10 Characteristics of Healthy Families
If your week has been anything like mine, your conversations have circled around this one question:
What are your plans for the 4th?
The 4th of July has always been a special holiday for me. As a child, we not only celebrated the birthday of our country, but also the birth of my father. Memories of this holiday always include bare feet on a hot pavement, running through the sprinkler, popsicle stained tongues, and hearing "ooo's" and "ahh's" from outstretched blankets as we watched the fire lit sky above us.
Three years ago I made a new 4th of July memory: watching fireworks from a hospital wheelchair just days before giving birth to my twin boys. After eight days on hospital bed-rest, my husband persuaded the medical staff to allow him to push me outside to watch the fireworks from the courtyard. It is such a special memory of love, hope, and anticipation of our family’s growth by two.
In retelling that story this year, I was reminded how these stories and memories keep families healthy. Our shared stories serve as anchors to remind us of what connects us and what we’ve overcome. Yet, there are other components that keep families healthy and I have listed 10 of them below:
- Spend Quality Time Together: It seems obvious, but in today's overly scheduled work week it can difficult to accomplish. Quality time is time spent physically, emotionally, and mentally connected with your family. Healthy families are intentional about giving other family members their undivided attention. Whether baking cookies, playing a game, sharing a meal, attending a sporting event, or having a meaningful conversation, healthy families delight in one another's company.
- Maintain Appropriate Boundaries: There are three types of boundaries that are essential to optimal family function: the boundary of self, the boundary of the couple, and the boundary of the family. The boundary of self pertains to an individual's ability to identify as separate from other members of his family. Healthy families allow each individual to have her own personality, interests, strengths, and weaknesses as well as an ability to speak for oneself. The boundary of the couple between parents and their children is also present in healthy families. This means a hierarchy is in place in which parents are responsible for providing safety, structure, and meeting needs of their children. Lastly, the boundary between a family, the outside world, and across generations is permeable. Just like the membrane of a cell, families with healthy boundaries allow those who grow and strengthen the family to join (i.e. a new baby or daughter-in-law) yet maintain a sense of safety and security for the members at large. Additionally, healthy family boundaries allow for members to leave the family in order to carry out their adult lives without fear of guilt or treason. In short, boundaries serve as a rules for where people belong, what they are to do, and on which particular occasion. They provide a certain predictability about how people within a family will behave.
- Experience Emotional Intimacy: Just like quality time, healthy communication seems simple and is important for proper family function. Members of healthy families communicate in a calm, respectful manner in which they are safe to share differing feelings, experiences, and ideas without fear of rejection or dismissal.
- Share a Commitment to Family: Have you heard the phrase, “The sum is greater than its parts?” In healthy families, individuals realize the health of the family as a whole is dependent on the health of each family member. Members of these families fulfill promises, defend each other, and honor one another’s role in the family. Healthy families are committed to the success of each unique family member as it is essential to the wellness of the entire family system.
- Express Affirmation, Encouragement & Affection: Healthy families readily express gratitude for one another and share words of encouragement during difficult times. Family members honor one another’s unique gifts, talents, and abilities with their words and actions. They serve as cheerleaders instead of competing with one another for the spotlight. These families readily show physical affection caring for one another during illness, sharing hugs or handshakes, and expressing their genuine love for each person.
- Have a Shared Spirituality: For Christians, this means praying, worshipping, reading scripture, serving others, and pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ as a family. For non-Christians, having a shared spirituality can include spending time in nature, practicing yoga or meditation, discussing philosophy, and the meaning of life…together. This shared spiritual connection is essential and serves as a moral compass, connecting family members to something greater than the self and to one another.
- Freedom to Fail & Receive Forgiveness: Members are free to make mistakes and try new things without disrupting the family unit. Whether trying out for a new middle school sport, wrecking the family van, or taking a job in a new town there is a sense that no one’s mistake is too big for the family to endure. In order for this freedom to exist, family members extend grace for one another’s mistakes, offering forgiveness in moments of brokenness and repentance.
- Traditions, Rituals, and Shared Stories: Healthy families have traditions around holidays, birthdays, and milestones as well as shared stories of resilience. Whether saying a blessing over new babies born into the family, initiating young men into manhood, or singing the same songs at weddings - these traditions anchor the family to one another, strengthen the family bond, and provide each member with a purpose in the family.
- Manage Crisis & Conflict in a Timely Manner: Healthy families see conflict and disagreement as inevitable parts of living and thriving together. These families deal with crises in calm, respectful ways allowing space for each person to both talk and listen. When disagreements arise, they are called out and handled within a timely matter rather than allowing tension to arise, anger to fester, or sweeping issues under the proverbial rug.
- Share a Sense of Humor: Healthy families laugh together. They take delight in one another and do not take things too seriously. It is a shared sense of humor, joy, and lightness that helps families bounce back from difficult times.
No matter what your plans are today, I hope you are able to spend quality time with those you love. Take time to start a tradition, tell an old story, extend a hug, pray together, offer forgiveness, or share a laugh - I can guarantee it will bring health to your family.
Happy 4th of July!
Heather is married to a funny blue devil, mom to three lively boys, and singer both on stage and in her child's ear. She is the owner of Kaloupek Counseling, LLC a private practice offering mental health services to children, teens, and adults in Decatur, IL. You can read more about her, her blog, and counseling practice here. Want to reach out? Send her an email! She would love to hear from you!