Strengthening Families: Creating a Sense of Community
Ideally, families would function as a team in the best tradition of the word, as in “team effort”—everyone pulls together for the good of the whole; “team play”—collective play with the mutual assistance of members; or “teamwork”—several associates each doing a part, subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole. In practice, however, some families seem closer to another definition of “team”—two or more draft animals harnessed to the same vehicle.
John Gardner, former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare once said, “The problem with many of our cities is that they are encampments of strangers and not communities.” This is also a problem with many families. Too often in our modern, complex, fast-moving, high-tech societies, families do not always develop a sense of community, and children get lost in the rush. To create this sense of community, family members need to be involved with one another, to do things together.
Families that do things together create camaraderie and cohesion. Families that do things together that are fun and interesting create a positive atmosphere. Families that do things together that encourage members to think, ask questions and express themselves become learning communities. Families that do things together on a regular basis create traditions. Families that create traditions develop a strong sense of community, displaying mutual respect, caring, and support.
The children of families with a strong sense of community are more resistant to outside negative influences, more likely to be influenced by positive role models within the family, and to become emotionally healthy citizens at home, in school, and within society at large.
The strength of the family emanates from parents and their convictions. If there is no coherent philosophy, strategy or approach to childrearing, and if values are not clear, parent behavior is usually inconsistent and confusing. It behooves parents to define values for themselves and to emphasize them in the family through words and action. If we think of family values as values shared by all members of the family, it becomes something very much worth striving for.
Adopting the five critical needs as an integral component of a family’s core values provides a valuable framework to guide parents’ interactions with their children and to evaluate their parenting effectiveness. Additionally, it does much more. As parents treat each other in ways that satisfy the five needs, they become role models for the kids on how to act in a loving way. Further, as parents communicate to children that they have the same needs and express positive feelings about the children’s behavior that satisfy these needs, they begin to become true family values. Children are stimulated to start thinking not only about what’s being done and not done to, for, and with them, but also about how their behavior impacts others.
Since the five needs are relevant to all interactions among individuals, opportunities to apply them in every day life are constant. Thus, with practice, the children’s and parents’ understanding, appreciation, and use of the concepts are certain to grow. Children can learn about the power of their behavior to impact each other and their parents, and also relatives, friends, teachers, acquaintances—almost anyone with whom they have contact. This helps to strengthen a sense of community among family members, and also gives children a larger view of community.