What do healthy families look like? There’s a saying; “Crazy comes in many forms but sanity just has one.” Dolores Curran, author of “Traits of a Healthy Family,” surveyed professionals in education, ministry, health care, and family counseling, asking them to identify what they observed in families they deemed as “healthy.” Based on this survey, 15 traits were identified as components of healthy families. There is no single family that embodies all of these traits, so don’t feel pressure to master them all. This issue will look at the first two in Curran’s list; communication, and valuing family time and conversation. The other 13 traits will be covered in later columns.
#1: Healthy families communicate and listen. Communication is a two-way interaction; someone is giving a message and someone else is receiving it. Good communication occurs when both people feel heard and understood. When someone is talking to you, it is important to let them know what you heard. It’s easy to fall into the habit of “listening” while you are doing something else, but this gives the nonverbal message you aren’t really listening. And research on multitasking says that actually we aren’t listening when focusing on something else. So what does this mean for you? PUT THE PHONE DOWN! Turn the TV off. Look at the person that is speaking to you. Families with healthy communication are responsive listeners. They look at people who are talking to them and let them know what they heard.
#2: Valuing family time and conversation. This is simply putting a priority on spending time together. One good example of family time is “table time.” In many homes, the family dinner table has become a place for piles of laundry and odds and ends, rather than a place for the family to eat together. To make “table time” happen, you have to make the dinner table a place to eat and sit together on a regular basis. Put the laundry and projects somewhere else. Try to eat a meal together as a family as often as you can; breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Everybody eats, so why not make an effort to eat together? This is a great time to share your lives with each other. Make mealtimes a time to discuss family plans, or each person’s highlights and struggles of the day. Try to keep conversation lighthearted, avoiding “hot button” issues. It can be a challenge to coordinate everyone’s schedules to eat together, but the payoff is worth it.
To make both of these traits work, I suggest you unplug from screens. Recognize and avoid harsh criticisms and put downs. Encourage individual feelings and independent thinking. Honor each other’s experience as important. Be aware of your nonverbal messages (tone of voice, facial expressions). Be consistent in practicing these traits, and I guarantee you will see great results. Try them out, and your family will be able to resist the forces that often pull families apart.