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 amount of putting the body through its paces is required to obtain healthy functioning. The same is true for families. Dolores Curran, in Traits of a Healthy Family (1983), outlined habits of families who were perceived as healthy by a variety of professionals. The source may be nearly 50 years old, but the ideas still make sense. Here they are:
- Communicate and listen.
- Affirm and support one another.
- Teach respect for others.
- Develop a sense of trust.
- Have a sense of play and humor.
- Exhibit a sense of shared responsibility.
- Teach a sense of right and wrong.
- Have a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound.
- Have a balance of interaction among members.
- Have a shared religious core.
- Respect the privacy of one another.
- Value service to others.
- Foster family table time and conversation.
- Share leisure time.
- 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.