Building Foundations of Belonging


We were made to belong. First to God—He made us to belong to Him and to be in intimate relationship with Him. Then, by His design, He set us in families as a place to belong and live in community—in relationship with each other, in order to know Him and ourselves more fully. Because it is how we were made, each of us has this need to belong deep in our hearts. Though this is God’s design, this is not what many of us experience. Sin corrupts relationships and so many—like myself—grow up in broken homes. This can leave children feeling very lonely, neglected, with a confused sense of identity, rejection in place of belonging—and at a time when this need is most acute. Because it is a real need, kids will go to great, and often unhealthy lengths, to find that need met.

But I think it is not only broken homes that can leave children feeling neglected and rejected. I wonder if many practices of our modern lives have the same implications. I’ve been asking myself—what do my actions and the ways in which I spend my time communicate to my children about my priorities and where they fall in line? If we as moms are more in the habit of staring at our screens, busy agendas, and to-do lists than our children in the eyes, I wonder if they are not feeling rejection —that they are not interesting enough, deserving enough, fun enough, important enough, to have our attention?

I’ve also been asking myself—what DOES build a family identity and sense of belonging? Here are some ideas:

Study your children. Get to know who they are, how they are wired, their love languages, interests, desires. Then…

Experience them. I read a passage by Henri Nouwen once that said something along the lines of this: hospitality is putting yourself aside and allowing another person to be fully experienced. Our kids want to be fully experienced. They want us to come alongside them in their interests, bents, developmental stages, and desires, to be championed, encouraged, developed, nurtured, mentored, listened to, and cheered on.

Create family traditions and rhythms that build beautiful memories and captivate hearts. We learn through our environment and experiences. Simply telling a person they belong yet acting otherwise will not convince them. What we do speaks volumes and the environment of our family culture matters. Here are some ideas for building a family culture.

  • Feasting—like a big Sunday breakfast or dinner that you do each week.
  •  Family rituals—like our friend Ruth whose crew debriefs at the end of each day by serving one another with back rubs. For my family a favorite ritual is getting cozy under blankets and reading aloud together each day.
  •  Taking trips or extended time to be together. We love to go camping. Someone recently asked my seven-year-old daughter “what is one of your favorite things?” and her answer was our family camping trips. (I thought she’d say something like her doll or bike or some material thing.) I loved that glimpse into how important such experiences are to children and how they shape them. A stay-cation or camping in your backyard would be just as memorable to them. If you have the opportunity, mission trips are another wonderful thing to do together. Teenagers especially have a need to know that they are apart of something—a story—bigger than themselves. A family mission trip or serving together will give them purpose and help them find their identity and place in God’s story at a time where they are sorting out their identity— who they are and what they are here for.
  • Have fun together! God wired us in such a way that we need to rest and play together. Our responsibilities as adults can be overwhelming and sometimes we find ourselves so overcome that we forget to have fun. In these moments we need to entrust what burdens us to God so that we can exhale and enjoy one another. I recently read a translation of Psalm 46:10 which said, “Be at leisure and know that I am God.”
  • Cultivate a home environment of grace and unconditional love instead of criticism and perfectionism. Perfectionism pushes God out of the equation. Our kids need us to model for them apologizing, forgiveness, and a deep dependence on God. God’s love for us is unwavering in the midst of our ugliest sins and our kids need us to represent that reality to them. In a home where kids are constantly criticized, they will feel rejected, like they are never good enough, that love is somehow earned, and that they don’t belong.
  • Be intentional. I know this is a bit of a buzzword. But the word literally means “aimed at”—which implies that we have a target. What are you aiming at? What family culture do you want to create in order to shape your kids? What do you want your family to be about? What do you want to direct your kids toward and how will you integrate that into the way you do life as a family? What experiences do you want to incorporate? What shaping practices would you like to have in your home?

If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear in the comments what you are already doing OR, what God might be prompting you to do differently or to begin doing—to shape your family culture and nurture a sense of belonging in your own children.

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  1. says

    This is so very true. I grew up longing to be safe and to really belonged. Even now, pushing fifty my childhood still holds so much meaning for me. I have worked hard to build a haven for my children of faith, hope and love; failing many times…but now that my girl is fourteen; all the sowing sees fruit when she turns to me and asks to snuggle up at night so we can have our girl-talk. This is so precious because the world is trying each day to plant so many lies and fuel self-rejection in her. Thank you for this precious affirmation and encouragement ! God help us all.

  2. Dena Vieira says

    Our family loves hummus. I make it with kidney or pinto beans instead of garbanzos because we can’t get them here and it is such a comfort food. Each Friday night we eat that with dipping veges and toast and cottage cheese and sliced tomatoes. We always have a candle on the table and juice in wineglasses. We listen to Christian praise music and when we’re finished we all crazy dance in praise to God. (We don’t know how to dance so it’s a lot of walking around in circles being silly.) It’s SUCH fun and such a great way to end the week and decompress and BE together. I think that’s about the only thing we do though. I’d like to add more. I’m interested to see what other comments people make. I have a really hard time doing one on one time with my children. They are all little and they all want me all the time. (3 of them ages 1-5) I’m interested to know if anyone has any ideas about that, too.

    • Samantha says

      It is hard to make 1 on 1 time with your littlies when they all want you, isn’t it! One thing we did with our children when they were younger was train them to have room time (or cot time when they were really young). We started with a few minutes and gradually built up until they could have an hour on their own in their room looking at books/listening to CDs/playing with toys. That could maybe give you some time to spend with the children alone once or twice a week. I always had my time with God first when they had room time, but then I could do other things. Maybe you could schedule 10 minutes with one child during a room time? And then on another day do it with another child. (Our other friends called it Quiet Time or Rest Time.)
      I’d also encourage you to think in little blocks of time. Don’t expect to have half an hour or hour of one on one time with children as young as yours. Their love tanks will be better filled by a one minute “look at what I can do on my bike, Mummy” or a 5 minute read-them-a-short-library-book time or a 10 minute play-in-the-sandpit. You may even be able to do that several times a day, whereas it is nearly impossible to find a straight half hour when you aren’t needed by someone else! :)
      Here’s what I’d do. (But feel free to totally dismiss this if it doesn’t suit you. As Sally often tells us, one size does not fit all families.)
      I’d put aside some toys and have them in a box that the children can’t play with normally. Then I’d start with the youngest and tell the others that you are having special time with baby and they will have special time with you another time, but right now they need to play by themselves, and here is a special toy they can play with for 10 (15, 20?) minutes. The other two could play together or alone, whatever you think would work best. Then I’d repeat it with the next child up. That could be immediately after or on another day or whatever suits you best. You may want to schedule this while your 1 year old naps if they are not yet used to room time or good at playing with their older sibling without close supervision. Then repeat with the oldest. I suggest that order because the older one should have a better sense of delayed gratification and realise their special time will come.
      Those special toys ( or books, puzzles, videos, etc) that the children play with (who aren’t having the 1 on 1 time with you) need to be kept as special so they are interesting and fascinating to the children. Have a large enough supply that you can rotate through so they don’t get bored with them and they lose their specialness.
      Also, don’t minimise the times you do get with them one o none, even if they are brief. The nappy (diaper) change time with the 1 year old can be a moment for a song or a tickle game, tucking into bed can be a time for a special word of encouragement to each child, bandaging a cut knee can be a chance to speak of their courage or self-control. Those times may be observed by others – but they are still special for the child concerned.
      I struggle putting my ideas into an email, so if anything I have said is unclear, please feel free to email me at . Know that you are doing a great job with your little ones. I can sense that from the heart that comes across in your post. And I love your family meal and dance time idea! That sounds like fun to me, too! Enjoy it while you can. I’m not sure my 14 year old son would go at that anymore, though the other 4 might. Blessings to you.

  3. Samantha says

    Our family also loves camping.
    And we specifically chose to not do any weekend sport this year so we could have more time for family times, such as a trip to the beach or a picnic near the lake or an afternoon of board games & hot chocolate. (Will have to do that one soon, now that it is winter DownUnder.)
    We’ve also started a family night, where we spend 10-15 minutes talking about a topic after dinner and then share dessert together. (We don’t normally eat dessert, so that makes it very special to my children. :) ) So far we have only done 2 – the first one I had everyone put their name on their new family night journal with stickers & introduced the topic of family nights with our dessert as the illustration. (It was a box of assorted chocolates and we talked about how we don’t like all the flavours, or we like some more than others and how it will be that way with the family nights too. So, don’t grumble if you aren’t enjoying one especially; just remember there will be one later on you love and some others are less keen on.) Tonight’s one was the first of a series of topics looking at the values (character qualities) we decided on for our family last year. (We figured it would help us to narrow the myriad of virtues down to a manageable handful that summarised them all and focus on them over the years.) So, it’s early days for us with that ritual but I have high hopes for it. [I got the idea from the book "All in Night" It may be hard for you to get outside of Australia, though. ]

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