Updated: Mar 25, 2019
Ah, family. The very word is likely to conjure up a host of mixed emotions in most of us: peace yet resentment, happiness yet anger, jealousy yet joy, anxiety yet safety. Across nations and beyond generations, how is it that our family members have a way of just…getting under our skin??
If you think about it many (if not most) of the people we traditionally refer to as ‘family’ are usually people who we didn’t choose. At least for the 20-25 years of life. Apart from maybe spouses and/or significant others, we are basically born or adopted into our childhood ‘birth’ families, usually consisting of one or two parents, possibly siblings, and other extended family members.
When we do go on to create our own families as adults we may choose our partners, but we inherit our in-laws (along with holidays starring your husband’s crazy cousin Eddie). Even the children we bear eventually grow to have minds and choices of their own – choices we inevitably don’t have a say in.
Bottom line? We will hurt one another, we will become resentful, jealous, or angry at some point or another. So how do we navigate the tricky business of promoting the health and wellbeing of our families? It’s not easy. It requires ongoing effort, reflection, adjustment, and flexibility.
Here are 10 less conventional - but arguably most vital - habits practiced by families that are mostly happy:
1. They set clear boundaries.
There are few things more important in life than deciding how you want to be treated by others; what kind of behaviour you will and will not accept. Healthy families have very clear boundaries on how family members treat other members. Even children should be allowed to set boundaries between themselves and siblings/parents. Although they may not be able to assert many when young, they should be given increasing opportunities to create and set personal boundaries the older and more independent they become. One of the best things we can teach our children is to teach other people how to treat them.
Most would agree that the people they take for granted the most in life are their own family members. We do this because from a mental standpoint, we believe that they will “always be there” since we spend so much time with them, day in and day out. While this is perfectly normal to a certain extent, healthy families pay attention to one another. They are physically, psychologically, and emotionally available to one another. They listen and discuss things when needed, demonstrate the fact that they care, and have compassion and empathy for one another.
3. They are intelligent with conflict resolution.
Conflict between individuals in healthy families is expected and considered a normal reality of family life. When they occur, methods for resolving conflicts pay respect to the aforementioned boundaries and ‘team spirit’ (a point discussed further down this list) of the family. Interventions between duelling members are kept to a minimum and only as needed.
4. They express emotions intelligently.
In healthy families, people actively and conscientiously learn and practice emotional regulation. None of us “has it together” all the time, but even when they “lose it” healthy families do not resort to remarks mixed with contempt, verbal, emotional, relational, or physical abuse when expressing their emotions.
5. They don’t play favourites.
We probably all know of a family where one person or child is treated better than the others. We may have grown up in such a family – it is exceedingly common. It is normal to have a preference for certain family members over others, even for parents who feel closer to one child over another. As humans, we tend to gravitate psychologically and emotionally to those with whom we sense we have more in common. Healthy families, however, do not let this influence (or at least minimize as much as possible) the basic ways in which they treat and interact with other family members. In these families, each person’s worthiness is viewed as equal.
6. They celebrate individual accomplishments, and embrace (or at least accept) the differences.
Healthy families don’t compete with one another. Period. Competition and rivalry between children is considered normal within very specific parameters, but in general it is never good for the wellbeing of a family if they are trying to one-up each other. For this to be possible, each family member benefits from recognizing and identifying with a particular ‘role’ that they play – both in the family, and in their live/the world in general.
7. They function as a team.
A family (and those who are at the heads of one that contains children) is a sort of business, make no mistake. Healthy families view themselves as a ‘team’; their own mini-corporation if you will, and everyone contributes in some way to keep it running smoothly and stay in the Green. Parents represent the CEO and CFO. In healthy families, all members get to have their say and weigh in with their opinion on family matters and decisions, even if the CEO and CFO ultimately make the call.
8. They promote and practice acceptance – of self and others.
Healthy families recognize that their members aren’t perfect, will make mistakes, and can at least accept (if not associate with) the imperfections of others.
9. They know what they can and cannot control.
In healthy families, the members within it have a keen awareness of when something is beyond their control and it’s time to step away. Whether that’s a third sibling who steps aside from the other two siblings who just can’t seem to get along, or an aunt who – without fail at every family function - asks you why you’re not married yet.
10. They have a shared value system.
Take a pair of siblings in almost any family – ones who grew up together in the same household environment, with the same parents, and many of the same childhood experiences – and you will see the power of genetics at play. Their personalities, temperament, personal tastes, and overall disposition may be totally opposite. That said, healthy families tend to share a few key values, namely regular social companionship, and upholding themselves as high-functioning well-adjusted members of society.
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