The family bond is, for many of us, the most profound and fulfilling relationship we’ll know during our lifetime. That’s why it’s so important to encourage loyalty among family members.
Single parents need to take special care to foster loyalty among their children, as doing so helps inoculate against the hurt and loss associated with separation, divorce of death. It also makes kids feel more secure, giving them the inner strength to cope with life’s ups and downs.
How do you build family loyalty? First, you need a foundation—in other words, a strong relationship with your kids. One of the best ways to develop this is through fun and play.
Although the suggestion may sound frivolous, parents should never underestimate the value of family fun. Among other benefits, it wards off sadness and encourages cooperation among kids. So cuddle up on the couch for a movie, plan a picnic at the park, play a board game or build a snow fort. Every time you make fun a priority, you take a giant step toward building a united family.
How else can you foster family loyalty? By making your children feel needed.
Let me elaborate. Parents usually ask their kids to do chores to help them build character, or because they feel that they should learn how to work. That’s all true, but there’s another essential reason you should give your children responsibilities: they need to know that they play a vital role in how the family runs.
When you ask them to sort laundry or make their beds, convey the message that you can’t do it alone —everyone has to chip in. Encourage them to help you pick items off your list at the grocery store. Show them how to vacuum, set the table, make dessert or fix a salad. Children love learning new things; they feel so grown-up when they master a task. Even if you can do a chore better or faster, sit back and let them take it on. It may be less efficient in the short run, but you’ll be rewarded with increased loyalty over time.
Traditions also play an essential role in developing loyalty. Spending the Fourth of July at the beach, going to Christmas Eve mass, eating pancakes at Grandma’s house every Sunday—all these wonderful, time-honored conventions strengthen the family unit. What’s more, they give children something to look forward to as well as something to help them define their family and distinguish it from others.
While most of the advice I have offered involves parents and children, my next suggestion considers how a single parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend can affect the family bond.
If you’re dating, or thinking about dating, you need to carefully consider whom you choose to be around your children. That’s because nothing discourages loyalty more than for mum or dad to bring someone into the family circle who’s disruptive, unlovable or, in the worst-case scenario, abusive.
Regrettably, in their loneliness many single parents exercise poor judgment in their choice of a significant other. They become intimate with all the wrong people—partners with explosive tempers, for example, who are uninterested in the children, chronically unemployed or substance abusers. When a parent’s reckless dating becomes a pattern, kids lose respect for, and distance themselves from, that parent.
Of course, you can’t be sure what a person is all about in the early stages of dating. That’s why you should wait until you know someone inside and out before so much as introducing him or her to the children.
Last but not least, one of the single most important ways to encourage family loyalty is by creating a workable plan to share your child’s time with your ex-spouse (if he or she is in the picture).
Children feel more secure when they have a regular, predictable schedule. Unfortunately, many parents don’t make such arrangements, so holidays and weekends are ruined by last-minute conflicts or disagreements. When special occasions turn into stressful situations, children start to look down on family life, becoming increasingly disloyal.
If you haven’t put all these ideas into motion in your home, there’s no better time than now to start. Once you begin encouraging and rewarding loyalty, you’ll be amazed at how the bond strengthens between you and your kids—and how much pride you’ll take in your family.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.