Joy of the Month Excerpt (May)
Family Security, Identity
"Our home joys are the most delightful earth affords, and the joy of parents in their children is the most holy joy of humanity. It makes their hearts pure and good."
(Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi)
Child: I'll always remember our daughter's sentiment on the evening before Linda and I left on a week's vacation. Saren was four and was looking forward to spending the week with her grandmother. Still, she knew our family would be separated for a time, and she felt concern. She said, "Our family will be halfed."
She felt the security of family and missed that security when we weren't together. I also remember the joy in her face the night we got back together, when she said, "I'm so glad our family is back together and happy again."
Benjamin Franklin thought so much of the goodness and naturalness of marriage that he likened a single person to half a pair of scissors. Something similar, perhaps even stronger, could be said about a child without a loving, unified family. No child of any age has enough confidence or emotional independence to successfully exist as an island, untied, with nothing to cling to or be one with.
A family can be a base, a bastion of unconditional love that a child can always turn to after failure, after a disappointment, after being hurt or rebuffed or intimidated. There he can return to love, to a unit that he will always be part of, always welcome in, always important in.
Adult: When I was growing up, I knew a group of brothers and sisters, schoolmates of mine. I was always impressed because they seemed so unconcerned about being with the "in-group" or the "right people." They didn't even care much about wearing the newest thing, the latest style. They were all friendly, though, and all well liked. They seemed so secure, unafraid of failure.
Each of the six had his own personality, but all possessed one similar quality, a quality that I grew to greatly admire. It was a peace, a calm, a security, a naturalness, a confidence. None of these adjectives quite describe it, but it was there. You could feel it; you knew they had it. I was always interested in where it came from. It wasn't from individual brilliance, exceptional athletic ability, or particular handsomeness or beauty; they were pretty average in each of these categories. The clue seemed to be in their love and acceptance of each other.
I remember that one boy played on the high school basketball team. He sat on the bench most of the time, but I noticed that his brothers and sisters were always at the games, all of them -- and I knew a couple of them well enough to know that they had little interest in basketball. They supported each other. Each had his own circle of friends, but none were ever too busy with friends to have time for a brother or sister.
One day an unexpected opportunity came to discover the true source of their confidence. The family moved into a house just down the block from my house. Now, instead of seeing them just in school, I saw them at home, and the secret was revealed! The confidence, the assurance, the security, the unity came from the unconditional love in their home. From the outside their home was ordinary; on the inside it was extraordinary.
I remember the youngest child, who was just turning two. The first words he ever said were, "Ah, mush," a phrase often used in the family to poke fun at the frequent hugs and pats and physical affection that were shown in the home.
I was with one of the sons one day as he brought home a not-so-good school grade, a grade he hated to show his father. I wish I could describe the father's reaction. There was no anger, no belittling, no criticism -- just a look that somehow said, "Son, a grade could never alter my love and respect for you; I have complete confidence in you. I just assume there is a reason for this grade, and you don't need to tell me what it is." I remember suddenly realizing that my friend's apprehension about showing the grade was not because of fear that his father would be critical or angry, but because he knew his father wouldn't be angry. He knew that his father loved him unconditionally and was proud of him unconditionally.
But at the same time that my friend was proud to be a part of a strong family, a family that had a tradition of doing its best, he felt bad that he had let down that tradition and that family with a poor grade. He was motivated by love, not fear; by a desire to please and be part of his great family father than by apprehension of criticism or of anger.
Yes, I know now that the secret was in the warmth and acceptance and security of that home -- a joy irreplaceable, and unavailable from any other source.
A. Genealogy. Children love knowing "where they came from" in the genealogical sense. Some ways to convey this are:
- Frame old family pictures and group them together on a special wall.
- Tell true stories about the parents as children, including memories about grandparents. These will become the favorite bedtime stories and will get a child in touch with his roots. We know one family who took a large, hardbound ledger book and turned it into what they call their "Ancestor Book." The two parents have written stories in children's language about their parents, grandparents, and even one or two great-grandparents -- simple incidents and experiences from their lives, particularly their childhoods. Best of all, the children have illustrated the stories and therefore seem to remember every detail. It has become the children's favorite storybook, and the parents claim that they see a distinct look of pride on the children's faces as they hear of the courage and good deeds of their ancestors.
- Draw a simple family tree, with each child as a branch, the parents as the trunk, and the grandparents as individual roots. Put pictures of the parents and grandparents on the trunk and roots of brothers and sisters on the limbs. Frame it and hang it on the same wall as the ancestor pictures.
B. Display open gratitude for children. How simple -- and how incredibly important -- it is to let a child know how much he is wanted and needed, how precious and important he is to the family.
- Tell the child a simple story about the day (or night) he was born and about how much you wanted him and how happy he made you.
- Make up a paper chain linked into a circle with a family member's name on every other link and the word love on the links between the names. Show how important each link is: If one comes out, no more chain.
C. Working together. We always do the evening dishes together. With six or us working at it, it takes only ten minutes -- our record is seven-and-a-half -- and there is something about working together as a team that is fun. It leaves the whole load on no one and stimulates interesting conversation. Our six-year-old Shawni loves to repeat over and over, like a locomotive, while we're working: "Many hands make light work." It's true -- and furthermore, many hands, working together, make a strong family.
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