There are ways your family can be strong and happy ― by the way you interact with each other, how you treat each other, what you do as a family and as individuals to support each other.
Family Strength #1: SPIRITUAL LIFE
Spirituality is the guiding force that bonds the family together. A shared spiritual faith provides tools and models for building good relationships and for dealing with difficult situations and changing circumstances. It is a key element in establishing strong caring families and is the foundation for all family strengths.
Strong families live their spiritual faith. They discuss their beliefs and spiritual thoughts with each other. They worship together. They pray together. They find hope, support, guidance, and a sense of purpose through their spiritual faith.
Family Strength #2: CARING & APPRECIATION
Families are strengthened by expressions of caring and appreciation. Even when a family member makes poor choices or mistakes, members of strong families find ways to encourage and support each person.
Strong families notice and share positive aspects of each other. They pay attention to another person’s polite behavior or something nice he or she did or said. They notice the talents, skills, achievements, special qualities, and characteristics that make the other person unique. You might show appreciation by writing short love notes about one of these things, and put the note under the person’s pillow, or in a backpack, briefcase, or purse. Write something like “Emily, I’m proud of you for working so hard on your homework. Love, Dad.”
Giving time is an important way of showing caring and appreciation. Children want parents to be available to have time, to show interest, to do things with them, and to talk with them. A strong family finds that opportunities for quality time occur as they spend quantity time together. Eating meals together, sharing joys and defeats, working together, making treats together, and watching movies or playing games are examples of shared activities. Some families schedule one evening every week for special family activities.
Physical expressions are good ways of showing affection, love, and appreciation. A quick pat, a hug, a kiss, a handclasp, or an arm around the shoulder can say a lot to people of all ages.
Good manners and everyday courtesy to a child or a spouse lets the person know that he or she matters. Ask children and other family members to do things rather than demand that they do them. Compliment good behavior. Thank family members for their efforts. Ask for opinions. Listen to comments. Let your words be kind.
Family Strength #3: COMMITMENT
Family members support and sustain each other. They are committed to the family as a unit. They value the things that make their family special. Even when times are hard, they work on problems together.
When children see their parents committed to each other, they know their parents are committed to them. Parents who love, honor, and respect each other make a safe and secure home.
Having family traditions builds family commitment. A family tradition is any activity or event that occurs regularly and holds special meaning for that family. The tradition may be as simple as stories and prayers before bedtime, Saturday morning pancakes, or as elaborate as an annual big vacation. Because these traditions have meanings that are special to the family, they create feelings of warmth, closeness, and specialness. Traditions can build a feeling of stability and safety for family members.
Compiling a family history can build family loyalty and commitment. Ask older relatives to talk about their lives. Their stories contain a glimpse of their personalities and strengths. Learn about your family’s heritage. Discover what country your ancestors came from, when they lived, how they lived, and what they did for a living. Find books, magazines, tapes, films, or pictures that relate to the countries your ancestors lived in and the things people did in those countries.
Family Strength #4: COMMUNICATION
Strong families communicate. They talk. They share themselves. They share their feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, experiences, growth, and needs. Their communication patterns are clear, open, and frequent. They take the time to talk, to listen, and respond to what others have to say.
It is especially important to talk about feelings. Talk about feelings and experiences while driving in the car, while sharing household chores, or during dinner time. You can encourage family members to share by saying, “Tell me more.” “Wow. That must have been exciting (frustrating, etc.).” “What was the best part of the day for you?”
When your family has a problem, make suggestions that are kind and helpful. Try to suggest actions that you or others could take to improve the situation or solve the problem. If you criticize another person’s actions without helping that person come up with an alternative, he or she may feel frustrated, helpless, and unworthy. At all times, even when giving hard-to-hear feedback, speak from the heart out of love.
Be a good listener. Listening to what others say and feel is one of the most powerful ways of showing love. To be good listeners we often must set aside our lectures and really try to understand from the viewpoint of the other person. The goal is simply to hear, understand, and accept the other person’s feelings and views. Real acceptance and understanding take patience and active listening.
Family Strength #5: COMMUNITY & FAMILY TIES
Strong families are not isolated. They draw on other people and groups for support and friendship. If they have a hard time dealing with a problem, they are willing to seek outside help. Strong families also tend to be closely involved with the schools, churches, and local organizations that promote the well-being of the community and the individual
Ties with relatives, neighbors, and friends are especially important. Busy schedules can make it hard to spend time with people outside the family. But relationships can sometimes be kept up by having family members write brief notes. Or the family can make it a special point to visit with certain people.
Helping people in need in our own extended families, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities can be very rewarding. A family might choose an elderly person or couple who need help with raking leaves, caring for a lawn or garden, or cleaning or repairing a house. They might read to someone. Or the family might just visit.
Family Strength #6: TEAMWORK
Strong families make decisions, solve family problems, and do family work together. Everyone has a role to play and everyone participates. Parents are the leaders, but the children’s opinions and efforts are invited, encouraged, and appreciated.
Making real decisions is good practice and can help children grow up to be responsible adults. Children need opportunities to make decisions, to participate in family decisions, and to observe the parents’ decision-making process and results.
Children are more apt to carry out their responsibilities if they have some choice as to what those responsibilities are and can see how these particular tasks help the family. Teenagers are more willing to go along on a family vacation if they help decide where to go and what to do. Older children and teens are more likely to accept limitations regarding purchases if they have an awareness of the family’s financial situation.
Letting children take part in decision-making says to them “You are important, and what you have to say counts.” Many families have found that a family meeting improves communication and decision-making. During a family meeting, every member of the family has the opportunity to express opinions and ideas, offer compliments or complaints, and most importantly, be listened to.
Family Strength #7: FLEXIBILITY & OPENNESS TO CHANGE
All families develop habits, routines, and a set of rules. These patterns are ways to deal with day-to-day life. Some of the more obvious patterns are who cooks, washes dishes, does the laundry, or fixes the car. Other less obvious patterns include: Who has the right to make what decisions? How are differences of opinion handled? How are anger, affection, or other emotions expressed?
The development of a stable family pattern is necessary to deal with all the things a family must face, decide, and accomplish in daily life. But a family must also be able to adapt to new needs and circumstances.
There are a number of common changes most families face. Children get older. Adults switch jobs or retire. Families are reshaped by birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, sickness, and death. Families move to different communities. Family relationships are most likely to remain healthy and strong if family members adapt to these changes ― and support each other in dealing with change.