Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

The Foundation Of Good Family Life

January 22, 2007

These are tough times to raise children. Many elements in our popular culture and media promote self-centered individualism, greedy materialism, gratuitous violence, coarsening vulgarities, voyeuristic exhibitionism and sexual immorality.

Former Secretary of Education William Bennett notes, "We live in a culture which at times seems almost dedicated to the corruption of the young, to assuring the loss of innocence before their time."

Parents are working too hard. Two income families are the rule. Careers crowd out relationships. Families are too rushed and too stressed to invest themselves in parenting. Marriages dissolve. Children suffer.

Children are expected to raise themselves. Without strong, loving parents committed to each other and to them, children drift in a dangerous adolescent world where drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, consumerism and violence are easy distractions from healthy development. Children become loose and lazy - unprepared to cope with the challenges of life, marriage and for rearing children someday themselves.

What it takes to be good parents. Is that a bleak enough picture? What is the antidote? What does it take for parents to raise great children despite an increasingly poisonous environment? The foundation of good family life rests on some basic principles.

- A good marriage. The best parenting strategy is to show the children an example of a good marriage. Children will bask in the warmth of a parental marriage that is full of love, courtesy, consideration and mutual respect. Parents take the time to nourish their relationship, spend time with and enjoy one another and meet each other's needs.

Children learn how men and women accept and work out differences. This helps them in their own identity and prepares them for successful relationships of their own. Children learn more from observing this kind of relationship than anything else taught in the home.

- Commitment to family and parenting. Parents who understand how important parenting really is make it a top priority. They devote time, energy and love to their children's well-being. This means putting career and compelling personal pleasures in perspective and balance.

Effective parents exchange ideas on the children. They use each other for a sounding board and turn to outside sources for additional information if needed.

Effective parents give unconditional love. They envelop their child in an atmosphere of belonging and acceptance. Problems are worked out. Sacrifices are made. Attention is paid. Love is expressed. It takes serious commitment and devotion to meet a child’s needs consistently - day in and day out, year in and year out.

They respect the dignity of the child. Each child is unique and is given the freedom to grow and develop along his or her own path. Parents support and guide but do not dictate or demand. They provide a variety of experiences, encourage risk-taking and cushion any setbacks. They spend time helping their child succeed.

- Religion. Study after study shows the importance of religion in protecting young people from serious mistakes. Religion provides a framework of right and wrong that guides behavior both for parents and children. Religion teaches a purpose to life - a right way to live.

Effective parents consult other like-minded parents for ideas on the specific challenges they are having. They grow in confidence. They are not afraid to set limits. They are not wishy-washy about the negative influences affecting their children and themselves. Most of all, they are examples of the principles they teach.

- Positive communication and discipline. Effective parents keep an open line of communication with their children. They know what is going on in their lives. They minimize the negative conflicts and hostility. Problems are discussed and talked through. Mistakes are seen as developmental. Education comes before punishment.

Effective parents help children to think through and solve their own difficulties. They do not discipline in anger. Parents expect a lot and get a lot. They expect their authority and other authority figures to be respected. Within limits the parents set, children have the freedom to think and do for themselves.

Effective parents teach children how to work and take responsibility. They teach them to plan for the future, set goals and delay gratification. They teach the value of money. They emphasize giving service to each other as members of the family. They encourage family attendance at each other's activities and recognize accomplishments.

Effective parents actively teach because they understand how important it is. They tell stories from their own lives, acknowledge strengths and weaknesses and let their children get to know them.

- Making memories. The fun part of parenting is all the good times you can have together. Successful parents put a priority on family fun, vacations, camping trips, celebrations, birthdays, holidays traditions and other memory making events.

Children won't remember how clean the bathroom was or the countless hours spent in front of the TV. They will remember the special times and family fun. Good times create a special unity.

Children need time to be children, to engage in spontaneous play and to be with their friends. When their friendships are positive, it helps them develop needed social skills and makes for even better memories.

Parenting is one of most challenging things we will ever do in this life. If we try, it can be joyous and rewarding. I know.