When we met, I thought my husband came from the perfect family.  Mother and father happily married, three children who cared for one another.   My husband would eagerly loan his car to his sister in college or give her money for books, which I never would have done for my sister.  They were happy to go out of their way for one another, talked on the phone regularly and always participated enthusiastically in silly holiday traditions.   My family was a good one, but not quite so Leave it to Beaver.

After having the privilege to be part of this “perfect family” for over ten years now, I can let you in on the secret of having a perfect family: they don’t exist.  They’re wonderful, but not perfect.  However, I will admit that some families do succeed more than others at expressing their love for one another. Their secret?  INTENTIONALITY.   Loving families don’t just happen by accident in the same way that dinner doesn’t just appear on the table each night.  It takes careful thought and planning.

Whatever your family looks like, whatever stages of life you’re in, you can work towards being a more loving family.  Consider these ways your family can cultivate closeness.

Appreciation

Express gratitude to one another and for one another.  Encourage everyone in the family to appreciate differences of personalities, talents, and interests.  Help family members find something to appreciate, even in adverse circumstances.  Model gratitude in your own life and relationships inside and outside of the family.

Togetherness

In our busy world, many promote quality time with our families over quantity of time with our families.  BOTH are important.  Include children in your everyday activities like cooking or running errands.  But also plan special times together.  Establish family traditions throughout the year on both special and ordinary occasions.

Communication

Encourage all family members to listen and talk to one another without allowing talkative ones to dominate.  Give your child your full attention when he or she talks to you.  Be sure to make eye contact.  Help your child learn to become a good listener.

Commitment

Family members should be loyal to the family. Teach your children that you’re on the same team and should look out for one another.  Avoid talking negatively about your spouse or children to others, even other family members.  Remember that funny stories about your children may be embarrassing to them.

Crisis

View problems as challenges to be met together, not faced alone.  Create an atmosphere of trust within the family so that family members can share their problems and receive help and encouragement.  Look for areas to grow in crisis situations rather than seeking only to place blame.

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