Six Signs of a Healthy Family
Author: Victor M. Parachin

News reporter and commentator Corrine "Cokie" Roberts was raised in a busy political family with little discretionary time. Her father, Hale Boggs, was Democratic House majority leader, while her mother, Lindy, later became a congresswoman. In spite of time limitations, the family members worked together and supported each other. "I was 2 when my father was elected to Congress. My parents decided to include their children in dinners with important people and to watch important debates on the House floor," she recalls. "My mother ran all of Daddy's political campaigns. Our dining room table was ‘campaign central.' We helped stuff envelopes and put up posters." Roberts describes her childhood family life as "secure and loving," something she has tried to create for her own children.

Roberts had the wonderful opportunity of growing up in a healthy family. In a healthy family like Roberts' there is an ability to work together and support each other, no matter how busy and hectic individual schedules may be. Although there are many happy, healthy families in the country, some people come from family units that are described as "dysfunctional." These are families in which basic psychological needs are not met. In such families parents do not respect each other or their children. Their unhealthy parenting style leaves children wounded, shamed, abused, and made to feel guilty for matters beyond their control. Although much media attention has recently focused on dysfunctional families, there are thousands of parents and children faithfully working together to create loving, secure families.

Here are six signs of a healthy (functional) family:

1. Healthy families maintain a spiritual foundation.

Educator Dolores Curran surveyed 550 family professionals -- teachers, clergy, pediatricians, social workers, counselors, and leaders of volunteer organizations -- asking them to list the top 15 traits common to healthy families. Number 10 out of 56 possible traits common to a healthy family was "a shared religious core." One physician responded, "It's obvious that the stronger families have a strong religious affiliation." A junior high school principal wrote, "Healthy families still seem to embody some of the old traits. The kids from these families come to school, go to church, and care about others." After compiling the results of her survey, Curran concluded that families with "a shared religious core seem to find a strength that, supported by a church affiliation, gives stability to their individual and family lives."

2. Healthy families make the family a top priority.

Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa has made this observation about the modern family, "I think the world today is upside down, and is suffering so much, because there is so very little love in the homes and in family life. We have no time for our children, we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other." Healthy families make their family a top priority, and that means making time to be together. They do not routinely allow work or other activities to infringe upon family time.
Of course, there are periodic times when work responsibilities demand additional effort. For example, a CPA and her family expect April 15, tax deadline time, to be more time-consuming. A salesperson and his family expect more time to be expended at work during the holiday rush. A writer may be preoccupied with a major deadline just as a farmer works longer hours during harvest time. However, these times are recognized as exceptional work situations in a healthy family. One glowing example is that of David, an East Coast advertising executive. David had promised his son they would go fishing on the weekend. On that Friday an associate called David asking him to come by the office on the weekend to look over a new ad campaign. David declined politely but firmly, saying, "Someone else can give you input on this, but no one else can be a father to my son."

3. Healthy families ask--and give--respect.

Members in healthy families know that respect is always a two-way street. In order to receive respect, you must first give it. The most effective way of gaining respect from children is to treat them with respect.
In his book, Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down, family psychologist Kevin Leman, Ph.D., shares this story from his own parenting. His teenage daughter, Krissy, was joking with him but crossed a line when she called him a "moron" in front of several of her friends. Dr. Leman became very angry and disciplined her harshly in front of her companions.
"After her friends left, Krissy was sitting glumly in her room. By then I had cooled off," he recalls. "She hadn't shown me respect, but at the same time, I hadn't been respectful of her. I went to her room and told her, `I'm sorry; I shouldn't have yelled at you in front of your friends. Honey, you know I like to kid around, but you went too far,'" he explained. As Dr. Leman turned to leave his daughter's room, Krissy said, "I'm sorry; it won't happen again. Dad, thanks for apologizing. I won't forget."

4. Healthy families communicate and listen.

Happy families respect the other person's point of view even when it differs from their own. In healthy families, members practice "active listening," says Mary Durkin, Ph.D., an author, lecturer, and mother of seven. In her book, Making Your Family Work, she says the following five qualities are common to active listeners:

5. Healthy families value service to others.

Some families get caught up in an unhealthy competitive spirit. They work at raising children who are the biggest, the best, the prettiest, the brightest, or the most popular. However, healthy families place little emphasis upon those qualities, focusing instead on raising children who care about others and who work to improve conditions for the less fortunate. Their joy as parents comes from seeing their children grow to become caring, compassionate persons as a result of their family experiences.
An excellent example is New York Philharmonic musician Philip Smith, one of the finest classical trumpeters in the world. Tickets for his performances are extremely difficult to purchase. However, every December, Smith can be found outside a department store or a supermarket in his Salvation Army uniform, playing carols. Smith's first public performances were with the Salvation Army, where his father was bandmaster of the Army staff band. During the cold days of December Smith faithfully plays his trumpet hour after hour, encouraging shoppers to drop coins into the Salvation Army kettle. With his cap pulled down tightly, few people recognize him as one of the world's best trumpeters, yet he gladly and freely offers his talent in order to help the poor.

6. Healthy families expect -- and offer -- acceptance.

A good family provides a psychological safety net that makes members feel accepted. It is their unique place to be comfortable in, to be sick in, to fight with other family members in, to cry in, to dream in, to feel secure in. In her book, Family Secrets: What You Need to Know to Build a Strong Christian Family, author Gladys Hunt writes "A Christian home is a safe place to try out your ideas, to verbalize what you believe is valuable, without being shot down. It means that the child who likes rock and roll has a hearing, an acceptance equal to the child who likes Bach and sings only hymns. A Christian home is a safe place; not safe in the sense that you are never corrected, never made to make amends for wrongdoing, but safe in the sense that you are taken seriously, as a person; the home is a place where you know you are valued."

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.