When the pandemic first hit, I feared for how my family would cope in lockdown. I wondered if constantly being together might break us apart. Ironically, it was the Danish concept of ‘fællesskab’ (community) that held us together.
Unity in harmony
Fællesskab is a huge part of Danish society. It’s essentially the feeling of unity that comes from being in harmony or a team.
There are two kinds of fællesskab. One is the fun kind that flows easily. This could be the feeling that comes from playing a fun game or collaborating well with people we get along with. We are effortlessly part of the group and it’s fun and cosy.
The other kind of fællesskab is the feeling of community we get from making an effort to be part of the group even if we don’t always want to be. It is called ‘forpligtelses fællesskab’(communal duty). It’s not something we usually think of to teach, but in Denmark it’s a big part of schooling and family education. It’s ‘we time’, not ‘me time’, and for some individualistic cultures this can be a fantastic lesson for the future.
Cherish the chores
“You have to give something to receive something from the fællesskab,” explains Kasper Nyholm, the principal of Absalon Skole, which focuses a lot on ‘forpligtelses fællesskab’.
“Maybe you aren’t getting all what you want in your own way, so you have to make some changes to compromise. Humans are social animals. It takes work to rely on each other, and sometimes that means doing things a little against your own wishes.”
One of the ways to encourage fællesskab at home is by doing chores together as a family. Some 99 percent of parents in Denmark think that children must participate in the household. This could be cooking together, cleaning together or even baking together.
Fællesskab is about being more inclusive rather than giving orders or doing everything on your own. It’s a way of seeing everyday activities as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to spending time together. The good news is that the earlier you start the more it becomes a habit, and this may be setting your child up for success in the long run as well.
For the future
A Harvard Grant study – one of the longest running longitudinal studies in history – found that one of the key factors that contributes to professional success in life comes from doing chores as a child. Children who regularly do chores are able to better deal with frustration, delay gratification, have higher self-esteem and be more responsible than those who don’t do chores.
So the next time you are about to give an ultimatum to your child to clean up their room or else – – or you are going to do the shopping and cooking by yourself – see if you can’t find a way to work together to create that feeling of ‘fællesskab’ instead.
You may find that seeing your family as a team, and treating them as such, will be a big win for everyone in the future.