We have discussed that our motivation as parents is to show God’s character and love, and to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who laid down his life for his bride. What about motivation for our children? The answer to this, as well as the glue that bonds a family together, is family identity.

I like to think of family identity as a great project that we have as parents; it’s bigger and more exciting than building or decorating a house—it’s building and enriching a family.

Before you were married, you each came from different families, and once married your chance to create your own family arrived. What will your family look like, what will you be known for? What do you want to encourage, and what do you want to discourage? What will you do together, what holidays will you have, what activities will you do? This is what resonates in the minds of our children, because they are born without a concept of family—it is up to us to teach it to them.

And family should never be an academic lesson to children. It is made up of what they experience. For most children, family starts off as ‘we have fun times together’. This is a practical measure of what a family is and should never be lost, but as children grow older, they will appreciate the depth of love and forgiveness and new opportunities afforded each day within the family. However, the motivation to do their daily chores, and the compelling reason they will take out the rubbish when asked or clear away the dishes is because of the investment you, as parents, make in enjoyable times and activities together. If children see your investment in family, they will be willing to match that investment and they will quickly see chores and tasks as their contribution to the fun times and structure of family.

By fun times I’m not talking of expensive things. Riding bikes, taking family picnics, visiting national parks, going to the beach and enjoying holidays away, are great times to relax, but also to engage with, have fun and enjoy our children.

Our children will value our time with them, and we are building relationships and experiences that will stand us in good stead. It may mean you invest in trampolines, table tennis tables and sporting equipment from time to time, but these are not bought as objects to keep children occupied and out of the way. They are a means by which we can enjoy each other’s company and have fun together. I cannot recommend highly enough the plethora of modern inventive board games for families, and you can even invite other families around to battle with ‘Telestrations’ or ‘Codewords’ or the like.

The great thing about family identity is that it is tangible to our children and they can actively see their contribution at work. What’s more, the greater their contribution and skills, the more exciting things you are able to do together.

I know of a family who caravanned around Australia for a year, and the adventure was tangibly linked to each child’s contribution, because each time they stopped to make camp, the oldest child helped with levelling the van, the next two set up the camp kitchen and barbeque, and even the youngest child had a role in unpacking and setting up the camp chairs.

Another incentive for building a family identity is to provide a place that they can come back to after they have grown up. When your child is a teenager and can drive, you don’t want that to be the last you see of them. You want your house to be filled with such memories of fun times, and with the games and activities on hand; you want to make it a place where they want to invite others to come back to.

When you have young people, you want your house to be the centre of your children’s circle of friends, and it starts by your investment together in family identity.

The other benefit of family identity is that when done well it acts as a stabilising influence in your children’s lives, as in what they stand for— not as individuals, but as family. The Rechabites (Jer 35) provide a well-known scriptural example of this principle. The outworking can be a practical motivator for good behaviour in areas of discipline or picky eating where you can emphasise the idea of a family’s culture: “In our household, we behave respectfully” (and don’t hit, or say yuck at the dinner table, etc.).

As parents we can use the family time to ensure that our children don’t do things simply because others do them, especially when our children are young and don’t understand the moral implications of some choices. Rather than dispensing judgement on other families, we have the opportunity with a strong family identity to simply say, “Let them have that activity, because the thing we do together is canoeing”. In this way we can emphasise the special thing that the family does together.

Of course, the ultimate goal of family identity is that once our children have learnt about good family life and have invested in that life, they can confidently contribute to the ecclesial family identity, understanding that it is guided by the influence of the Lord Jesus Christ’s example, together with the love and care and instruction of our heavenly Father.

Hopefully our children will also become aware as teenagers of the value of a group of families who have similar values as themselves. This will enable them to develop friendships and grow in maturity, and hopefully they will see more clearly the value of the family identity of those adopted as children of God of whom both heaven and earth are named (Eph 3:15).

One of our core hopes is the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham; that in him all families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:3). Let us with energy and resolve work on the identity of our little family that it may be joined with all other God-glorifying families at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.