When I was a little girl, I loved those books that came with records. If you’re of a (ahem!) certain age, you’ll remember what I’m talking about: it was a thin, paperback book with a little 33 rpm record. . .you could read the book along with the narrator as the record played. And you’d know it’s time to turn the page when Tinker Bell rings her little bells, like this!
One of my favorites told a story about the “It’s a Small World” attraction in Disneyland. In the tale, children from an orphanage took a trip to Disneyland. One of the orphans was a little boy named Bobby, who never felt that he fit in or belonged. But miraculously, while riding on “It’s a Small World”, he realized that he did have a place in the world, along with these children from around the world, all singing the same song.
I thought about that book when I was considering the elements of a happy family. We all need to belong to something. We need to feel part of something larger than ourselves. Even the most introverted, individualistic person wants to have a role to play in the world. And families are certainly no different.
Do you remember the Brady Bunch episode, when Jan (poor Jan!) feels as though she doesn’t fit in with her family? Or more recently, in the movie Cheaper By the Dozen when one little boy runs away because he thinks he’s not the same as his siblings? Feeling out of place in a family is one of the most painful situations we can experience.
I remember, as a child, loving when people would tell me how much I resembled my father. . or how like I was a beloved grandmother. I was very secure in my place in the family.
This is so important, not only for children, but for parents, too. Families are made up of very unique individuals who are linked sometimes only by blood and biology. We’ve all seen those families who cannot seem to find any other common ground, and it’s painfully sad for them.
“The only thing I have in common with these people is our DNA,” a friend once confided in me. “They are bewildered by me, and I don’t understand them at all. We’re all just strangers who happen to live in the same house.”
How sad! But how do we move beyond that place to one where each family member knows that he or she is an important part of the whole?
Establishing a history is one way of doing it. I always loved genealogies, knowing where I stood in the larger framework of this huge (extended) family that surrounded me. Talking to your children from the time they’re quite small about different relatives and their quirks and traits gives them a sense of belonging. This works even when a family is not completely made up of people who are all blood-related; adopted children or those who come through marriages still benefit from hearing about others in the family. Shared or similar characteristics don’t always come through blood!
And don’t forget about more recent history, too. The stories that make up your own immediate family’s tale are vital. My kids always loved hearing “what happened on the day that you were born”, vignettes we share on every birthday. They also want to know little tidbits about life before they were born, or when they were quite small. These remind the kids that they were always treasured and loved—that they are an irreplaceable part of our family.
Another way to make sure that all members know they belong is by assigning chores. I know, I know, kids are rolling their eyes and thinking this is another cheap trick for parents to justify giving out work. . but it’s true! Actually, I’m referring more to long-term tasks than to daily chores.
For instance, my mother had a Christmas village—you know, one of those miniature towns with houses that lit up and tiny people and decorations. Every year, right after Thanksgiving, it was my sister’s job to set up Mommy’s village. This assignment lasted up to the year that my mother died. And while I was growing up, each year it was my mother and my aunt who put the lights on my grandparents’ Christmas tree. Everyone knew it was their job.
And sometimes, having a specialty can make a person feel part of the family. I remember that when I was a teenager, I made brownies that were especially good. My mother announced that henceforth, I would be the brownie maker in the family. I liked that she accorded me this honor, and I enjoyed being known as the official family brownie baker.
You’ll have your own ideas and methods of helping each person to feel wanted, needed and included. However you go about it, make sure no one is left out.
As Lilo tells us in the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, “Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” I might add to that. . .”And everyone belongs.”
Coming Soon: Part 4: Everyone is Accepted
Tawdra Kandle has completed 3 young adult novels and is currently working on her forth. She is a contributor for Taking Time for Mommy – Online Magazine for Moms sharing her homeschooling adventures and couponing tips. She is also an administrator of the Time 4 Mommy Community and heads up our .
You can find Tawdra on Twitter and follow her blog Publishing Quest.