We just spent a week on vacation. We visited with some of my husband's family, saw some friends and attended the Indy 500, then spent nearly a week with my extended family.
Since Tuesday, 17 of us, ranging in age from 2 to 65 piled into a 4-bedroom cabin at Kentucky Lake. We were cozy, but we had fun. My girls look forward to this vacation with my extended family every year. They love hanging out with my cousins and their kids. This year, they went fishing, tubing, boating, and played a family kickball game. Meals were noisy affairs, complete with spills and laughter.
This yearly family reunion is important to our family. It's important because our extended family is spread out with some in Kentucky and some in Kansas. The annual get-together reminds us of the common thread that binds us together. It reminds us of the importance of family.
As we traveled home yesterday after 10 days of very close togetherness with my girls, I listened to them in the backseat. Sometimes they conversed and enjoyed each other's company. Other times they bickered and fought. I began to think about the importance of intentionally creating family bonds -- not just with my extended family but between my girls.
We often remind our girls that when no one else in this world is pulling for them, their sister should always have their back. It doesn't always happen, but we're planting the seeds of the idea in their brains.
Siblings can be annoying. They know just which buttons to push to get your temper up. They know what you're good at and what you're not. They know you better than just about anyone in the world. That makes them your best friend and, at times, your worst enemy.
As parents, we want to intentionally foster the bonds in our family -- both with extended family and within our nuclear family units. We want our kids to fulfill the words Jesus said in John 15:12: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." We want our kids to love each other with an unconditional love, just like Jesus loves us.
To do that, we have to intentionally create opportunities for our kids to create bonds -- even if they're far apart in age. Here are some things that we do around here to create memories and bonding between our girls:
1. Create opportunities for them to work together. When you assign chores, assign some bigger ones that have to be done together. Planning and doing a job together fosters problem-solving and cooperation. It forces your kids to recognize the abilities of each other and use those abilities to get the job done.
2. Plan fun times just for your kids. Choose some activities that just your kids can do. Have a board game day on a rainy afternoon where your kids play games together. Have a campout night where they can sleep in a tent in the backyard or in sleeping bags in the living room together. Let your older kids go to a movie together that you pay for.
3. Make encouraging each other a natural part of the day. Get a pad of sticky notes and a pen for each child. Hang or set them by each child's door. Encourage your kids to write encouraging things to each other and stick them on the other child's door.
4. Ask your kids to help each other solve problems. When one child is struggling with something, ask another child to step in to see if he or she can help solve the problem. This gets your kids to look at their siblings as people who can help them. It sets brothers and sisters up as a viable source of help, thus creating an important bond.
5. Have meals together. As often as possible, have at least one meal a day together. Encourage your kids to talk about their days, their problems and their successes. This sharing time bonds not just siblings but your entire family. It gives everyone a time in the day that they know they will be heard and encouraged.
Family relationships are important. Too often, we think those relationships will naturally happen, but any relationship needs time and attention devoted to it. Be sure your kids are spending some time working on their relationships with their siblings -- because while brothers and sisters can, at times, be annoying, they can also be a source of strength when the rest of the world seems like it's against you.