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. Parents support groups that 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 a husband and father in an auto-pedestrian accident. That left a wife and 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 their hands and listening ears to a bereaving widow.
Our support of our extended family is likewise important. While most adult children report having a positive relationship with their parents, they can sometimes do a better job of remembering their parents and meeting their needs. Parents of adult children benefit from close ties with their children, even when they cannot visit in person very often.
A story is told of an old widow named Leethe. She loved her children, all of whom lived some distance from her home. She longed to receive letters from them. She made daily walks from her house down a long pathway to her mailbox, anxiously anticipating a letter from one of her children or grandchildren. But she was repeatedly disappointed. Her neighbors with aging relatives of their own showed far more concern for Leethe than her own children did.
Only occasionally did Leethe receive a telephone call from one of her children. But Leethe 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, the letters didn't come.
One day a letter did come. It was 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 the community benefits the young as well. Three national studies found that social connectedness is associated with fewer problem behaviors among youth. Recent research has also found a strong connection between lower high school student achievement and parents' tendency to be less involved after kids get to high school.
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 graduation. Share a talent in the classroom, attend parent-teacher conferences, support school events, and participate in school policy making. Make your home a learning place. Show your children you love to learn. Have children write down their academic goals. Discuss and agree on rules about homework.
"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; photocopy the finished product for all contributors.
Book the Recording Studio. Substantial distances often separate family members. Send audio or video tapes of you reading a favorite book or story, telling stories from your own life, or singing favorite songs. Send 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. Include a copy of the book, story, or song so 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.
Duncan, S. F. (1999). Building family strengths (MT 9405). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
Duncan, S. F. (1994). The activity book: Activities for building family strengths (EB 128). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
Duncan, S. F. (2000). Practices for building marriage and family strengths. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 295-303). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.