Strong families are connected to others in the community. They don’t stand alone. You will find such families closely involved with extended families and friends, schools, churches, and local organizations that promote the well-being of individuals and communities, and help develop and educate their children.
While connections with extended family and friends are always important, their support is often critical in times of great need. For example, one family lost their father in an auto-pedestrian accident. That left the mother, with little education and job skills, to rear five sons alone. Extended family members stepped up to assist her. Her parents watched the youngest children while she built a home-based business and got job training. A brother took the sons fishing and camping. A school principal and teachers provided additional support to children struggling with the loss of their father. Friends lent listening ears to a bereaving widow.
Support of extended family is likewise important. While most adult children report a positive relationship with their parents, they can sometimes be better in remembering their parents and meeting their needs. Parents of adult children benefit from close ties with their children, even when they cannot often visit in person.
A story is told of an old widow named Leethe. She loved her children, who all lived some distance away. She longed to receive letters, so she made daily walks down a long pathway to her mailbox, anxiously anticipating a letter from a child or grandchild. But she was repeatedly disappointed. Her neighbors with aging relatives of their own showed far more concern for Leethe than her own children.
Only occasionally did Leethe receive a telephone call from one of her children. But she was hard of hearing and often asked, “What? What did you say?” during calls. She pleaded with her children to write her letters, for, after all, she couldn’t “read” her phone conversations over and over. Still, no letters came.
One day a letter did come from her daughter. Leethe was so excited she could hardly wait to return home to read it. She had barely opened the envelope when she suffered a fatal heart attack. As it turned out, the letter from her daughter was written only to recommend that Leethe consent to being placed in a nursing facility.
Being connected to family, friends, and community benefits the young as well. Three national studies found that social connectedness is associated with fewer problem behaviors among youth.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World encourages extended family support of the nuclear family and vice versa. Further, parents are admonished to teach children to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.
Here are some ideas for strengthening community and family ties:
Note Night. Choose from a list of relatives and friends one who is “note-able” and write that person or family a brief note. Make it fun. Tell about funny happenings as well as more serious events.
“This Meeting Will Come To Order.” Issues affecting entire communities are sometimes decided with little input from citizens. As a family, attend a community meeting such as a school board meeting or community planning board meeting. Get the agenda beforehand and prepare verbal and written comments to share. This will reinforce participatory democracy beginning with your family!
School Connections. Find ways to stay involved in your child’s education from kindergarten through high school. Share a talent in the classroom, attend parent-teacher conferences, support school events, and participate in policy making. Make your home a learning place. Show your children you love to learn. Have children write down their academic goals.
“Super Story.” Family members who live apart can collaborate on a story. Make a list of names and addresses of family members who have agreed to participate. Write a paragraph or two to begin the story, then send it on to the next person on the list. When the story comes back to you, send it on again. Add to it as long as you like; mail or email the finished product to all contributors.
Book the Recording Studio. Substantial distances often separate family members. Post audio or video clips of you reading a favorite book or story, telling stories from your own life, or singing favorite songs. Send links to them to children, noncustodial parents, grandparents, or other members of your extended family. Listening to familiar voices reading favorite books can help children feel secure and draw adults closer to children. If they have a copy of the book, story, or song, then children and others can follow along as you read.
Citizenship Merit Badge. Visit the city council, a county commissioner’s meeting, the state legislature, or the U. S. Congress. Watch regulations and laws being made. Interview a lawmaker. Learn the process for making policies and laws. Learn how you can influence the outcome.
Neighbor to Neighbor. Strengthen ties you have with neighbors by being neighborly. Find ways to be helpful, such as splitting wood, installing fencing, or looking after children. Have a neighborhood yard sale and share the profits. Get permission from authorities and block off a section of the neighborhood and have a block party.
Address an Issue. Parents can teach their children to become involved citizens. Look for a local, state, or national issue in the news that you can favor or oppose. Write a letter on one issue to a city commissioner, school board member, a legislator or even the president! Let each family member, even younger ones, compose his or her own original letter. When the replies arrive, discuss them as a family and place the letters in a scrapbook.
Adopt a Grandparent. People in need are all around us. A family might choose an older person or couple to help by raking leaves, caring for a lawn or garden, or cleaning or repairing a house. They might read to someone who can’t see well. They might visit a homeless shelter and perform humanitarian service.
Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, and Kristi McLane, Research Assistant, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
Adapted From the Website Forever Families