I’m organizing a 5th birthday party for Bunny right now. It’s going to have 40 people or so and a jumping castle and we’re taking over my father’s property, which has the room to host large gatherings. I had my wedding reception there and that was loads of fun, so hopefully this party will be just as successful.
We haven’t thrown a party this big since his 1st birthday, so it’s a big deal. Add to that I am not the most domesticated woman in the world and you could say I am more than a little stressed.
At times like this, it’s so easy to fixate on the successful completion of one goal that you forget lasting happiness doesn’t come from one special event.
The real impact you make on your child’s or partner’s lives comes from how you treat them and what you share with them every day.
Do I hope Bunny remembers his 5th birthday party? of course. But in years to come, it’s doubtful he’ll remember this party as much as the daily legacy of love and acceptance that we strive to provide and and the multitude of little moments that make up his life.
With that in mind, I thought I’d start a list of 21 Small, But Powerful Ways To Build A Happy Family:
1. Read together
Bunny and I read at least two books a day. We like Dr. Seuss books, especially The Lorax and Scary Pants. He also tortures me with Thomas the Tank Engine paperbacks – we have a whole library of them and I can’t wait for the day I can donate them to the nearest charity.
2. Cook together
Bunny likes to bake muffins and cakes, but doesn’t eat either. Strange child – can’t believe he’s mine!
3. Play music at home and dance around the lounge room
The idea is to make as much of a fool of yourself as possible. If you’re just swaying your hips a little and waving stiff arms while your kids go wild with break dance moves, you’re not getting into it enough. You need to upstage them; show them how it’s really done with some serious over acting. Think Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, Madonna or some head banging, skipping air guitar a la AC/DC.
4. Encourage your child’s passions and creativity
This is a video that MusicMan and Bunny made together recently. It shows you just how obsessed my son is with Thomas and how bizarre my husband’s sense of humor is. I take no responsibility for either
5. Watch films and cartoons together
Our family favorites are Madagascar, Ice Age 2 and The Lion King. Share old films from your childhood that are appropriate to your child’s age level. I introduced Bunny to my love of Scooby Doo, and MusicMan showed him the original Superman recently – Bunny thought it was great.
6. Play board games and sports as a family
We enjoy Trouble in our house, and the whole family likes to lay into the boxing bag or kick a ball around our local reserve.
9. Go to museums and art galleries
Expose your children to culture, history and art in a practical setting and they will gain an appreciation for creativity, ideas and learning that will serve them throughout life. Talk about the pieces you find interesting child and ask your child what they like and why. Make sure you listen.
10. Make sure your family receive your best, not the left-overs
Juggling work and family life can be demanding and drive one to the point of exhaustion or near insanity. Don’t let the pebbles get in the way of the big rocks of your life. Prioritize what’s important and learn to leave work behind. MusicMan and I do struggle with this, but it’s something we are aware of and a daily discipline. What I do know is my family deserve my best qualities, and I think the following quote sums this up perfectly.
“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘good morning’ at total strangers.”
– Maya Angelou, Poet, Writer and Performer
11. Make birthday cards and craft projects together
Bunny is the official card manufacturer in our house, and I’m sure the extended family wouldn’t have it any other way. Lately he’s starting to differentiate between “girls” cards and “boys” cards. Girls get pink coloring and sparkly bits and boys get car drawings, monsters and dinosaurs.
12. Have coloring, drawing and painting time and resist the urge to direct your child or tell them how to “do it better”
All children are naturally creative and experimental. When we critique their artistic efforts or involve ourselves in their work to make it fit some standard in our own mind, then we invalidate their natural expression, sending the message it’s wrong or needs fixing. Actions like this are what smothers children’s creativity and batters their confidence, turning them into stiff adults, sure they “don’t have a creative bone” in their body.
13. Set up a focus on heritage and family and connections
Look at family pictures and talk about people who are important to your child’s life, especially those who they might not see a lot of. Show them photos from your childhood and talk about what you liked to do and share memories from your family.
If you have a particular religious affiliation, strong value system (I had a creative, free thinking upbringing) or cultural background, ensure your children learn about where they come from and what you believe in. You can’t enforce these things in my opinion, but it always helps to understand our parents and heritage, even if we later choose to ignore it.
14. Embrace your inner child – blow bubbles, fly a kite, have sword fights, make sand castles and scour the beach for shells and signs of ocean life
Children are the best excuse you’ll ever have to stay young at heart. Let them lead you into their world and you might just tap into a well of joy that will keep you smiling, improve your energy and enthusiasm for life and help you live longer too. Remember, to show respect for others while playing to set a good example for your children. Nature and other living creatures are included in this – respect for all living things.
15. Turn the music up in the car and sing loudly and off-key
Don’t let your child be the one to always pick the music. Share your favorites with them too. Bunny is currently loving this old dance favorite of mine, though I wouldn’t show him the music clip as it’s too adult for a pre-school child.
16. Be honest and forgiving
Be honest when your children ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you’ll get back to them. Keep your answers appropriate for their age and level of understanding, but don’t lie. It destroys the trust between you.
If you believe it is better they not know the details about something (eg. divorce) then explain what you can and tell them some matters are private and/or for adults only.
Don’t act as if mistakes are the end of the world or bad behaviour makes you a bad person. Your children will disappoint you and upset you some time. Accept it. Forgive them.
And forgive yourself for your own weaknesses and so-called failings, you’ll be doing them a favour there too. By keeping open channels of communication and building a forgiving atmosphere in the home, you’ll build trust and your children are more likely to come to you later when they’re in trouble and really need you.
17. Be a parent, not a friend
This means stick to your values and don’t let yourself be swayed by what other kids’ parents are doing. Bunny doesn’t have computer games yet because I think there is plenty of time for that. I want him to enjoy his own creativity before he starts investing himself in someone else’s.
Don’t do what is popular now if it is not in your child’s best interests long term. We need to be their guide and sometimes this means making hard decisions that will incur the dreaded “I hate you” screams. I have already experienced this and it hurts, but that’s parenting and I am sure I have a lot more to look forward to.
Be strong for your children so they know they can lean on you. While you may sometimes feel sad or scared (it’s okay for them to know this), make sure that no matter what, you are the one in charge, the one who will fix things. Do not let your children take on adult worries they cannot process or repair. It heightens anxiety and can be emotionally crippling. When you say “No”, stick to your guns or you’ll appear weak and leave yourself open for a lifetime of whining.
18. Say “I love you” at least once a day, preferably a lot more
Children need affection, so lay on the cuddles and kisses. Even once they think they’ve outgrown this (Bunny is already rationing MusicMan and recently told me he was a big boy who didn’t “need” a good night kiss), respect their boundaries, but tell them they are never too big for cuddles. After all, they will want something to rebel against, so why not have it be mom and her kisses?
19. Visit the library and browse book shops
Books offer a path to another world. They can inspire, educate and stimulate a child’ imagination, and by encouraging an appreciation of books and reading you will not only expose your child to new ways of thinking, but you’ll help them at school as well.
Exposing your child to a variety of books – fiction and non-fiction – will help them to be a more empathetic, questioning, informed and involved citizen of their country and this world.
20. Teach your kids how to play hopscotch
It’s simple, free and fun for all. And it’s actually kind of strenuous for moms and dads who don’t work out enough.
21. Have family rituals
Rituals are important for giving our children a sense of connection, belonging and security. They don’t have to be grand activities or take a lot of time – it’s the routine that is the most meaningful.
Bunny spends one night a week with his grandma and pop and they have their own routines there that he looks forward to. At home, MusicMan and Bunny build extensive train tracks together, while I am the one he usually does drawing and jigsaw puzzles with. As a family, we also read two books before bed each night and there’s a certain chant I say as I kiss Bunny into bed.