During our walk through the adoption process, one of the things our Social Worker always used to comment on was how strong our Team Six ‘brand’ was. Now obviously we hadn’t created our brand as a company would, or worked to promote our brand, or consciously referred to ourselves as a Branded Family!
‘Team Six’ is something that has been important to us, ever since back in the day, when there was just the two of us, before we started extending our family.
When we have looked at what draws us to examine more closely the parenting styles and family choices of those in our world, one of the major positives for us has been their ability to prioritise and nurture their own tribe. The ability to draw strength from within their own tribe or to reenergise one another when needed.
James and I have prioritised focussing our energies on one another in our family as much as possible.
So here are five thoughts that have helped us along the way, as we have chosen to intentionally parent our girls as Team Six:
Individuals, but one team
Our girls are all such individual characters, as you’d expect! Different likes and dislikes. A huge variety of clothing preferences, food choices and general activities. But there are plenty of commonalities, besides the family they live with. Star Wars, Harry Potter, a large full paddling pool in our hot back garden, sunshine days, movie nights, ice creams by the sea (though I admit I don’t like ice cream!), sunny bike rides and reading great stories together.
We also love to spend one to one time with all four of our girls, and they love it as much as we do. We might do a Mummy/Daddy McDonalds breakfast date. Or a walk down to the beach to throw stones and chat, just two of us. Or a Mum/Dad bike ride – one of the girls with one of us.
But we also work hard to make memories together in the every day.
Be that a picnic tea on the beach after we’ve picked James up from work. Or a quick brew from a flask while we skateboard/scooter on the prom on a Sunday afternoon. Or walking down to the freshly made donut stand just down the road for a bag of steaming hot ring donuts to eat in the garden. Or snuggling up together on the settee with a movie, a big bowl of popcorn and a warm blanket on a chilly afternoon.
A couple of weeks ago the girls and I had a fab afternoon in the garden, in beautiful warm sunshine, cracking on with some of the jobs that needed doing outside. I chatted to the girls over lunch about what the most important jobs were and they all chipped in with the bits they liked the sound of. Working together and swapping roles as they were happy to, we got the hedge cut, the weeds on the paths sprayed with weed killer, the decking jet washed, half of the fence painted, the grass mowed and the rubbish cleared into garden recycling bags ready for collection.
We talked over tea with James about how doing it together had made it easier and quicker to get the jobs done. And how working as a team meant we could swap and change when we had had enough of a particular task.
The garden afternoon was a great example of how working as a team in our family enables visible transformation, increases our enjoyment of the tasks, is a joint achievement for all of us, and creates shared memories for everyone.
As I mentioned at the top of this post, the cohesion and identity of our family unit was spoken highly of as we were going through the adoption process. We worked hard with our big three girls to prepare them for the arrival of a new sibling. We talked lots about our identity as a family: what makes us family; what makes our family different to other families, or the same as other families; how their unique identities blend together to make Team Six.
We used to have cotton thread bracelets that all six of us wore on our wrists: Six bracelets we called them. All in the same colour and the girls loved making sure we all had ours on when we went out together, or went on holiday together. It’s one that I think we need to revisit as things change for us over the coming months.
We also have some badges that a wonderful adopter friend made specially for us through her badge business. She made them to say Team Six, in colours I chose, and the girls love to wear them on their jackets or bags.
Having a strong sense of identity as a family unit gives us a strong base to move out from. It especially helps Rainbow Girl as she continues to develop her sense of identity, in terms of feeling settled and secure enough to know that we are her family unit and her safe place.
Setting an example for life
Teamwork helps us to demonstrate to our girls some of the key skills that they will need to use throughout their lives. Skills such as cooperation, communication, listening skills and conflict management. Teamwork teaches them how to observe, identify and define roles and to know it’s ok to change the roles that they fulfil. It teaches accountability – that somebody else is relying on you to carry out what you have said you will do.
Our girls observe James and I role modelling these attributes. And working on our marriage and keeping our commitment to one another is vital. But we also have the opportunity to learn and practise how to use these skills in a safe and affirming environment.
My parents were always there for us. My Dad still is now, even though he is in his 70s and I am in my 40s! There was always room for us to make mistakes, to grow, to learn. There were natural consequences to our decisions and behaviour, but never punitive responses to our mistakes. We have carried this on with how we parent our girls as they grow and I trust that they will look back and see this pattern as one that enabled them to grow, challenge, experiment, learn and keep growing.
Teamwork is productive
As seen with the example of our gardening afternoon above, teamwork is productive. It’s how we get things done in our family. All of the girls have chosen age appropriate household jobs that help to keep our home ticking over and prevent it descending into total carnage! Friday morning is chores time and the girls know their tasks that need completing that morning. Mostly they don’t object, as we worked together to find tasks that they preferred (or at least found less offensive!).
Home education in our house is definitely a team sport! We do numerous learning tasks together, but there are some that require one to one work. The girls love read aloud times and I am always trying to get better at making sure we are keeping up with the books we have planned to read together. We are currently finishing up Anne of Green Gables and there is much debate about what is next!
They are also great at helping and supporting each other when I am already occupied. For example, Joyful and Happy Dreamer work well together when one is struggling with spelling. Or Little Bud loves to show Rainbow Girl how to do her maths puzzles. Happy Dreamer loves to read stories to her younger sisters. Little Bud loves to bake with anyone. The younger three girls often help to get each other ready for bed – reading stories, playing quiet games and tucking one another in.
Having a tribe is fun!
We genuinely enjoy each other’s company! It’s great fun to take trips together, or have shared experiences that we can laugh about together. I have such happy memories of family holidays with my parents and sister. I’ve been chatting lots to our girls about some of the specific memories I have of my childhood holidays. My parents used to take us to Menorca for a fortnight during the summer holidays when I was of school age. It’s where I learned to play Yahtzee and how to fish for crabs off the harbour jetty. It’s where I discovered lemon sorbet and where my Dad used to find us sweet pastries sprinkled with icing sugar (I have still never found these as an adult).
Shared memories are powerful tools, especially in tougher times. Shared memories brought such joy during the months when my Mum was so very poorly. And even more so after she died. Those happy moments brought immense joy when we most needed it.
We are committed to working hard and creating these shared memories for our girls as they grow up. We trust that they will look back and remember the happy times in amongst the more trying moments of family life!
The decisions that we have made recently, and are currently in the middle of making, are absolutely about creating a platform for our tribe to grow and be nurtured and stretched and challenged, whilst remaining within the safe confines of our family.
Watch this space to see how we get on!