Seven Characteristics of Healthy Families
created by Gayle
Excerpts from Making
1. Orientation: Creating a safe atmosphere
for learning from our “mistakes”
Mistakes are accepted as an opportunity for learning.
Family members are assumed to be inherently “good”. When
mistakes are made, attention is focused on understanding the “bad”
behavior. Responsibility, rather than blame is encouraged. Natural
consequences may be given, but punishment for the sake of humiliation
For example, a ten year old girl steals lipstick from
a department store. One parent’s response was to cut her daughter’s
bangs abnormally short and call her a “thief”. Her mother
felt that by doing this, she would be shamed away from the behavior.
(The child continued to steal, but learned how not to get caught.)
Ignoring the behavior does not make the family “safe”
either. Instead, being able to make a mistake and depend on parents
to seek to understand their behavior as well as guide and set limits,
lets children know there is help when they go astray. “I know
you are not a “thief”. Why in the world are you “stealing”?
When parents’ orientation is to confront negative behavior,
without shaming, children learn to trust their guidance. The family
atmosphere is a safe place to bring your problems when you are in
2. Clear boundaries
Responsibilities of adults are separate from the responsibilities
of children. Parents are “in charge” of the decision-making
although they do receive input from children about their feelings
and viewpoints. Clear boundaries keeps children from feeling overly
responsible for “adult” problems, allowing them to feel
secure enough to grow- up gradually.
3. The relationship between power and intimacy
in the couples’ relationship
Spouses are able to relate intimately when they feel
they have equal power. This is because when we get frightened, two
options are available to us: to relate through loving and caring to
get our needs met, or to control others or a situation. Family relationships
are strengthened when members relate to one another in order to solve
problems, rather than seek to control other. Unilateral decision-making
by one spouse dampens affection, trust and love. Equal power in decision-making
is necessary, or intimacy suffers.
4. The ability to speak honestly
Love is not withdrawn if people think differently.
Ambivalence and uncertainty are also acceptable to express. Freedom
of expression (without denigration or discounting others) supports
individuality without threatening “belonging”. This contributes
to an atmosphere in which lively discussions can develop and people
can enjoy one another!
5. Humor is your ally!
Humor plays an important role in family bonding and
maintaining a healthy perspective in life. It can help free us from
the natural “ruts” we often find ourselves in when we
feel the overwhelming need to be “”right” when arguing
with our partner, or child. Use it to recover from overly alienated
or polarized positions or when you feel “backed into a corner”,
or find yourself saying something that really isn’t you!
6. Teamwork: the ability to organize and negotiate
in a timely fashion
Family life is full of tiny, small and larger tasks
to coordinate. The list can be endless, but reasonable organization
must be maintained and decisions about coordinating activities in
the family must be reached in a manner that feels fair. Many of these
decisions must also be made in a time frame that allows for discussion,
but does not bog things down. Quite a tall order!
In concert with the other characteristics of healthy
families, parents can take charge without being overly controlling
in a situation. Because there is a spirit of camaraderie, trust is
built up over the years and organization flows more smoothly. Develop
teamwork. Remember that when responsibilities are clearly delegated
in a family, negotiating does not have to be repeated on a daily basis.
7. Family value system: feeling a part of
a larger “whole”
What makes life worthwhile? Coping with the inevitability
of death at the end of the life cycle requires some kind of transcendence
beyond logic. “Family spirit” and values may play an essential
role in preparing our children to cope with life’s ups and downs,
as well as its inevitable losses.
Values are guidelines that exist to help children
learn how to best live the lives they are given. Values are learned
through our actions and verbal expression. The processes that are
operative in the family for being cared for provide children initial
guidelines for how they are expected to treat others on their life’s
journey. Children learn that lying and stealing are OK in order to
meet their needs, or not. Guidelines for negotiating their own needs
and desires in the world may include treating others respectfully,
Healthy family relationships teach children not only
to develop trust and to be trustworthy, but that they are
a part of something larger than themselves! In the passage
through life, we hope that our “spirit” lives in our family’s
future generations because of the way we have lived our lives, and
what we have meant to each other. Something as simple as taking your
family on a vacation that brings them close to nature can acquaint
children with their part in a bigger picture!
to: Having a Family Meeting