Family values that nurture healthy family relationships

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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 is avoided.

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 trouble.

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.

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.

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Love is not withdrawn if people think differently.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!

Humor

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!

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.

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, or not.

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!

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