Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

What Makes Families Strong, Healthy And Happy?

June 10, 2001

My wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast near Hermosa, South Dakota. On the wall was a plaque with the following thoughts. Darlene thought it was the best description of family life she had read.

"A Family Is¼

- A family is a deeply rooted tree with branches of different strength all receiving nourishment from an infinite source.

- A family is where character is formed, values are learned, ethics are created, and society is preserved.

- A family is where all members contribute and share, cooperate and work and accept their responsibilities toward each other.

- A family is where holidays are celebrated with feasting, birthdays acknowledged with gifts, and thoughts of days gone by are kept alive with fond remembrances.

- A family is where each can find solace and comfort in grief, pleasure and laughter in joy, and kindness and encouragement in daily living.

- A family is a haven of rest, a sanctuary of peace and most of all, a harbor of love."

Family research. Dr. Nick and Nancy Stinnett along with Joe and Alice Beam wrote "Fantastic Families" published by Howard Publishing Co., 1999. This book describes the summary of a twenty five year research project conducted with over 14,000 families beginning in 1977.

The initial research began with 130 families in Oklahoma that were intact, first marriage families with at least one child present in the home. The study has been extended to include remarried families, single parent families, and families from many races, cultures, religious faiths, and from 24 countries from around the world.

The researchers have compared strong families with recently divorced and troubled families and have contrasted the differences. Over the years about 50 researchers have participated and the project has yielded about 40 Master’s theses and doctoral dissertations.

According to Stinnett and his colleagues, good families include these six qualities.

1. Commitment. Members of strong families are dedicated to promoting each other’s welfare and happiness. They value the unity of the family.

2. Appreciation and affection. Members of strong families show appreciation for each other a great deal. They can feel how good a family is.

3. Positive communication. Members of good families have good communication skills and spend large amounts of time talking with each other.

4. Time together. Strong families spend time - quality time in generous quantities - with each other.

5. Spiritual well-being. Whether they go to formal religious services or not, strong families have a sense of greater good or power in life. That belief gives them strength and purpose.

6. The ability to cope with stress and crises. Members of strong families are able to view stress or crises as opportunities to grow.

How to create a strong, happy family.

1. A good marriage. It starts with a happy marriage where love is freely given, felt and reciprocated. This commitment toward each other’s happiness is the foundation for many acts of sacrifice that bind a couple together with deep bonds of attachment. Children see love modeled in the parent’s actions toward each other and to themselves. Marriage comes first, parenting second.

2. Commitment to parenting. This same devotion is given to the challenge of rearing children and meeting their emotional and physical needs. Parenting is a basic responsibility of life and helps children develop and achieve the fundamentals for successful living. Parenting takes hard work, commitment and sacrifice that begins in infancy and extends well into late adolescence and the young adult stage of life. Out of all this love and service come bonds of affection and attachment that last a lifetime.

3. Teaching values. There is active teaching and guidance toward maturity. This involves teaching values and the spiritual meaning of life. Church attendance and family worship strengthen family bonds.

The best families are clear in their expectations and set strong standards of conduct but allow for open communication and freedom within strong and well-defined outer limits. There is a combination of structure, emotional warmth and acceptance. Discipline is handled with matter-of-fact rules and consequences, and with reasoning and guidance to help shape responsible and loving behavior. Families teach responsibility and the work ethic by teaching children to share and cooperate with family work and responsibilities.

Too many parents leave too much to chance, are too busy with other priorities and mistakenly believe that children raise themselves.

4. Making memories. Strong families celebrate each other with active traditions. Having fun in the family and enjoying each other’s company are the hidden keys to a happy family life. A sense of humor and the ability to let go of the cares of the world for the pleasure of the moment make for beautiful memories.

5. Making home a haven. A family is a place where members can find comfort, encouragement, peace and friendship. It is place for respite when all else is wrong. Robert Frost wrote, "A home is a place that when you have to be there, they have to take you in."

A haven is created when family members have mutual trust, acceptance and respect. Negative interactions are minimized through an atmosphere of courtesy, consideration and respect. Basic acceptance of individual differences and needs, and the expression of admiration and appreciation for each other, help make the family environment peaceful and supportive. Differences are worked out through positive communication and problem-solving.

To enjoy a happy family, people have to do more than understand these principles; they have to live them.