lifetime of developing a thick skin. It's so easy for us to tell our children to brush it off and ignore negative behavior aimed in their direction, but for kids that's simply impossible.
It is essential to ingrain the importance of family into your children. They need to know that friends will come and go, but family is the one constant they will have in life. As a parent, it is your job to foster the bond between siblings, as well as between each parent and child. This is especially important in a single-child family. If it's feasible, expose these children to as much time as possible with extended family, preferably cousins who are similar in age to them. There are many other ways to help your child realize that family is of the utmost importance. This understanding will remain with them as they grow up, marry, and embark on parenthood themselves.
It's almost cliché these days to emphasize the importance of eating most meals together...around the table, not in front of the television watching sports. While you are sitting there as a family, ask your children a great deal of questions about their day, not in an accusatory, meddling fashion, but in a way that shows interest and concern for their daily activities. Meals should be a peaceful, joyous time and it's important to create an atmosphere that's conducive to good communication.
I believe one of the best ways for a family to spend time together is to go out into nature. This is an amazing way to commune with each other and our surroundings. We live in such a frenetic, hectic, world where we're constantly being bombarded with media from all directions. The solitude and peacefulness of nature fosters family togetherness and makes memories that will bolster children's sense of self and confidence throughout their lives.
Another one of my favorite family-building activities is going on vacation together. Because my kids are young, it's easier to go on a bunch of shorter, closer vacations throughout the year than one or two big, distant vacations. I know this will change as the kids grow older but for now, I love heading out on little mini-adventures once or twice a month with them. We enjoy visiting the zoo, the beach, museums, historic sites, and parks. Going on a country drive or a bus ride through the city is another great way to bond. Family vacations and mini-vacations don't have to be expensive, grandiose or even long for the family to enjoy time together.
We moved a lot when I was a kid, therefore we were not close to extended family, especially my grandparents, though I think it's very important to be. Visiting with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can give children a sense of security and a strong familial foundation. My children are blessed with two wonderful sets of grandparents whom they see often. Both benefit mutually from playing together and it can give parents a well-deserved break. If you don't live near extended family, try to plan get-togethers several times a year to catch up and revel in each other's company. If you can't physically meet up, you can always take advantage of today's technology and see and speak to one another regularly via the Internet. Go to your local electronics store or look online to see what devices are available for this purpose.
On a grander scale, you can try to start the tradition of a yearly family reunion. This is a wonderful way for your children to fully grasp the amount of folks to whom they are related. Plan this many months in advance with the same forethought as coordinating a wedding since you may have as many guests as one! Choose a central location that folks spread out around the country, or even the world, can travel to safely and easily. A wonderful idea is to have t-shirts made or some other souvenir with your family name and the date of the reunion. Give each guest a printout of everyone's contact information along with their picture so they can start to put faces with the names of those relatives they may be meeting for the first time. Have a photographer come to the event to take both candid as well as formal pictures.
To really dig deep into your family, introduce your child to the world of genealogy. The Internet is a wonderful resource for tracking down decades and possibly even centuries worth of relatives that your child can plug in to a family tree. This is a great project for the whole family to work on together. Set aside an hour or two each week to play detective and possibly find out why your Aunt Margie is as weird as she is. This project also fosters communication with extended family as you can interview the older members to fill in some of the blanks for you.
The saying goes that you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family. Spend your life showing those you love that they will always have their family no matter what happens.