The quality of family life influences every other part of our life. Surveys tell us that the greatest source of happiness in life is the family. The same surveys tell us that the greatest source of frustration and disappointment in people’s lives is dealing with family problems. Every one of us, including you, is part of a family. In fact, we’re part of several families. You didn’t have any choice in the matter. God has designed the family as the basic unit of all society. As goes the family, so go our communities. As go our communities so go our states. As go our states so go our nations. As go our nations so go entire civilizations.
Over the past 15 years, there have been numerous studies on the characteristics of strong, healthy families. What does a healthy family look like? What do healthy families do? From my research, interviews, clinical work, and from my experience as a father of three, I’ve identified, not 12 steps or a “Top 10” but 7 simple keys to growing healthy families.
Key #1: The Power of Modeling
What your kids see you do as they grow up is what you’ll likely see them do when they’ve grown up. What do your children see modeled in your character? Do they see truth, honesty, and integrity in action? Do they have healthy examples of conflict-resolution skills? Do you appreciate and promote their uniqueness? Do you model and encourage a healthy experience and expression of emotions? The greatest gift you can give your child is who you are. The lifestyle our children see us model daily is much more powerful than what we tell them. Both are important. But there must be congruity between the talk and the walk.
What your kids see you do as they grow up is what you’ll likely see them do when they’ve grown up.
Key #2: Giving the Gift of Time
Most children spell love with a T, an I, an M and an E. That’s right. TIME is how most children spell love. Healthy parents don’t find time, they make time. Why is it so difficult? We’re all busy with demands and pressures. In the midst of this busyness, our children can easily seem like an interruption. It is unrealistic for us to always drop everything and cater to the demands of our children. At the same time, we need to remember that children don’t have the same sense of time that we do. How can we “make time?” One way is set aside special times for them. Acknowledge them when they get up in the morning or when they get home from school or another event. Set aside quantity time at certain times during the week.
Key #3: Power of Nourishing Love
Learn how to say “I Love You!” in more than one way. In chapter 5 of Ephesians, the apostle Paul gives some wise counsel to husbands and wives. He tells us that two key activities in a loving relationship are learning to cherish and nourish the other person. Cherish is the easy part. When you cherish something it means that you value and care about it. It is important to you. However, you may not express it. That’s where nourish comes in. Nourish is an action term that looks at what I actually do. It involves going beyond the attitude to action. Quality nourishment involves stopping, looking, listening and studying that special person.
An encouraging environment is one in which we spend more time building and encouraging our loved ones than we do scolding and correcting them. It’s one in which we honor them by speaking respectfully to them. An encouraging environment is one where our emphasis is on catching those we love doing good rather than catching them making mistakes. We invest more energy in praising them for being successful than in criticizing and castigating them for falling short of our expectations.
Key #5: The Gift of Healthy Anger
What do you think of when you hear the word anger? Is all anger bad? Can this unwelcome and potentially destructive emotion be considered a gift rather than a time-bomb? A healthy home is where people express anger in HEALTHY ways. The surprising truth is that when a person understands anger and learns how to express it in healthy ways, it can be an ally and actually lead to increased trust, greater intimacy, and stronger relationships. While we may have minimal control over when we experience anger, we have almost total control over how we choose to express that anger.
Key #6: Nurturing Quality Communication
A ten-year study revealed that happily married couples differ from unhappily married couples in that they talk more to each other, convey feelings that they understand what is being said to them, preserve communication channels and keep them open, show more sensitivity to each other’s feelings, and realize the importance of nonverbal aspects of communication. Since good communication doesn’t just happen, smart families set aside a regular time each week for focused communication.
Key #7: Conflict: Pathway to Intimacy
Most of us haven’t learned the value of conflict. We misunderstand its potential and may interpret it as an attack. Conflict is the process we go through and the price we pay for intimacy. When we avoid healthy conflict we avoid growth.
The next time conflict stares you in the face try these three simple steps. First, make your primary goal to understand the other person. Take a few minutes to acknowledge, discuss and define the conflict and then listen. Second, ask yourself, “What is MY contribution to the problem?” Most of us find it easier to identify the other person’s contribution to the problem, how “they” need to change and what “they” could do different, rather than our own. Third, commit yourself to understand what the issue looks like through their eyes.
Tell us! What do you think is important in building strong families?