Family Traditions Create a Family Story

My boys love stories. When one of the boys seem more demanding, more whiny, or is asking me to help them with something I know they can do, I know they are wanting my time and attention. So, we take time out together with a story. We do the same at bedtime. My boys have a hard time slowing down and going to sleep. Once again I turn to taking time to read several stories to help them calm down.

Stories are a way to create a cohesive and positive family experience during the holiday season. Stories are also a way to introduce children to the family spiritual belief system, long before they are ready to make a cognitive commitment of belief. Using stories during the holiday season is a way to meet both goals — create a shared family story, and share the parent’s spiritual beliefs. A family story, including spiritual beliefs, is shared among parents and children through family rituals and traditions. “The existence of and the participation in family rituals also seem to contribute to the individual’s identity within the context of the group. Through these rituals an individual may receive affirmation of his/her group membership, while at the same time being esteemed as a unique and special being,” (Smit, 2011). The desired outcome is that, through the experience of these rituals and traditions, each person in the family will experience a sense of belonging, of how precious they are, and will begin to incorporate these rituals and traditions into their life story as well.

During the holiday season we are with my extended family, and we will take the time to have a family game night. This is a way to include grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles in our family story too.

Allowing time during the holiday season for each person to share what traditions they enjoy, and then incorporating them into the family plan, includes each person in the family narrative. To revisit and participate in the traditions each year provides the potential for each family member to continue to experience a sense of belonging. Taking time, like on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, for each person to share their experiences, their story, of what it is like to live in their family, also allows the parents to hear what experiences of being in a family the children remember. This is particularly powerful as it helps address issues regarding belonging and exclusion in the family, and gives the opportunity for parents to make changes in order to increase a sense of belonging in a family.

However, the more frequently the traditions occur, the more likely a child is to remember them and include them in the narrative of their family experience. Finding ways to include daily, or weekly, or monthly traditions is a way to increase family cohesion, even if children are argumentative or don’t want to cooperate. Simple ways to emphasis rituals include the following:

  1. Have specific rituals upon arrival and departure of family members. When families greet each other and bid farewell to each other consistently, with affection and love, in spite of the presence of negative emotions, an increased feeling of belonging is created.  
  2. A family experiencing change or trauma can ensure children feel safe and a part of the family by following an expected daily ritual, such as a bedtime routine that includes time with Mom and Dad before bed.
  3. Traditions and rituals, such as Friday night worship, to welcome the Sabbath and to talk about their week, can be helpful to each family member as they try to find meaning in their shared experience.
  4. Having a weekly event such as the Sabbath — including time together, food, and maybe even other friends and family — is a respite from the mundane, and creates “sparkling moments” that create a shared history among family members that is easier for each person to remember.

Shared rituals help to provide an anchor for the relationship, reminding each family member they belong. “The structured parts of a ritual anchor us to our past, whether that is our personal past or that of our family of origin, community, culture, religion, or humankind,” (Imber-Black, 2009). It’s never too late to start traditions. Even if you have children who are teenagers, you can start new traditions, maybe by asking an adolescent what is important to them. Responding to a child’s idea, by allowing it to change your plans, to include them in your rituals or traditions, is a powerful way to demonstrate a child belongs. By making these changes, parents are providing a safe haven. In fact, through the use of positive and inclusive rituals, the family is able to create a shared narrative and experience transformation, even where chaos or trauma may have occurred.

The simplicity of a shared history allows each person to experience the strengths of the family. As the family experiences a shared narrative, each person has an idea of where they came from, who they are, and what their future may look like.

 

References:

Smit, R. (2011). Maintaining family memories through symbolic action: young adults’ perceptions of family rituals in their families of origin. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, (May), 355-367.

Imber-Black, E. (2009). Rituals and spirituality in family therapy. In F. Walsh (Author), Spiritual resources in family therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. (Original work published 2009)

White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.

Bringing Every Thought Into Captivity — Part 1: New Beginnings

I can do nothing but praise my Savior! God has brought us many blessings this last week; however, they have been wrapped up as a secret package in some very challenging trials. Isn’t it funny how we often look at trials and complain, yet looking back we are able to see a clearer picture of the blessings that have come from these trials? Not that it makes them any easier to bear at the time, but we can truly know that through them we are being shaped and molded into His likeness.

A month and a half ago we moved in with my in-laws so that my husband could go to school full time. (It has been quite the sacrifice on all of our parts as all of us are all staying in one room, so it’s tight quarters. We are blessed, however, that we have a big yard for the kids.) We have been handed free schooling through a wonderful program called the Trade Act. He has decided to get his heavy duty diesel mechanics degree. Of course we couldn’t pass that up!!! He’s only been dreaming about this for years, but we have never had the money for the schooling, let alone the needed tools.

We got moved up here and got settled, and two weeks into school he started freaking out about needing a ton of money — that we don’t have as we are living off of unemployment for the next two years — for tools. What in the world? The Trade Act is supposed to provide the tools. My husband suffers from PTSD from when he served in the Navy during 9/11, and before converting from atheism to Adventism. Due to his PTSD he isn’t exactly the best of communicators. After weeks of frustration on my end, knowing something was wrong but him denying it, I found out that he didn’t have any tools yet and was starting to fall behind in the shop part of class. That didn’t, however, end the quest for a tool fund. Fortunately, at four weeks into his classes, he finally got his tools. In spite of the negative, it has been a blessing. He is getting quite spoiled with a new tool box, etc., so it was worth waiting for!

In every marriage there are issues, things that each couple has to work out, and things that bring them together to the same mindset — but often times it takes quite a bit of trials to get to that point, not to mention the pain suffered on both sides of the relationship. I heard it said once that couples’ biggest problems usually stem from sex, finances, or child rearing. I understand too well the struggle, and the area in our marriage has definitely been finances.

As we struggled this last week, we went to our in-laws for counsel as to how to solve some of the issue with the finances so that both our needs were being met. We originally decided to move in with our in-laws to save money to pay off debt, which met my need. Unfortunately, our unemployment was cut to the point that it became necessity. My father-in-law lovingly but sternly chewed me out and told me to find a way to make the budget work and to get my husband his tool fund. That really made me mad, especially since I knew he didn’t understand what we have gone through financially. (When we got married we were both out of debt and debt was not an option. As life’s circumstances dealt out, we ended up in debt — not a ton, but enough to be difficult to escape on a limited income.) I was so mad that I responded in anger.

I sat there on the couch, stunned as I listened to all of the anger at my husband that spewed out of my mouth. It seemed like a waterfall that had a huge dam that just wouldn’t quit behind it. I knew I loved my husband and was being faithful to the vow to love and obey, and yet I had so much hate in my heart toward someone I was supposed to love deeper then anyone on this earth. How could that be? How could I have hidden this much anger in my heart for so many years? We ended the conversation with me saying that I needed time to process everything. I went in and went to bed about 4 p.m.

That evening and most of the next day (which, praise the Lord, was Sabbath), I analyzed where the negative feelings were coming from, and what was truly going on inside my head and heart, and prayed that God would take the feelings of hate I had developed toward my husband away. I then talked to my husband and told him how I felt and what was going on inside of myself. I am grateful that I have a deeply committed husband and that in spite of all of my flaws he still is willing to work at our relationship and keep moving forward. (In spite of his own flaws, I do see Christ’s love for me reflected in my husband’s patience with me.) Today we are working on rebuilding and renewing our relationship, and it’s amazing how releasing the anger that I didn’t know I was harboring in my heart to Christ has made a dramatic difference in our relationship. Things I didn’t realize were broken are correcting themselves, and I’m beginning to see the blessing that marriage can be. I am sure being human that we will still struggle, but I pray that God will show us the true state of our hearts and keep any resentment, bitterness, etc., out of our hearts toward each other.

As I sit back and think about this last week, my mind is drawn to the Bible verse, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who shall know it?” Jer. 17:9. I certainly had no clue I felt toward my husband like I did. He was my husband; I had waited for him for 26 years. I had dreamed about the things we would do together, about how we would serve the Lord, the children we would have.

Do we as humans intentionally deceive ourselves, or is it something that happens unconsciously? “From within the hearts of men come every evil thought, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,” Mark 7:21. So, how do we obey 2 Cor. 10:5, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” How do we bring every thought into captivity if we can’t know our hearts? What about Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Several years ago we were introduced to some videos called Who Switched Off My Brain, by Dr. Carolyne Leaf. I laughed watching the videos. I am not sure she is an Adventist, but she sure quotes a lot of Ellen White almost word for word. Dr. Leaf specializes in working with people who have had traumatic brain injuries, car accidents, coma survivors, etc. It is amazing the research that she has done. She approaches science as backing up scripture, and explains exactly how your body and mind work and the connection between the two.

Several months ago I loaned the videos to a friend of mine. She is a medic and struggles with PTSD when she is working. She sent me a book called Switch On Your Brain, by Dr. Leaf. Since using this program she is not only PTSD free but she said that her anxiety, etc., is completely gone. How does this program work? I’m going to explain in my next blog post. Dr. leaf teaches you how to capture every thought and bring it into captivity to Christ. If you are interested in teaching your kids this as well, I highly recommend finding the book online and ordering it. It is well worth the read.

As we are advancing in our new beginnings, I look forward to sharing how to master each thought for Him.

Practical Lessons: Working With Tiny Hands

Usually when the homeschool co-op semester begins, I choose classes that the kids will enjoy, classes that I’m too broke or bored to teach. Lego Art, Messy Munchkin Crafts, Edible Science, and Cupcake Decorating are some of my boys’ favorites. Since I’m trying to monopolize our school time this year, I am opting for more practical co-op classes this semester, classes that I can’t teach and that might help the kids after this year and beyond. These type of classes can be taught with YouTube videos and a few supplies as well.

American Sign Language (ASL)

I cannot teach my kids sign language because I don’t know any language besides English. I jumped at the opportunity to put my first grader in an ASL class, because it is practical, affords the opportunity to interact with other kids, and can lead to career choices later in life. When a hearing child knows sign language, they can be an unexpected blessing to others, so this is a great opportunity.

Hand Sewing

I don’t sew. My husband learned to sew in the Army, so he does all of our family sewing repairs. It’s an incredibly positive influence on my boys. Since Daddy can sew, my eight-year-old was more than happy to take on a sewing class (with a needle and everything). At an age where they cannot do a whole lot to help, how wonderful will it be for him to contribute by sewing on buttons, hemming his pants, and making minor repairs? He’s already excited that his first project is nearly finished and, after missing two weeks of class, he can move onto the next one to catch up with his classmates!

Idle Hands

What are your homeschool kids doing with their hands? As parents and homeschoolers, we so often depend on art to keep our kids’ hands busy. Scissors, penmanship, crayons, paintbrushes — these are all a necessary means to help children develop. As they grow, there are other practical tasks they can do with their hands, skills they can learn.

  • Make crafts to sell for a “book fund” or “field trip.”
  • Build bird houses, towers, or feeders to help the environment.
  • Dust the furniture to help Mom and Dad.
  • Wash dishes (correctly) to help Mom and Dad.
  • Fold laundry.
  • Plant an herb garden to contribute to the pantry.
  • Take up an instrument.
  • Learn to type (stories, letters, news, etc.).

I believe there is a reason that God opened the Bible by proclaiming Himself as Creator. As God, there are many ways He could have described Himself. Jesus Christ worked with His hands as a carpenter, creating. God the Father created the heavens and earth from nothing. We’re created in their image, and I’ve found that no matter what learning type, personality type, or age humans are, they still create. Starting this semester, the Ashworths are going to work with our hands. Starting with sign language and hand-sewing, the sky will be the limit.

 

Difficult Conversations

Raising my children in a world where knowledge is rapidly increasing I need to make sure that they have the skills to manoeuvre.  It is important that they can make right decisions on their own.

As they grew, I noticed my son the extrovert loves being around people, but he was also mirroring some of the behaviours of his friends. My daughter liked to people-please too.  Helping them to change and become more confident among their peers was going to take more than telling them. There was a deliberate process that I needed to follow, because I needed to give them the tools they would need to make good decisions.

Building an atmosphere of trust

I wanted them to trust me with the information they were learning while with friends. However, it was more than asking them to share. I had to be purposeful in constructing the kind of relationship that would help them feel safe enough to share everything with me.

Age-appropriate conversations

I began by having age appropriate discussions about a variety of subjects. At about age five a friend introduced them to the word “sex.” My son came home and asked me what it meant.

It was that moment for a parent where you battle between panic and disappointment. I was going to have a conversation earlier than I wanted to, and disappointed that he was introduced to it before I thought appropriate.

I was homeschooling partly to shield them from unfavourable influences. I wanted my husband and myself, as much as possible, to be the ones teaching and giving this kind of knowledge.

We talked about appropriate words. I used the analogy of going to the supermarket and paying the cashier after we have finished picking up our groceries. I stressed that we didn’t pay before because that would be the wrong way round. I assured him that while sex is not a bad word, it was not a word for children to be using, and asked him to trust that Mommy would talk to him about it when the time was right. He promised to wait to speak to me.

As a parent, having these conversations can be hard. Since that day I have had many conversations where I am terrified inside while remaining calm on the outside.

I do not shame or interrogate. I asked questions and have discussions in a non-threatening way.

It is important when dealing with difficult subjects to keep the lines of communication open. An honest conversation conveys comfort and safety.

Ask open questions and use active listening skills, such as paraphrasing and summarizing.  Active listening will communicate your understanding and give them the feeling of being heard.

Our formative years greatly impact the way we parent. If you are aware of unresolved childhood challenges, it is important to get support to work through them. Use support that is safe and non-judgmental. 

Developing a relationship of trust and openness with children is long-term work. However, it is well worth the investment.

Growing Roots, Bearing Fruit

This year we are homeschooling a kindergartener. In typical classrooms we would be teaching our son, at five-almost-six years old, how to read. In reality, from a sensorimotor perspective we started to teach him to read a long time ago.

We read books together.

We visit the library together so he gets an idea of the reading opportunities available.

We bought him a balance bike when he was two-and-a-half years old.  

My son mastered how to ride his balance bike by four years old. In fact he was so good at riding it, he wore it out before he turned five. This spring his cousin took 30 minutes sharing her bike with him, and I received a video of my son riding a bike with pedals, no training wheels. There are specific neurological areas of development that need to occur, and skills that need to be mastered before a child is ready to read. Learning how to ride a bike with pedals, no training wheels, is one of those neurological skills which points to readiness. These are areas as parent-teachers we can and have supported.

There is one thing that we are waiting on. My son hasn’t expressed the desire to read yet.

There are many things that I want to try to see if they help him learn to read. I have sensory ideas. I have ideas for learning to read outside. I have ideas for including grandparents, cousins, siblings in learning to read. Until my son is interested in reading, though, I keep finding ways to make reading interesting, and to focus on his sensorimotor development. We are also taking steps to help our younger son start to learn how to read. This spring he started riding his first balance bike. 

From a developmental point of view, these are foundational neurological pieces that are stepping stones to advanced academic skill. The end goal of course is for the student to experience the “fruit” of their academic labor, demonstrated by sustained attention, cognitive reflection, and the ability to memorize and recall information. There are sensorimotor skills that are needed first to strongly root a child through practice, experience, and relationship that the child will need to understand abstract academic skills. An article I read in The Atlantic, “An Unfinished Quest in Education,” discussed how children going into school, but lacking sensorimotor experiences, has made it more challenging for them to learn. As parents in a homeschool setting, we have the opportunity to provide sensorimotor experiences as part of their learning, and introduce specific learning skills as a child needs them.

In younger years children benefit from shared experiences — which can really be as simple as reading or cooking together, to build the relationship between parent who is also teacher, and child who is also student — and lots of time to play. In older childhood and especially adolescence, when a student is stuck, having the experience working through challenges together will be helpful in working through abstract academic skills.

Things to watch out for are signs of a behavior, relational, or emotional imbalance (mental health problems or concerns). There are often interventions a parent can put in place at home. Sometimes the family may benefit from guidance of a mental health professional who can provide support for the parents, the child, and the whole family.

Throughout this school year, I’ll provide ideas on how to help a child’s neurological “roots” to flourish, because this is the hard work, the work that leaves me wondering if I’m preparing my child appropriately. This is the work I need support on, and where I want to provide the support to other parents. The very activities we choose could influence our children for a lifetime. We are shaping our son’s interest in reading, interest in exercise, and his relationship with us and learning. There is a lot going on right now that isn’t evident, but is just as important — or maybe more important — as the “fruit” of academic learning.

Reference: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/06/an-unfinished-quest-in-education/486074/