Building Family Identity

Karin Walter

November 15, 2023

One of my favorite Mom’s Notes presentations is titled, “Building Family Identity.”  My husband and I continually come back to the priorities and practical ideas presented there.  Carla makes a case for families forming interdependent relationships early on – relationships that are mutually dependent on each other for love and support, encouragement, and knowing you will have each other’s backs among other things as opposed to being independent from one another.  Those interdependent relationships are the cause of so much joy, closeness and belonging and can keep the lines of communication and commitment strong through the teen years.  She points to two areas where families should focus on their family identity and oneness: spiritual and emotional.  I’d like to share a few of the practical ways our family focuses on spiritual oneness in order to build a strong family identity. 
Family Values: When our first son was 1 yr., my husband and I worked on a family values list and found Bible verses to support each one.  Some of our family values are: Glorify God, Apologize & Forgive, Work Hard, Love Always, and Serve One Another.  We had the list printed poster-size and displayed them in a frame in our dining room.  We worked with our boys to memorize each of the verses by the time they were 6.  Often, in moments of training or in daily conversation, I point to one of our Family Values Verses.  Having this God-focused purpose statement top of mind is a simple way to keep all of us on the same page.
Focus on Others:  Living in middle-class America, our boys live an affluent and insulated life.  It would be easy for them to be self-focused and grow an attitude of entitlement.  So we make it a priority to turn their eyes from themselves and to others.  Whether it’s teaching them to make eye contact and chat with the grocery store clerk or coaching them on looking for the new kid in class, we want them to remember others.  The boys and I help set up an area church’s food pantry one Friday a month and bring a donation each time.  And we keep bags in our cars filled with snacks, toiletries, and a list of area social services organizations and churches to hand out to people we see along the road asking for help.  We read books, magazines and missions letters that show our boys how others live in other parts of the world.   
We utilize the Repentance, Forgiveness, Restoration process often.  We expect it from our boys but also apologize to them when we have wronged them.  And we talk about the Gospel a lot – how we need Jesus to rescue us, and the Holy Spirit’s help to change us. 
There is one other practical way our family focuses on spiritual oneness and it’s my favorite.  
We call it Morning Time, but it could happen anytime of the day.  There are just some spiritual things that I knew our boys weren’t getting in their regular education.  Things that mattered to my husband and I that we wanted to focus on.  So we built it into our once-a-day, 4-5 times a week “Morning Time.”  Here is what our time looks like:
-We start with a hymn.  A different one each month – because our church doesn’t sing them often and we enjoy the rich theology and connection with ages of believers who have sung these powerful melodies.
-Then we work on memory verses – whether from AWANA, our Sunday children’s church program curriculum, or our family values verses.  
-Next, we highlight a biblical character trait by reading a short book, article or a card outlining the practical application of that trait.  If our boys are struggling with something in particular, sometimes I will choose to highlight that virtue during this segment.  
-We either read a chapter from a missionary biography or a kids theology/apologetics book. Our boys enjoy the missionary biographies the most and ask for them over and over again.  And we love that they are hearing stories of men and women who loved God and other people so much that they would sacrifice everything to follow God’s call on their life.  
In the Mom’s Notes titled “Building Family Identity”, the second area Carla encourages families to focus on to building strong family identity is on their emotional oneness.  She points to many ways to do that; focusing on encouragement and having a positive attitude (instead of always focusing on the negative first) and being kind toward one another.  Her other suggestions all have a common theme – spending time together as a family.  
My husband and I have taken that to heart and have worked to maximize the time we have together as a family.  We are constantly making decisions to protect the margin in our life.  The refrain of today’s young American family seems to be: do more, have more, want more.  We’ve had to say “no” to lots of good things, so we have time for the best things.  That has involved limiting our children’s extracurriculars and our service at church or in other community services.  But we have saved time for dinners together, family game nights, a monthly Daddy night for each of our boys, camping trips, and lots of reading aloud and time outside.  We’ve saved time to pursue our hobbies and have our boys join us.  And time to notice the elderly lady who needs help getting her groceries in the car or visit a friend or family member who needs support unexpectedly.  In guarding the margin in our life, we have found an unexpected value.  We are more rested and less stressed and more patient and more aware of our boys’ struggles and able to thoughtfully help and train them in those.  And someday when they’re grown and we can’t believe how fast it went, we’ll know we were present and soaking it all in while building strong family bonds.
Gary and Marie Ezzo, in “Growing Kids God’s Way,” wrote, “Peer pressure is only as strong as family identity is weak.” Our prayer is that all of these ways that we have focused on both spiritual and emotional oneness within our family will bond the four of us together so that our boys know they can count on us for support, encouragement, stability, security and FUN.  And that will make them less vulnerable to temptations that other teens face.  
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
Romans 12:10 NIV