If you know me at all, you know I am a creature of habit. Habits, routines, structures – they are all part of how I function and make it through the day to day. Besides just helping me to remember what needs to be done, habits help to make sure the things that are important to me make it onto the always-too-long to-do list. Personal habits help me do this for myself, but we also have habits as a family that we use to ensure we keep the most important values at the center of what we do.
Why are family habits so important? As Scottish author Samuel Smiles said, “Sow a thought, and you reap an act; Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit, and you reap a character; Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” We’re not just keeping our day organized or trying to make bedtime run smoothly, we are helping to create character and shape the destiny of our children, and of ourselves. So we have a few family habits that matter a lot in our home.
1. Family dinner. We don’t accomplish a sit-down-at-the-table-together meal every single night, but most nights we do. Research from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has found that teenagers who eat dinner with their family at least five nights a week are more likely to get good grades and less likely to have substance abuse problems. And there is rumor of a study, although the source cannot seem to be found, that the one common thread among National Merit Scholars was that they ate dinner with their family most nights. Whether the research is valid or not, we believe this time is important for our family. We talk about our days, and we share the best part of each of our days. By doing this, we stay connected to one another and are able to celebrate the good in our daily lives. It also often leads to talking about things that might be bothering our kids, because they know they have an opportunity to have our attention while we are seated around the table. And sometimes, the best part of a three or a six year old’s day can be pretty darn humorous.
2. Bedtime stories. I have been reading to my boys since before they were born. Roo heard stories read just to him while he was in my belly, and Monkey heard stories upon stories while in my belly as I was reading to Roo daily and a story just for him here and there. As a former educator, I believe reading to your kids is one of the most important things you can do to ensure their success in life. Kids are frequently read to form a young age do better in school. That’s all there is to it. I know this from my experience as a teacher, as well as from seeing it in my own life, as my mom read to me every day, and I see it already in my boys. Besides the benefits of reading, my kids also get snuggles, close time, and winding down time as we read together. I think they sleep better when we have this time.
3. Saying “I Love You.” I know – most all parents tell their children they love them, and this is hardly a habit. But after the tragedy in Newtown , Connecticut last December, I created a new habit with my kids. When I leave them in the morning – either with a sitter, a friend, or at school – I take a minute to look them in the eye and tell them I love them. I make it an intentional moment. After that awful day in an elementary school half way across the country from me, I can never again have that security of being sure my kids will return home at the end of the day. I can never be quite as confident as I once was that they will not have something horrible happen during the day. And if the unthinkable ever happens, I want their little hearts to be filled with my love. So I make it a habit to fill them as much as I can before I send them off for their day.
4. Prayer. I will admit, this is a developing habit, and we’re probably not as good at it as I would like to be. But my kids are still little and the concept of prayer and God is a developing one for them. We say a blessing before we eat every night. We had started out with the simple blessing I remembered from childhood – “God is good; God is great; let us thank Him; for our food. Amen” But in true three year old fashion, my youngest misunderstood the “let us” and thought it was “lettuce.” So our blessing now includes thanking God for the lettuce. What can I say – it’s our thing. I also plan to start introducing prayers at night to encourage gratitude in our hearts and thinking about others and what they may need.
5. Spending time together. At first I thought this wasn’t really a habit, but it kept creeping into my mind. I realized as I thought about it, we have made it an intentional choice in our family, which has become one of our habits. We routinely hang out together, whether it is in the hour between school and dinner, or the hour or so between dinner and bedtime, or weekend mornings. We are sometimes doing an activity or playing together, but sometimes we are all just simply in the same room. I really noticed it when I realized one weekend morning as The Coach and I were lounging, sipping coffee and half watching the morning news, that the boys would get toys out of the play room and bring them out to the living room. It was more convenient and less work to play with them in their room, but they were in the habit of playing wherever we were. We also plan a lot of time to spend as a family, whether is simple outings to the farmer’s market, or planned baseball games or weekend trips. Making this a habit, shows our kids, and each other, that we care about and enjoy one another; that we are all important to each other.
What are the family habits that matter to you?
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