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What makes families happy and stable?

With so much focus on dysfunctional, or unhealthy, families, little media attention has been paid to the qualities that define a family as being healthy. To offset this gap, family therapist Jacqueline Cook, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, offers some characteristics of healthy families, including the ability to be stable, reasonably happy, and meet the needs of their individual members. These traits cut across all of the various family formats and cultures in America today.

* The healthy family provides for nurturing and emotional well-being of the parents or authority figures. "This is in contrast to the idea which has been prevalent for the last couple of decades, which is that all of a family's emotional resources should be targeted to the children. What new research is showing is that if the parents are supportive and caring of each other, then it has a very beneficial trickle-down impact on the children. It really is a much more balanced perspective--the parents' needs should be met as well as the children's."

* The healthy family has good communication, which "pretty much sets the stage for success in all of the other areas. A side aspect of this is that, in a healthier family, the parents do provide some leadership and set some ground rules.

"There should, however, be some flexibility within that leadership. For example, allow children to make choices which are appropriate for their age, whether it's to organize a family activity, choose their own clothing, or solve a school- or peer-related problem. Parents should strive to provide authoritative, rather than authoritarian, leadership."

Another factor involving communication skills is that the healthy family works together to resolve difficulties. "This type of family is able to collaborate in order to solve issues, even if they don't always agree."

* The healthy family encourages family time in which an atmosphere is created for fellowship, communication, as well as problem-solving. "Mealtime is the typical time when families come together," Cook notes, "but I'm not certain this is the best place to deal with sensitive issues. Family councils, conferences, or meetings may be more appropriate. This format can flow and flex, depending on the age of the children and what is occurring in the family."

* The healthy family also makes time for play and humor. "A family should balance work, chores, and serious issues with some good times together. Again, perhaps the family members could take turns planning activities." These help create attachments and a feeling of emotional "connectedness" that also is essential in the healthy family. "If this is in place, most families can provide a nurturing and supportive atmosphere, hopefully with room for individuality and personal space.

"The American family is being reconfigured, and its role is becoming much more complex. Previously, families were expected to focus solely on the physical survival of their members. Now, they are expected to provide a great deal of the emotional and social support as well.

"What many people do not realize is that families have life cycles and stages, just as do the individuals within it. Some times are simply higher stress than others. . . . Some examples are when there is an illness, a divorce, a death, a new family created with the addition of a stepparent or siblings, a grandparent coming to live with the family, or an economic crisis. Any of these changes may be a time when the healthy family's rules may be adapted or discarded."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Society for the Advancement of Education
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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