Simi Valley Family Magazine --

Fall 1996 issue


Fitness Workout for a Healthy Family

Deborah Tucker, M.A.

The older I get, the more I'm forced to admit that optimum health only happens with a certain amount of effort. Good nourishment and some putting the body through its paces is required to obtain healthy functioning. The same is true for families. Dolores Curran, in traits of a Health Family (1983), outlined habits of families who were perceived as healthy by a variety of professionals. Here they are:

  1. Communicate and listen.
  2. Affirm and support one another.
  3. Teach respect for others.
  4. Develop a sense of trust.
  5. Have a sense of play and humor.
  6. Exhibit a sense of shared responsibility.
  7. Teach a sense of right and wrong.
  8. Have a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound.
  9. Have a balance of interaction among members.
  10. Have a shared religious core.
  11. Respect the privacy of one another.
  12. Value service to others.
  13. Foster family table time and conversation.
  14. Share leisure time.
  15. Admit to and seek help with problems.

Our families go through stages, just as our bodies do. We may notice that certain traits become more important to us as our family enters different stages. We may also notice that certain habits seem to be lacking, or need a little work. Rather than feel defeated by our shortcomings, we can be encouraged by the fact that we've noticed the need, and work out a plan for increasing that skill.

For example, if you notice that your family doesn't seem to have much time to talk, you can take a look at schedules and perhaps find that breakfast time, or dinner on Saturday night, or quiet Sunday afternoons are a relatively easy time to gather the family together and hear from each other. Like any new habit, it may take time to develop, and may have to get re-started several times. That's okay -- repeatedly trying to build a positive habit is a great improvement over not doing it at all.

If household responsibilities have gotten out of balance, as they often do when children get busy with activities, a family meeting can be held to review what needs doing and who can commit to doing it. Some families like to rotate chores frequently; others like to keep the same jobs until circumstances change. Make a plan and commit to it, and if it doesn't work, make a change and commit to that! Family habits, like personal ones, take a while to become second nature.

Notice that the various traits listed are mostly about either valuing individuals, or about valuing the family unit itself. All of us need to feel important, especially to those we love. We also need to act in ways that show how important our family is to us. By spending time discussing how to best meet each other's needs, by working and playing together, by trying to fix what doesn't work, we demonstrate that we really matter to each other.

Notice, too, that the family needs to focus beyond its own boundaries. Teaching respect for others, modeling service, teaching a sense of right and wrong -- all of these help a family define itself. At the core is teaching a sense of religious identity and values, so that each family member knows where they stand in relation to their Creator.

Attention to these habits will help build the "muscle" that makes a family healthy and strong, ready to meet the challenges that life always brings.

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Who Needs Friends, Anyway?

Wendy Wilkinson, M.S.

Do we really need friends? Sometimes friends can be such a bother. Some friends are always wanting something from us, but reluctant to be there when we are in need. Some friends are always glad to hear from us, but never call us in return. Some friends are very critical, others are always needing our advice.

So is it really worth all the effort it takes to make and keep a good friendship? I think it is. Having healthy, adult relationships is part of being a healthy, mature adult. But there are keys to finding and maintaining healthy friendships.

First of all, we should look for a friend with whom we have common interests, goals, of life circumstances. This is why so many of us find our best friends at our place of employment, school, or volunteer organizations. That is where we meet people who have similar interests, goals or values as ourselves.

Secondly, we should look for a friend who is interested in committing the same amount of time and energy into the friendship as we are. Some people have a lot of time for a friendship, some have one or two hours per week to commit to a friendship. There is no magic amount of time to making a friendship work, as long as both friends are satisfied with the amount of time spent, and the level of commitment.

Another important ingredient of a healthy friendship is maintaining good, healthy boundaries with each other. By this I mean that we must treat each other with honesty and with respect. If a friend is being overly critical, we must let them know that their criticism is hurting us rather than helping us. If we are uncomfortable with hugging, and he or she wants a hug every time we see each other, that should be something that can be talked about, and a healthy friend will respect your request to not hug.

When we have a friendship with a common sense of commitment and good boundaries, we will probably have a sense of trust with each other. Good boundaries will ensure that things shared between us will not be gossiped about later. If we depend on each other for something, we will come through. If we are acting foolishly or hurtfully, a friend's confrontation will be loving and honest.

Finally, from a relationship that is honest, trustworthy, committed, and healthy, we will feel connected in a very healthy and nurturing way. Too many of us have felt disconnected from others, or have experienced only relationships with others that are hurtful or overwhelming. Just as our deepest wounds have been a result of hurtful relationships in the past, our present-day relationships can bring about our deepest healing.

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Changes in the Family

Sue White, M.A.

Is there anyone who can come forward to say that their family life hasn't undergone a change lately? Change is inevitable. It may be something as simple as the one hour of time gained in the Fall and then lost in the Spring. Seems relatively minor unless you have young children who are cranky and tired from being thrown off schedule. Maybe the start of a new school year with all the anticipation of a new teacher, added status of being in a higher grade, the prospect of new clothes and new friendships seems like just the change your child needs. Then they return home from school after the first couple of days disenchanted because the teacher is "mean" or "expects too much" or the longed for new friendships take time to develop. Changes in school rules (dress codes, lunchroom procedures etc.) are seen as major catastrophes.

Then there are the changes we see as being more significant from the start -- moving to a new neighborhood or town, a change in the working hours of one of the parents, a best friend moving away, a grandparent or other relative moving into the home. We try our best to prepare our family for these changes, but there is inevitably a period of adjustment, or finding a "new normal" in the household.

Even more serious changes might result from a job loss (our children can be so in tune to our pain and anxiety), a troubled marriage, turbulent teenage years, or a growing depression or health problems in anyone in the family can affect each member.

I could claim to have spent hours researching the subject of change, interviewing families and talking to experts. Instead I can verify most of the above changes to be stressful to family life because I have lived through them with my own family.

Following are several suggestions for helping our family through times of change:

  1. Develop good communication skills which can be used to prepare each other for upcoming changes or facilitate the processing of change as it occurs.
  2. Take a positive outlook about change, working towards seeing it as an adventure that can be worked through together.
  3. Do some advance work. Before moving to a new community, go for a visit; house hunting trips don't count! An hour in the new park, a tour of the new library, a visit to a church in the community in advance of the move can help to make everyone feel a little more at home and ease the transition.
  4. Be willing to be open with others about changes that might be more difficult for you. Sharing your concerns with a friend and discovering that others have made it through the very change you're now experiencing can be just the encouragement you need.

Since change is inevitable and unavoidable, use it as an opportunity to grow, as a launching point for more intimate conversations with family members, as a challenge to learn new skills and different ways of coping.

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