Seeks to support the bonds within the family.
Now we turn our attention to the practical matter of making creating a situation in which bonding can take shape within the family. As you come to learn the contours of your children’s hearts as it relates to bonding, you will be able to explore various ways to connect with them and nurture those bonds.
For our youngest son, even at 10 years old his heart is fueled by snuggling before bed. When he is feeling out of sorts, a hug can do wonders, as can a hot shower, which often sees him emerge as a new kid. Talking walks together has also brought much joy and connection as we explore the many hiking trails in our area as well as the neighborhood immediately around us. When he was younger, simply getting on the floor and being able to engage with him and his toys brought times of great connection. Additionally, as we have come to better understand how he works, we have found that finding tangible ways for him to meaningfully contribute to the household has been valuable in giving him personal meaning. In the summer, he’s the one who wants to learn to grill burgers and other meals on the barbecue. His brother is more interested in the final product, simply wanting to know when dinner is ready. We have learned that this is best received when initiated by him. We have chores that they both are responsible for, which he tends not to relish doing, but when he is motivated jump in and help me flip burgers, that’s a great time to help him learn. His involvement in the process connects him to things that he has seen me do for years, and in so doing bonds us in the now shared experience.
For his older brother, we have been bonding over a shared interest in music and movies. On the musical front, I am a huge appreciator of music (I’ve been posting a song of the day on social media for the past few years), but my son has become a bit of a musician, taking my love from appreciation to creation. Now as his tastes have developed, there are points of intersection with my own, but also a growing number of points of divergence. This prompted me to request that he put together a playlist of his favorite songs that he knows are not the kind of music that I have shared with him. This way he can help me learn why he enjoys Daft Punk, just like I have attempted to help him appreciate a few little know Scandinavian prog-metal bands (he enjoys some, and just wonders about my taste because of others).
As a family, we have been camping together for years. Our youngest was with us for his first trip before he was born (we have a great photo of my very pregnant wife and his old brother with a ball stuffed up his shirt to look like more from that trip). There is nothing like getting out of your normal routine to develop family bonding. Even challenging experiences, like camp showers that just don’t quite ever really get hot, can become the stuff of legend to look back upon for years to come.
On the flip side, not only is getting out of the routine of daily life helpful for bonding, so is an intentional set of routines themselves. Having particular spiritual practices that are a regular part of family life together are especially life and faith shaping. I have been praying with my boys, either individually, or together depending on the sleeping situation, at bedtime since their baby years. Each night there are particular things that I always pray for along with contextual prayers related to what took place that day or what we anticipate for the coming day. We pray for the needs of others and every day with our fail I pray the following “may he grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.” It’s become a sort of a nightly blessing. They each have their own prayers that they offer, with their own mix of regular inclusions and new material. We have also made the reading of the Bible a regular feature for our time together as a family as well as worshiping together. These faith practices bond us as a family providing a common spiritual foundation and language from which to understand the world and each other.
Finally, another area of family life in which you are able to increase bonding within the family is during times of conflict. I know that this might seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. Like tempering steel, the heat of conflict in the family can be a time of increased bonding. When we are in conflict with one another, we may find that we are better able to express through our frustrations insights into who we are furthering the learning noted in the head section of this chapter above. If we are able to maintain enough trust for honest disagreement, we may find that we are able to learn from one another when we are in conflict and strengthen rather than weaken our family bonds. This takes parental leadership. We may have to set aside our own ego in order to hear difficult things back from our children, but by being open to hearing their pain and not shutting down that expression, their trust in our mutual relationship can be further strengthened making future conflict more manageable, or at least more likely to be weathered. Regardless almost any way in which we are able to encourage the honest sharing of our children’s feelings related to our relationships as a family can create moments of increased trust and bonding.