Last month’s column introduced the traits of good communication and valuing family time and conversation. In this issue, three more of the 15 traits from Dolores Curran’s book, “Traits of a Healthy Family” will be covered. Traits 3 – 5 have to do with providing every family member with a sense of inclusion and acceptance.
Trait three, “affirming and supporting one another”, really starts with the parents. Happy parents make for happy kids. Affirming parents have good self-esteem, and work to instill a positive mood in the home. This positive tone in the home creates a general expectation that everyone will affirm and support each other. For example, if your daughter plays in a soccer game, everyone in the family knows about it and will in some way provide her with support and give her the message that it’s good for her to be in soccer. A healthy family would provide support for her efforts by watching the game or asking about the game if they couldn’t be there. Complaining about watching the game, or being critical about her involvement are good examples of what happens in unhealthy, rather than healthy families.
Your family members can be the best cheerleaders you can have; celebrating personal victories together and providing support during challenging times. One great idea I’ve seen to make this trait more visible in your family is to have a “You are Special” plate. Some families have a specially marked plate for this, or just use a plate different from the others. Whenever anyone has a personal victory in their life, they get to use the plate during a mealtime that day. This provides a great opportunity for the family to recognize and celebrate victories together. For instance, if mom gets an award at work or fixed the sink without calling the plumber, she’d get the “You Are Special” plate at dinner that night and everyone would participate in congratulating her. This kind of small acknowledgement helps each person feel they are an important part of the family.
Traits four and five, respecting each other and showing trust, go hand in hand and so I will address them together. Trust and respect are priceless yet easily damaged. A good word picture for respect is “boundaries.” This refers to each family member’s ability to know where “the line” is and respect that line. At the minimum, the line of respect is where each family member feels safe in the presence of all other family members. Healthy families respect each other’s personal property and space. This allows each person to feel valued as a whole person. Respect is deliberate mindfulness of each other’s needs. A teenager needs to feel unique and different from his or her parents. This should be tolerated and allowed, within reason. A father may not like loud music of the style played by his son, and this should be respected by listening to the music at a reasonable level. This shows mutual respect.
Trust, like respect, is something that is earned. In healthy families the mother and father report deep trust for each other. Children are not given trust immediately, but are given plenty of opportunities to earn trust. Additionally, when trust is broken (and it will be) healthy families realize that broken trust can be mended. As a teenager, I remember being so upset when my parents didn’t give me absolute trust. However, I wasn’t always trustworthy. Therefore, trust was built by my ability to prove myself trustworthy over time. With this trait, remember that children should be given opportunities to prove themselves. As parents, we can adopt the Ronald Reagan approach of “Trust but verify.”
The next column will continue to cover healthy family traits. The traits I will discuss next are: playfulness and humor, balance of interaction among family members, sharing leisure time, and sharing responsibility.