For as long as I can remember I have been conscious of the fact that creating a great family was not something that just happens.
I think most things in life fall on a spectrum – often dependent upon how much priority, time, effort and perseverance we put into them. We all have a ranging ability to create something great along that spectrum and I think family is no different.
It’s nice and easy to “sit back” and think that “love is enough” and is “what really matters”. Well … for me … as I’ve said before, it’s not enough. Particularly not the “sitting back” part. You see, love is a verb. And verbs require action.
The thing about actions and verbs are this – they don’t always have to be with a Capital A or V. Now I’ll be the first to admit that often times they are in my life. I’m guilty of being a “Go Big or Go Home” kind of girl … but truth be told it’s not the “big” that matters most in that sentence … it’s the “go”.
And it’s funny how we “go” about an activity on a regular basis, never really giving it much conscious thought, until one day, after literally years and years (in my case more than a decade) you sit back and you realize that you have cultivated a number of activities – of traditions – of events – that have shaped who your family is, how you interact together, and what sense of pride you have in each other as a whole.
Approximately a dozen years ago my family began, what I call, engaging in our Family Signature. I know that sounds like some dorky made up thing … and well … since I just made it up, and I AM kind of a dork, I guess that would be a fair assessment. But I don’t think it makes it any less true.
A Family Signature is I believe something that identifies you as a “whole”, and gives your family a sense of pride in being together. It is identifying in the same way a signature is, but you are identifying your entire family rather than one person.
Finding your Family’s Signature is not a difficult thing to do. Looking back I realized ours was there for years and years before I even consciously identified it as such.
For 13 years now we have gained such joy in doing something very simple – beachcombing for Seaglass and Sandollars. It is something we have done on a regular basis for literally as long as my children have been alive. We have photos of them growing up doing these activities; and our time together can be measured over the years by both of these things – little feet in the sand, growing bigger and bigger until their imprints are nearly as large as mine; years of searching for the elusive colors, the thickest piece, the perfect curve. I can mark our time together by little hands reaching down for that sand dollar – when they were so little that we used to “plant” them for them – until they got so big they became better at finding them than we are.
These activities are certainly not uniquely ours, but they are the two things that have followed us through the years – the things we have been very purposeful about making happen every single year since they were born, and I believe every year to come.
For those of you who may be still searching for a Family Signature here are a few tips and tricks to help find yours. Family Signatures often:
(1) Are A Purposeful Activity
– I don’t mean purposeful in the way of “Hey kids, we are going off to do our Family Signature activity now … get your shoes on …”. Please. My family have no idea I think of it in this way and would have no idea I coined this phrase. What they know is this: for as long as they have memory, we have been searching for Sandollars and Seaglass. They identify with it as something “we do as a family”. We do it purposefully, and it doesn’t “just happen”. We “make” it happen. They see us value it and we see them value it. Together. Consciously.
(2) Requires Little Skill; or the Skill Level of each Family Member is Equal
– Our family has a number of things we enjoy doing together … but I think the thing that makes a Family Signature different is that everyone enjoys it, and in turn has the ability to do it, equally. For instance, biking has always been a favourite family activity of ours. But my son both enjoys it much more than my daughter does, and is also more skilled at it physically than she is. We certainly don’t drag her along per se, but we all enjoy beachcombing for Seaglass and Sandollars with the same fervour and skill equally (provided I have my prescription contacts in)
(3) Allow for Anticipation and Joy
– You can never underestimate the importance of anticipation. It helps to lengthen the joy brought to the activity and therefore allows that activity to become much more than the time spent actually doing it. It becomes about the conversation and anticipation before it even happens. “I wonder what we will find at this beach? Will someone find a ring top again? Who will find the first piece? Who will find the smallest sandollar? Will there be as many as last time?” When we all know we are going beachcombing we are all waiting with baited breath to find the next treasure and love talking about it with each other.
(4) You Participate All Together & Support Each Other
– Looking for Seaglass and Sandollars is something we never do individually. We always … and I mean always … do it as a family. Some of my favourite moments together have been on those beaches when someone finds something unique and we are all genuinely excited for them. When we find a new piece we are excited to share it with each other – a new color or shape – a unique size or texture – and we rush over to show everyone.
(5) Encourages conversation
– One of the reasons I love this so much is that we are able to talk. We are walking together – and although we may not always be right next to each other there is nothing that impedes a natural conversation that happens between us. No electronic devices, no noise, no friends, no commercialism. Just us and the ocean. Our family of four. And nothing to do but walk and talk and seek.
(6) Does Not Cost Anything, or Very Little
– If I were to take a vote many people would say that our Family’s Signature would be travelling – and a big part of that is true. But I’m very conscious that travelling – even locally – is dependent upon monetary circumstances. I want our family signature to be something we can do no matter what our circumstances may be in the future, or have been in the past. Regardless if we lose our jobs or life throws us a curve ball. I never want to say “we can’t”.
(7) Is Timeless
– Our family is going to change and grow – be it physically, emotionally or literally. What if we move? What if, what if, what if? Your family’s signature should be able to change with you.
(8) Have a sense of Simple-ness and at the same time Special-ness
– It’s the “doing”, not the “size” of the doing. And it shouldn’t be something we do everyday – otherwise it becomes routine and loses that sense of being special and unique. I know our family is not the only family to go hunting for Seaglass and Sandollars. We love talking to others on the beaches who are doing the same thing that we meet over the years and sharing our finds. At the same time when my kiddos go to other peoples homes it’s not something they see around “everywhere” they go, and it’s not something “everyone” has been doing since they were born. We feel a sense of specialness about it, and I think that’s important.
(9) Offers Something Tangible
– I don’t think this is necessary. Come on … let’s be real … none of this is necessary. It’s all me talking! But I will admit I love that our family has Seaglass or Sandollars in seven different rooms in our home. I love that we all look at them throughout the year and are reminded of the times we spent together, the years we spent together. I love that we pick up pieces and say “remember when”. I love that we are taking the time to display them differently and I love that we take special care not to break them and treat them as if they matter. I think even pictures can provide this – taking photos of your family’s signature and framing them around the house. Anything that can provide a sense of memory and pride about what your family chooses to do together – just you. Which leads me to my last tip.
(10) Are Selfish
– Although we have certainly been with others beachcombing – friends and family – most of the time we are in a position that we are just the four of us. We rarely call up a friend and say “let’s go hunting for seaglass” … it is something we hold special just for us.
– Secondly, although I self identify camping or playing cards & board games as a Family Signature for us as well, the fact is that we are so very often camping or playing games “with others” – with hoards of family or friends – not just the four of us. This has gotten more so as the years have gone on. And in order for me to feel that sense of pride and that sense of belonging, I need it to be something where the four of us … and just the four of us … carve out special time together – with no other influences. Where we can engage each other in a meaningful way. Our world is so full of other people … this … this time … needs to be just us.
I can think of many families that have their own Family Signature but may not recognize it as such. I see families who travel around to all the fireworks shows in the area (I LOVE this!), families who hike to waterfalls together, families who take in local sports games together, who go fishing together in their boat and who go to their cottage together. Families who collect rocks together, or who create all kinds of art together, or who run together. I know one family who chooses a different charity each year and “give back” together throughout the year with different activities they organize.
These families may not all identify these things as their Family Signature, but I would be willing to bet if asked, they are activities that their families take pride in and are purposeful about. They are activities that have grown with their families over the years, and are activities that they “make” happen.
And I know so many of you are sitting reading this going “Karrie-Ann. For crying out loud. I barely have time to brush my own hair in the morning let alone give any thought to something called a Family Signature. Enough already.”
And I get it. I get that feeling. I live that feeling so many days. But when you break it down, this post isn’t about its title, or its tips and tricks. It’s about being conscious about making time for your family – real time. And doing so in an active way with something your family can take pride in doing together – just the core of you. It’s about not allowing ourselves to get 100% caught up in running around in different directions with sports and activities or social media or all of the other people in your world. It’s about taking a little bit of time to be purposeful with the people who matter most in your life.
So I’ll leave you with this.
What is your Family Signature? What has followed your family over the years? What can mark your family’s time together? Do you have one? I’m willing to bet you do.
And if you don’t … it’s never too late to find … no scratch that … to “make” … one happen.