Ask three different sources for a definition of “culture” and you’ll get four or five answers. These answers will range from airy things like “values and mores” to procedural things like “customs and rituals” to concrete things like “food and music.”
Regardless of the exact definition used, “culture” is normally used to discuss things that large groups of people have in common, but small groups of people can also have specific things in common that define a “microculture.” Military units, companies, teams within companies, social cliques, and - of course - families can all have their own microcultures.
Shared experiences, norms, and expectations all contribute to the cohesion and function of these units. Strong, healthy microcultures contribute positively, making the group a source of strength and stability. People like being a part of the group. They stick around, help each other, and take pride in their membership. Weak microcultures do not build these attributes and unhealthy microcultures actively destroy them.
Take a moment and ask yourself: how strong and healthy is your family microculture?
For many families, family microculture is nearly nonexistent because families share so little. Parents spend their time at work, kids spend their time at school. At home, everyone entertains themselves with personal devices. Even institutions like churches segregate adults and children into regular services and Sunday Schools. Everything from food to music is atomized and individualized. Values and norms follow.
This fuels the modern cliche of youngsters who reject their parents culture. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve never been a part of it. And yes, it is largely a modern phenomenon. Teenagers have always sought their independence, but for most of history, cultures and identities were not built afresh, from the ground up, for each alienated generation.
It’s easy to blame this on technology - my father didn’t grow up with video games and I didn’t grow up with AI - and that may be an enabling factor, but I don’t believe it’s the root cause. New technologies can still be shared and explored together. *
For those who value their culture and want to pass it on to their children, this is optimistic. It’s a belief that generational disintegration of culture isn’t inevitable.
Experiences and stories can still be shared. Time together may benefit from being screen-free, but it isn’t necessary. My own father never seemed to tire of picking up a controller for Gran Turismo, despite my vast, childhood-enabled advantage in practice time. Find time to share experiences and build a group identity intentionally.
I’m not naive, I know that time together can be tough to find. It is this - much more than technology - that weakens family microcultures. I struggle with it too; there is a lot to get done between a full-time job, school, chores, and a project like Copper Jungle.
But another reason to be optimistic about technology is that it can facilitate asynchronously shared experiences. You can still read the same books, watch the same movies, or play the same games (sometimes even together) even when you don’t have the same time free. Messages, photos, and videos can be shared from business trips and errands.
Another method for building family microculture is to explicate. Talk about your values intentionally. What do you think is important? Why do you make family decisions the way you do? What is your religion (whether it is secular or traditional)? Make a point of celebrating key holidays and rituals with your children - even if it’s less convenient or even if you need to do it remotely.
What are your family stories? How did you arrive at your current homestead? Where are your ancestors from? These stories can be shared orally or written down. Photo albums can seem passe, but give children a sense of history beyond their the photo rolls of their own (or their parents’ own) phones.
Symbology is also important in many cultural contexts. Your children may naturally inherit iconography from the larger culture - like holiday stories and colors. I wouldn’t take it for granted, though, these days. If you want your children to know or appreciate a symbol, use it intentionally. Beyond these broader items, does your family have its own symbols? Colors, icons, mottos, mascots, or coats of arms? Consider finding ways to keep those alive. Even something as simple as an apron printed with family iconography can contribute to an awareness of group identity.
However you do it, think about your family microculture intentionally. Corporate execs spend lots of time and energy on company culture because a healthy microculture is a critical component of building a successful, stable company. The same is true for families.
What else do you do to build your family’s microculture? We’d love to hear your ideas and techniques in the comments below!