I spend a lot of time analyzing the health of both my business and personal wellbeing. Both areas get a lot of attention with the intent to bolster its strengths and address its weekneses. Yet, when it comes to the health of my family we sort of wing it. Sure we hold family meetings when things begin to get out of control, we plan family outings and make sure we talk to the kids and keep tabs on things. Nevertheless, I think we too often don’t provide the kind of attention and dedication to creating a healthier family like we seem to do in other areas. Recently, I ran across the following article in the CBS Website authored by Victor M. Parachin, a regular contributor. In the article, he highlights six signs of a healthy family. I felt the signs provided a sound benchmark for evaluating my own family and a great platform by which to contemplate what we can do more of.
1. Healthy families maintain a spiritual foundation.
Educator Dolores Curran surveyed 550 family professionals–teachers, clergy, pediatricians, social workers, counselors, leaders of volunteer organizations–asking them to list the top 15 traits common to healthy families. Number 10 out of 56 possible traits common to a healthy family was “a shared religious core.” One physician responded “It’s obvious that the stronger families have a strong religious affiliation.” A junior high school principal wrote “Healthy families still seem to embody some of the old traits. The kids from these families come to school, go to church, and care about others.” After compiling the results of her survey, Curran concluded that families with “a shared religious core seem to find a strength that, supported by a church affiliation, gives stability to their individual and family lives.”
2. Healthy families make the family a top priority.
Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa has made this observation about the modern family “I think the world today is upside down, and is suffering so much, because there is so very little love in the homes and in family life. We have no time for our children, we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other.” Healthy families make their family a top priority, and that means making time to be together. They do not routinely allow work or other activities to infringe upon family time.
Of course, there are periodic times when work responsibilities demand additional effort. For example, a CPA and her family expect April 15, tax deadline time, to be more time-consuming. A salesperson and his family expect more time to be expended at work during the holiday rush. A writer may be preoccupied with a major deadline just as a farmer works longer hours during harvesttime. However, these times are recognized as exceptional work situations in a healthy family. One glowing example is that of David, an East Coast advertising executive. David had promised his son they would go fishing on the weekend. On that Friday an associate called David asking him to come by the office on the weekend to look over a new ad campaign. David declined politely but firmly, saying, “Someone else can give you input on this, but no one else can be a father to my son.”
3. Healthy families ask–and give–respect.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves,” was instruction given by Paul (Romans 12:10, NIV).(*) Members in healthy families follow that advice naturally. They know that respect is always a two-way street. In order to receive respect,, you must first give it. The most effective way of gaining respect from children is to treat them with respect.
In his book Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down family psychologist Kevin Leman, Ph.D., shares this story from his own parenting. His teenage daughter, Krissy, was joking with him but crossed a line when she called him a “moron” in front of several of her friends. Dr. Leman became very angry and disciplined her harshly in front of her companions.
“After her friends left, Krissy was sitting glumly in her room. By then I had cooled off,” he recalls. “She hadn’t shown me respect, but at the same time, I hadn’t been respectful of her. I went to her room and told her, `I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have yelled at you in front of your friends. Honey, you know I like to kid around, but you went too far,'” he explained. As Dr. Leman turned to leave his daughter’s room, Krissy said “I’m sorry; it won’t happen again. Dad, thanks for apologizing. I won’t forget.”
4. Healthy families communicate and listen.
Happy families respect the other person’s point of view even when it differs from their own. In healthy families members practice “active listening,” says Mary Durkin, Ph.D., an author, lecturer, and mother of seven. In her book Making Your Family Work she says the following five qualities are common to active listeners
* Giving the other person opportunities to express ideas and feelings–without interrupting.
* Making an honest attempt to understand these ideas and feelings.
* Setting aside preconceived opinions about the other person.
* Showing respect for the other person’s right to hold a view different from yours.
* Demonstrating your appreciation of the effort the other person is making.
5. Healthy families value service to others.
Some families get caught up in an unhealthy competitive spirit. They work at raising children who are the biggest, the best, the prettiest, the brightest, or the most popular. However, healthy families place little emphasis upon those qualities, focusing instead on raising children who care about others and who work to improve conditions for the less fortunate. Their joy as parents comes from seeing their children grow to become caring, compassionate persons as a result of their family experiences.
An excellent example is New York Philharmonic musician Philip Smith, one of the finest classical trumpeters in the world. Tickets for his performances are extremely difficult to purchase. However, every December Smith can be found outside a department store or a supermarket in his Salvation Army uniform, playing carols. Smith’s first public performances were with the Salvation Army, where his father was bandmaster of the Army staff band. During the cold days of December Smith faithfully plays his trumpet hour after hour, encouraging shoppers to drop coins into the Salvation Army kettle. With his cap pulled down tightly, few people recognize him as one of the world’s best trumpeters, yet he gladly and freely offers his talent in order to help the poor.
6. Healthy families expect–and offer–acceptance.
A good family provides a psychological safety net that makes members feel accepted. It is their unique place to be comfortable in, to be sick in, to fight with other family members in, to cry in, to dream in, to feel secure in. In her book Family Secrets What You Need to Know to Build a Strong Christian Family author Gladys Hunt writes “A Christian home is a safe place to try out your ideas, to verbalize what you believe is valuable, without being shot down. It means that the child who likes rock and roll has a hearing, an acceptance equal to the child who likes Bach and sings only hymns. A Christian home is a safe place not safe in the sense that you are never corrected, never made to make amends for wrongdoing, but safe in the sense that you are taken seriously as a person; the home is a place where you know you are valued.”
(*) Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright [C] 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.