Inside: Build a strong family identity with these 11 ideas to feel more connected to your kids, help pull each other closer, and be a more cohesive family unit.
When we moved our family of five away from the only home we had known, we plopped ourselves down in a new time zone, away from everything familiar.
We left a place where we were surrounded by both my family and my husband’s family. Everyone we loved was within a short drive of our home.
Every holiday we had plans. Every special occasion we were surrounded by family or friends or both.
So when we moved to Massachusetts, suddenly our very busy calendar was empty.
We had no friends to hang out with. And no family to spend time with.
It was just us five.
We had never celebrated our birthdays without our families. We had never had to cook a turkey on Thanksgiving. We’d never been home on Christmas day.
So we needed new traditions and new ways to make the five of us a tighter knit family.
We needed to find ways to connect with each other instead of feeling lonely or focusing on what we left behind.
Our family had to become closer.
So we worked to build a strong family identity in the years we were “on our own.”
Why it is important to create a strong family identity:
We had a connected family unit before we left our California home, but once we moved to a new state, it was shocking how much we depended on each other for emotional support.
We were all a little nervous, and lonely, and homesick.
So out of necessity, we had to create a stronger family culture and family identity that felt safe, and comforting and uniquely us.
Because it was literally us five against the strange new place we decided to call home.
And I’m so grateful we had the time that “forced” us to come together as a cohesive family unit.
It made us stronger.
It made us feel closer.
And it made my kids turn to us and their siblings for what they needed.
And now when life pulls us in different directions of playdates and sports games and birthday parties, we know we’re coming home to a strong family.
A family that loves to be together.
A family that wants to be together.
A family that enjoys each others’ company and knows that each person is valued and loved.
Because in the everyday hustle and bustle of piles of dishes, and laundry and driving carpools, we can forget to check in with our kids.
We can forget to stop and enjoy the moment.
We can get caught up in the minutia of socks on the floor, and running to the store to grab milk, and being late for school rather than the moments that mean something.
Creating a strong family identity pulls us back together.
And when we’re connected, it lessens sibling squabbles and sibling rivalry and encourages everyone to be kinder to each another.
And when my kids are older and grown and moving out, they’ll know where they came from: our family of five.
And they’ll know they can always come back to it.
How to Create a Strong Family Identity:
There are tons of ways to feel connected and create a strong family identity. Here are a few of the ways we come together as a fivesome:
1. Family Traditions
We have an obscene number of traditions in my family for every holiday and special occasion.
One of my favorite family traditions is on birthdays. We serve breakfast in bed for the birthday person, with a breakfast of their choice.
And then we all climb into bed with them while they open presents and eat their breakfast.
Traditions connect us through time, both to past generations who started the tradition and to future generations as they continue the tradition.
Knowing that this is what we do in our family makes us a more cohesive unit. Plus I get bagels and coffee in bed on my birthday.
Other family traditions we have:
- birthday person picks the meals for their day,
- guess and then count the number of Christmas lights we’ll see as we drive around town,
- visit Santa and the Easter bunny,
- watch the Rose Parade in person,
- create holiday crafts the morning after Thanksgiving,
- get visits from the Back to School Fairies,
- make silly-shaped pancakes on holidays,
- bake and decorate Christmas and Hanukkah sugar cookies,
- make Valentine’s Day placemats out of their school valentines,
- bake special cookies for Purim then giving them away to family and friends
- churn butter for family holidays,
- eat chili on Halloween and then trick or treat,
- open Christmas stockings one at a time, in order from oldest to youngest,
- host a Hanukkah party for our non-Jewish friends,
- go to a parade on the 4th of July, and
- honk when we cross state lines.
RELATED: Our Favorite Christmas Tradition
2. Family Rituals
We also have family rituals, little things we do every day or week that connects us to each other.
Some are consistent, some we do whenever we have a few extra minutes, and some we “surprise” the kids with.
- have Taco Tuesdays,
- have Pizza Fridays,
- drink Shirley Temples on holidays,
- eat breakfast for dinner,
- sing a special song at bedtime,
- make banana pancakes or waffles most weekends,
- say a special goodbye when we drive away,
- have a silly way to snuggle in bed,
- eat picnic dinners at the beach,
- walk to get Slurpees on super hot days,
- go on family walks at sunset, and
- get donuts on cold mornings.
3. Family Restaurant
We eat at all sorts of restaurants, but we do have a go-to family restaurant that’s a no-brainer for us, where everyone is excited to go.
When we decide to treat ourselves for the evening, we have had a special restaurant in each of the towns we’ve lived in that’s “our” restaurant.
And when we go, all of a sudden, there’s less begging our kids to sit still and for the love of everything eat their meal quietly. Because they’re happy to be there too.
Your family restaurant could be a favorite pizza place, the burger joint on the corner, or a favorite take-away Chinese restaurant.
4. Family Date Night
Whenever we have a free evening with no planned activities, we go on a family date night.
Our preferred choice happens to be visiting a used bookstore to find our next favorite book and eating ice cream.
It’s a simple way to get everyone excited to spend quality time together.
But family date night is anything that qualifies as fun for your family:
- roller skating,
- going to the movies,
- family game night,
- jacuzzi night,
- sporting event,
- or roaming the aisles of Target together.
5. Family Song
We have a family song that whenever we hear it, no matter what we’re doing, we all squeal or whoop and start dancing, singing, or both.
We all love this song and request it often from Alexa because it’s a one-way ticket to a better mood for all of us.
Choose a song that works for all of you and your personalities. It can be upbeat and fun or slow and sweet.
Dance to it in your kitchen after breakfast or before bedtime.
Request it at family weddings.
Play it on road trips.
Our song is Megan Trainor’s Better When I’m Dancing, but we also “have” to play Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes song when we’re making our family’s banana pancakes.
Feel free to borrow our song or come up with your own.
6. Family Hobby
Finding a family hobby that you all love to do will encourage everyone to want to spend more time together.
It can be tricky when there is a wide age range and different abilities or interests, but try out different things until you find what works.
It really doesn’t matter what it is as long as everyone’s involved and having fun.
7. Secret Family Handshake
We have a secret family handshake that we give each other when we’re walking together, saying goodbye to each other, or saying goodnight to each other.
I could tell you what it is, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy by my family.
But I’ll give you a hint.
It involves squeezing their hand a certain number of times to let them know that I love them. And then they respond with a certain number of squeezes that they love me.
And because it’s a “secret” only our family knows, it feels extra special to be in the know.
8. Family TV Shows/Movie
Find a family TV show or movie that you enjoy watching together. Screen time can be divisive, or it can bring you all together.
If you’re talking about the show, cheering on your favorite team, or rooting for someone in a competition, it brings everyone together.
It can be tricky to find one show that everyone enjoys, especially if there’s a wide age range.
Our family show used to be Mickey Mouse ClubHouse. Now that we’re out of the toddler days, we’ve upgraded to something my husband and I actually enjoy watching too.
My kids’ current favorites that my husband and I also enjoy are Paradise Run, Keep It Spotless, Cake Wars, Kid Baking Championship, America’s Got Talent, House Hunters, Tiny House Nation, and Fixer Upper (my kids are a sucker for Chip’s shenanigans).
9. Inside Jokes
We have a couple of favorite family jokes that we love to tell over and over again. And they’ve slowly become our family inside jokes because we’ve all told them so many times.
They don’t surprise us since we obviously know the punchline, but we all laugh each time anyway.
Our favorite family jokes:
Cows go who?
No, cows go ‘moooooo.’
What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet?
10. Meal Plan, Cook, and Have Family Dinners
Every week, my kids help my husband and I decide what we’re going to make for dinner for the next 7 days. Then they help shop and cook the dinners.
Each evening, we cheers whoever made dinner.
And then while we eat, we talk about our days by playing “High Low.” We tell each other about the high point of our day and the low point of our day.
It gives us something open-ended to talk about, gives us insight into each other’s days, and keeps us sitting at the dinner table together a little longer.
If family dinners don’t fit into your schedule, try a family breakfast or family lunch.
11. Write Love Notes to Each Other
Encourage your kids to write sweet notes to each other and to you with this adorable Love Bank.
They can choose a heart with a prompt or a blank heart to add to the bank.
And then as a family, you can read the notes to each other when the bank is full.
And the best part of these Love Banks? For every one you purchase, the company donates meals to Feeding America.
12. Family Bucket List
To spend more quality time together rather than staring at each other and asking every Saturday morning, “Well what do you want to do today?” we created a Family Bucket List.
We printed out this free printable and sat down to have a family meeting to fill it out.
We brainstormed and decided what things we want to try, visit, do, create and explore.
A few things on our list:
- Visit a U-Pick farm and pick strawberries
- Learn how to make strawberry jam
- Hike up to the Hollywood sign
- Find a waterfall
- Have an overnight in our own backyard
Now our weekends are spent together, creating fun memories as we try new things.
In a world where we’re all overly-connected to technology, we’re pulled in different directions by social obligations, and our kids grow up too fast and will eventually balk at spending time with their “embarrassing” parents, I want to create a strong family identity now.
I want to set the groundwork while they’re young so maybe instead of going out with friends as teenagers, they’ll want to go on a family date night to get ice cream and a used book with us.
And they’ll offer me our secret handshake as they head off to college.
And they’ll come home for dinner on Taco Tuesdays.