I am fascinated by the interactions and family dynamics on the new TV show, "This is Us." My daughter Grace and I work hard to get time to share it so we record every episode. That way, we can steal some time together to watch it. I won't reveal anything here but the character of Randall intrigues me. He wants to belong, to know where he is from and why he is different from everyone else. The show is slowly revealing his journey. One of my primary goals every year is that my children know they belong. So this year, much to the chagrin of my youngest, I gave them matching pajamas to wear on Christmas.
Our family has never taken a picture in matching anything before, so it was a little hard for Lydia to swallow. Fortunately, my kids are great sports and everyone was on board by the big day. This year it was important to me to not just be a family, but to look, and more importantly, feel, like one too. And we did. Obviously we do not need to wear matching pj's to feel like a family, to know we belong, but I like to think it helped.
This is us.
Clearly we belong together.
For years, social scientists have been researching and writing about how "belonging" should be considered a basic human need. Even the Bible talks about the need we have to belong. In Psalm 100, the Psalmist tells us, "Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture." And in the New Testament the Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Corinth, "whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." Jesus tells the story of the wastefully extravagant, or prodigal son who trashes his father, squanders his inheritance and when everything is gone and he's fighting with pigs for their food, has an epiphany. He realizes the servants in his father's house are treated better than he is at that moment, so he decides to go home and ask to be a servant in his father's home. He trudges home rehearsing a speech to beg of his father, but his father sees him at a far distance off, is filled with compassion and runs to meet him. He not only clothes him in a fine gown and puts a ring on his finger, he also throws a party for him, saying, "...let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found!" I love this story from the Bible because I know I would be the grumbling older brother who thinks he's always tried to do what was right yet complains that dad never threw a party for him. But my heavenly Father would tell me, like the dad in the story tells his older son, "You have always been by my side, all I have is yours...come let's celebrate your brother's return." Both boys belong. Both have a home. So do I. And so do my children. So do you. So do your children. This thing called "belonging" is powerful. Very.
In 2011 Dr. Pamela Rutledge wrote an article in Psychology Today stating, "Belongingness is the driving force of human behavior, not a third tier activity." She was referring to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is a theory of human needs which he developed through his lifetime in the 1940-70's. Maslow places the need to belong on the third tier, after physical and safety needs; Rutledge suggests the diagram of human needs should be redesigned to put "belonging" in the center of our needs to show how all else in life stems from a place of "belonging". I want my kids to have their basic physical needs met, for them to feel safe and secure at home but more than anything I want my children to know they are loved, they belong, are wanted, valuable and important. Beyond that, I want them to know accomplishment and to realize their dreams and fullest potential.
A condition known as "Failure to thrive" occurs in infants who are not touched or whose emotional/mental needs are basically unmet. When they cry no one comes, so they learn not to cry, they do not grow. They fail to thrive. These children can develop attachment disorders. They do not feel like they can trust anyone. They feel as if they do not belong anywhere, to anyone. Clearly, not feeling like they belong can have devastating effects on your child.
Therefore, emotionally and spiritually, physically and mentally, I do not think we can overestimate the need to know we belong. I do not want my children to feel like they have to look to others, in outside places, to belong. I want them to know right from the start, they belong here, with their family. No matter what. So this year, the first part of my annual goal setting and planning was to pursue helping every member in our family know they belong. To us. Always. Cue the matching Christmas pajamas.
Your family's list will probably look a little different, but here are some things we do:
1. Establish family routines. Anticipated routines impart a sense of safety to everyone who knows they are coming. Your child can say with confidence, "I know what to expect."
2. Accept your child. Precious little will separate your child from you quicker than feeling like what they do is never good enough for you. I cannot stress this enough...accept your child, as is!
3. Love your child. Let your children and all family members know you love them...every single day. Even when throwing a tantrum or after making an unwise decision. They need to know your love is not conditional on their good or acceptable behavior or grades or accomplishments. You love them no matter what. They belong, but not because they did anything. They belong because they are.
4. Allow your child to figure things out, but let them know you are willing to help if they want. Give your child freedom. Do not micromanage them. Then they will be more likely to want to come to you when they need help. But if you hover, or worse yet, insist they do things your way, they will grow to resent your input and as they get older will come to you only as a last resort or not at all. To keep the ability to influence their decisions, trust them. Develop an atmosphere of trust when they are young. Tell them you expect them to make wise decisions...and if they make a poor decision, allow them to learn from it. Don't gloat, "I told you so." Tell them you love them. Ask, "How can I help you?"
5. Keep communicating. Learn who your child is. Not what you want them to be. But what they want to be. Learn how to help them open up. Don't overreact. Stay calm. (So hard sometimes...I know.) Recognize when your child says "I don't want to go to school," or, "I don't fit in" that they are saying much more. They may feel isolated; they may be getting picked on or bullied. Learn how to impart love and acceptance with a heart to help. No judgment. We all make mistakes; we all have times when we hurt. Ask, "What do you think you should do?" You want to be the first person your child seeks out when they feel insecure, or at the very least you want them to choose wisely where they seek help and guidance. Be available, pray with them or over them, serve them, love them.
This list is really just the tip of the iceberg on how we help our children feel safe and know that they belong. But it is a start.
How do you impart belonging in your family?
How do your children know they belong?
I would love to hear your ideas! Please comment below.
Article by Ruth Grunstra
All Rights Reserved
Hi I'm Ruth
What is the biggest challenge you are facing with your child? My husband and I had the first of our 8 children in 1984 and our youngest in 2002. We've been married since 1980 and we are always learning new ways to engage our children. We would love to hear from you. Contact us and let us know what you have found that works and what doesn't, or ask me a question.
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