Consistency in parental expectations builds cohesion by reducing anxiety (fears arise when expectations frequently change, making children uncertain of how they are to win parental approval – consistency is the antidote for such fears). Anxiety is corrosive. It wears away at family morale, tears at the fabric of family cohesion, and poisons the hard-earned sense of esprit de corps within a family.
Caroline Fleck, a clinical psychologist who operates a private practice in Mountain View California, notes that “cohesion is built through both time and attitude.” She suggests that having a routine that includes connecting as a family at particular times of the day (mealtimes, bedtimes, etc.) ensures that the family is “investing the time that intimacy requires.”
She also notes that it is particularly important for parents to instill a “one for all and all for one” attitude in their children. This builds a special supportive family atmosphere that Dr. Fleck describes in the following way: “They show up for each other and, here’s the kicker, they do it even when doing so conflicts with other interests. If showing up were easy, we’d all do it all the time. But it’s not: it requires that we do what is in the best interest of our relationships, not necessarily ourselves…”
It is important to note that parents who have consistent expectations are also more likely to have children who feel competent. When a child knows what is expected it is much easier for him, or her, to successfully meet that expectation. This in turn leads to feelings of competency and confidence. Part of this self-efficacy will invariably be rooted in the child’s identity with his or her family. For example, if Julie’s is given the expectation that she is to complete homework every night, and perform chores every Saturday, before playing with friends, she will likely grow up to view herself as someone who ‘gets things done’ because that just the way ‘my family rolls.’
Family Responsibilities: Having responsibilities that extend beyond benefiting oneself is essential for building family cohesion. Helping with the dishes, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, babysitting younger siblings, folding clothes, preparing meals, and many other tasks fall within this category. It is important to note, however, that fulfilling responsibilities builds cohesion when everyone is required to participate. If some family members are frequently allowed to slide by without doing their part, this will invariably lead to resentment and distrust in those that are doing the work. Morale and cohesion will diminish. Think “Cinderella Syndrome” but with a really a bad attitude.
Adventures: Adventures fuel the growth of a family’s esprit de corp. When people share the experience of discovering new and attractive places, they tend to form closer bonds. Likewise, when people share hardships and risks in the pursuit of some goal (e.g., mountain climbing, white water rafting, exotic travels, etc.) they also tend to bond more closely. The take away application for your family is that you do well to get your spouse and children involved in some adventures. These need not be at the extremes of big game hunting in Africa, or saving Polar Bears in the Arctic. Simply look for opportunities to do that which is out of your normal routine, involves some discomfort/risk/shared sacrifice, and gets the heart racing. Make sure to memorialize the event by taking photos that can later be framed.