Sunday, July 22, 2012

Growing Healthy Families

One of the quickest ways to bring a smile to my face is by recalling quirky family stories. When I think of the legacy I hope to leave to my children, it includes a big chunk of creating stories to laugh over for years to come. What ingredients go into making a happy family? What is the secret to creating those moments that go down in family history and are retold decades later at weddings and funerals?

The experts (whoever they are) give all kinds of advice...and though a lot of it is really good advice, it can seem a little overwhelming to the average Joe (or Joanne as the case may be). So I have decided to ask myself a few questions in a quest to narrow down what is most important to me in raising my family. Question #1: What do I look back on as my fondest childhood memories? (Follow up question: What makes them fond memories?) Question #2: What do I wish my family had done more of while I was growing up (for example, to instill family values)? Question #3: What are my five "non-negotiables"? (In layman's terms: what are the five aspects of growing a healthy and happy family that I find MOST important?)

Answering these three questions helps me to get a firmer grasp on what specific traditions and habits I want to instill in my family. For example, family meal time was an integral part of my life growing up. It isn't that every meal in itself was a Brady Bunch moment, but the tradition of having dinner together on a regular basis led to many fun and meaningful moments in my family history that wouldn't have had the opportunity to occur otherwise. So, for me, family meals together is a non-negotiable.

Lest I leave you with solely my thoughts, here is some food for thought on what "the experts" suggest...many of these are dynamo (in my humble opinion) and are definitely thoughts I intend to consider and instill in my own family.

The Experts Say...
  • Uplift one another: Be the biggest cheerleader for your spouse and children, greet your family members with a smile after an absence, and when you ask them about there day (and DO ask) take the time to actually listen.
  • Have fun together: Have a few "go to" family activities that you do together on a regular basis. Maybe its a card or board game, maybe its bike rides, or maybe its reading aloud together--whatever works for your family, do it regularly!
  • Prioritize: Make sure your kids see you making your spouse a priority (this will be an example to them later in life, and give them much-needed assurance today), make your family a priority--make sure your kids know you enjoy spending time with them, and make sure that even amongst the chaos of life you are showing them your priorities on a regular basis.
  • Build traditions: Whether it be annual pumpkin carving as a family or a summer camping trip every year, build traditions into your family that your kids can depend on and anticipate. Not only will this increase camaraderie among your family unit, but someday your children might implement these same traditions into their own families. 
  • Communicate: This can be so hard because so many of us don't even know what healthy communication really looks like. The effort pays off though, because a family that has open communication has less stress and tension buildup over time, and oftentimes deeper relationships amongst all members.
So there you have it, these are certainly not surefire ways to never have another problem in your family, but they are helpful techniques to ride life's ups and downs. I keep having to remind myself that life happens, and all I can do is choose my reaction. It helps to be prepared as much as possible, but much of that preparation really needs to take place in my heart. Because we all get messy faces sometimes. Can we create and sustain meaningful relationships in spite of life's messiness? When we are intentional, I believe we can.

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