"Family life just isn’t what it used to be." "Sometimes I feel as if I don’t belong to any family." "Our family life is falling apart and I don’t know what to do about it." Each of these statements reflects an apparent social truth. Our families are, indeed, not what they used to be.
The economic necessity for most families to have two incomes in order to financially survive (let alone lower their debt) contributes to the dissolution of the traditional family structure. The rural family containing perhaps three generations under a single roof is gone. The extended family based on ethnic background is seemingly shattered. One set of grandparents may be in Florida, another in Phoenix. Brothers and sisters are scattered all over the continent. First cousins, nieces and nephews are even further removed from the "core family."
Our families are smaller and less connected than ever before in our national history. Psychologically, we are paying a price. Social alienation, loss of a sense of belonging, lack of a sense of "community" and personal isolation and loneliness are just some of the cost.
All families are different from one another. One family may define "success" much differently than another. There are, however, psychological elements in families that cut across individual differences and can form a healthy family life in any culture. There are common elements to a thriving family life. Here are some of those elements:
In a healthy family, each member feels affirmed as the natural, unique individual s/he is. Support, acceptance and affirmation (validation) for who you are as a special and unique individual are essential to building good character. In such a family we are loved for being ourselves.
- The family relationship is "bigger" than the relationships among the
individual members. The contribution of each individual to the family results in
a "sum bigger than the collective parts," and is sometimes put first in
everyone’s priorities. The family comes first…before the marriage, the children,
the friends and the individual.
- Within this bigger entity, feelings, information, personal experiences and thoughts
are shared openly and freely. Each member knows his/her own internal and external
experiences are of equal importance to the rest of the family. Therefore, the sharing
of them is easy and seems natural. Each family member gets to know the others and
is aware of the unique developmental changes each member is experiencing.
- Within the healthy family, children are given ample permission, encouragement,
structure and practice to cope with life. They are allowed to develop their own talents,
skills and interests that they will find personally useful throughout their lives.
- Grown-ups set the example of enjoying life and believing in the value (preciousness)
of all life. Children imitate and learn what they see in the adults of their lives.
If they are surrounded with older people who are happy and enjoying life, they will
learn to experience joy themselves.
- Cooperation and collaboration are valued above competition. The successful family
realizes the importance of working together as a unit or team. Family members also
know the delight found in playing, dancing, singing and having fun together. Individual,
competitive aggrandizement is not emphasized. Rather, the development of a unique
family unit is paramount.
- The value of independence is encouraged. The success of good parenting is defined
by how well offspring function on their own as independent adults. Friendships and
self-initiated relationships outside the family are sought, nurtured and developed.
Personal initiative, good character and achievement are rewarded.
If the above elements in family life are given regular attention and allowed to evolve, the family will, indeed, never be what it used to be. It will be relevant to today’s challenges and evolutionary tomorrow.