Lately I’ve been expanding on Dolores Curran’s book “Traits of a Healthy Family” which identifies 15 traits that healthy families exhibit. She is quick to point out that no family is perfect or lives out all of these 15 traits. However, healthy families as a whole will show these qualities. Last month’s column was guest-written by my daughter and covered the traits of “Valuing table time” and “strong sense of rituals and traditions.” This edition will examine how and why playfulness, leisure time, balance, and shared responsibility are important in family life.
We’ve all heard it said that “The family that plays together stays together.” Its true! Think about it. How much will members of the family want to hang out together if its boring, tense, and serious all the time. Sometimes playfulness can be planned, such as with a family game night. Most of the time, though, playfulness and humor are spontaneous. They have to be embraced and encouraged. For example, when our youngest daughter was about 5, she was messing with the music playing in the living room and started playing the Dropkick Murphys. If you’ve never heard them, look them up. With the surprising change of music, we all got up and started dancing like crazy. It was funny and we all enjoyed it. My grandmother, who is currently 101 years old, says “Bring your good time with you.” This is so true! The family has to foster this playfulness and be open to it.
Related to playfulness is sharing leisure time. Picture it: Mom is sitting at the kitchen table playing Candy Crush. Dad is watching the sports channel. Daughter is in her room on the phone, and son is in the basement playing his 9th hour of video games. This is not shared leisure time, people! Turn the screens off (unless maybe you are all watching a movie TOGETHER). Go for a hike. Go bowling. Have a conversation about something. Play a game together. The key is being connected in your non-work time. Try to make this happen on a regular basis; Not every day, but try for once a week being together in your down-time.
The family’s ability to balance interaction among the members means that nobody is going to be left out. It also means that there are no favorite members of the family. Favoritism is one of the worst dynamics that can occur in families. It brings nothing but pain and strife. The way to prevent this is for the parents to actively work for balance in their relationship with every child. There are some people in the family that are ELR (Extra Love Required) and others with whom we can easily relate. Remember that family life is not just about you and what makes you comfortable. Make it a place of love and safety for everyone.
Lastly; “The family that works together….” Same as the playing together discussed above. Remember the story of Cinderella? It would have been a totally different story if all the sisters were equally responsible for the chores! Shared division of labor is a sign that a family is healthy. When a family is sharing responsibility for the work of maintaining the home it helps foster a strong family identity and each member feels some ownership in the family. It definitely builds a sense of “we are in this together.”
Next month will finish our review of Curran’s traits of healthy families. We’ll be looking at the importance of fostering a sense of right and wrong, having a shared religious core, respecting privacy, valuing service to others and having the ability to seek help with problems.