I remember a friend, a young mother, with three children under the age of seven, saying to me (also a young mother with four children and a busy husband), “I just wish someone would tell me when I’m doing a good job. What I really want to know is that I’m not raising juvenile delinquents!”
This lament—of not knowing how we’re doing and suspecting we may be doing it all wrong—is felt by many who are plodding through the shifting sands of family life. We have a haunting sense of our own inadequacies in establishing good family-systems. And the truth is, when we think we may be doing pretty well, many of us don’t have anyone who says to us, “You know, you really are doing a good job raising those kids.”
About 30 years ago, several major universities launched research projects to discover what made healthy families healthy. Thousands of families in the U.S. and across the world were carefully studied. The cumulated data was eventually shared in a National Forum on Family Well-Being sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services. At this time measuring tools were established to help family professionals (including parents) recognize the traits of healthy families.
The traits are as follows:
1. Healthy Families Have Good Communication
Good communication results from a loving relationship between parents. The healthy family:
a. Listens and responds rather than listening and reacting (reacting: projecting one’s own feeling and experiences; responding: empathizing with the other person’s feelings).
b. Develops patterns for reconciliation (including having a good sense of timing for heated discussions).
c. Controls television viewing.
d. Recognizes nonverbal messages (lack of eye contact, mumbled messages, etc).
e. Places importance on intensity and spontaneity in conversation rather than on propriety.
f. Recognizes turn-off words and put-down phrases (a comment made in jest to one person may be an insult to another) and works on eliminating hurtful words and name-calling.
g. Encourages individual feelings, independent thinking and uniqueness.
2. Healthy Families Spend Time Together
Times spent together are both planned and spontaneous times, serious and fun times. The healthy family:
a. Allows themselves time to play and relax, time to dream without guilt (laughter causes remarkable physical relaxation—humor banishes the tightness and severity necessary for anger).
b. Prioritizes activities:
– Why do we want this activity?
– What will it replace?
– Will it affect our life together?
– Is it worth it?
c. Values table time in conversation—the dinner meal becomes an important part of the day (activities that infringe on this time are discouraged).
d. Maintains a balance of interaction in its time together (discourages cliques among members while still encouraging individual members to spend time together).
e. Doesn’t allow work and other activities to infringe routinely on family
f. Occasionally participates as a unit in activities chose by individual members—other members compromise even if that activity isn’t their choice.
3. Healthy Families Encourage and Affirm One Another
The parents have good self-esteem and pass this on to their children by:
a. Expecting family members to affirm and support one another.
b. Realizing that support doesn’t mean pressure (to succeed, look good, win, etc).
c. Giving genuine approval and support to help children develop good self-
esteem (rather than being concerned about causing them to become conceited).
d. Maintaining a basic positive mood.
4. Healthy Families Deal Positively With a Crisis
Children learn to solve problems by living in a family that solves problems. parents give children the hope and conviction that “when things get tough we’ll be able to cope.” The healthy family:
a. Expects problems and considers them to be a normal part of family life.
b. Develops the skill of knowing when a problem is a problem (doesn’t become overly concerned by annoying events).
c. Develops a skill for identifying potentially serious problems and tackling them early, which helps avoid a crisis.
d. Allows give-and-take in negotiation—if a problem concerns the whole family, everyone gets a chance to speak.
e. Possesses high initiative for helping itself, but isn’t afraid to reach out for help from support groups or professionals when facing a problem too big to handle alone.
f. Stands together in bad times as well as good.
5. Healthy Families Have a Commitment to the Family
The husband and wife share a consensus of important values. If parents aren’t committed, neither will children be apt to be committed. The healthy family:
a. Treasures its legends and characters—the past is preserved and passed on to future generations.
b. Honors its elders and welcomes its babies—all the seasons of life are appreciated by others.
c. Makes a deliberate effort to gather as a people—strong families enjoy being together and make any excuse to do so.
d. Views itself as a link between the past and the future (family members don’t end with death—deceased members are discussed so others feel acquainted with them) and instinctively warns individuals to reach out and hold other members for as long as they have the privilege.
e. Cherishes its traditions and rituals, thus helping the family members celebrate life and one another.
6. Healthy Families Have a Religious Orientation
A question to ask each other: How are you doing spiritually?
How frequently, when I teach on these, parents respond by saying, “That’s just common sense. We could have listed those ourselves.” That’s true. Yet when the academic community and the social services community link their research to the efforts of family specialists, it is a comfort to know that our common sense is basically valid.
These common traits gave concerned parents specific areas where they needed to improve; but the indices of well-being also allowed parents to pat themselves on the back and say, “Hey! We really are doing well—here, here and here!”
Sometimes, when you’ve got a house full of kids, and you’re wondering how you’re going to make it through the days, it’s a good idea to pull out this list and say, “Hey, we’re not doing all bad here. In fact, we’re pretty good at some of this.”
Intriguingly, most of those research studies begun 30 years ago listed a spiritual orientation as one of the common traits of healthy families—healthy families have some kind of spiritual life together. This trait is not such a big surprise to those of us in faith-based communities: Establishing healthy families, after all, is one of God’s Big Ideas.
As you consider how you’re doing if you are in the middle of the parenting juggling act, make a point of taking time to hear God say, “You really are doing a good job!” Then invite Him to be the Teacher who helps you truthfully evaluate where it is you need to improve. You may discover that He is a better Family Counselor than you ever dreamed.
No, despite those momentary fears, you are not raising juvenile delinquents.
About Karen Mains:
Award-winning author Karen Mains continues to write new content for her Christian blog, “Gettin’ Thru the Day.” Through her Hungry Souls ministry, she serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and has started teaching a mentor-writing class.
Karen and her husband, David, have been in religious communications for decades—radio and television and print publication. The are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy, Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. David is completing a manuscript titled Revelation for My Grandchildren, and he and Karen are considering if this should be made into a fourth Tales book, Tales of the Revelation.
Karen is also developing a two-day training event for those interested in becoming Silent Retreat leaders, and the Global Bag Project is developing a template for Bag Parties in a Box.