We were such great parents, before we had children! We used to have three parenting theories. Then we had three children, and soon discovered that our theories weren’t that helpful. But our hearts’ desire was always to have a strong and loving family.
That is probably why you picked up this book. You, like us, want to instill values in your children and have a strong and loving family. But in today’s world that is a daunting assignment. It’s easy to find information on what not to do—but not so simple to find help for building family strengths.
Scores of books and magazine articles have been written about why families fail. Certainly, messages from the media and pressure from peers work against building strong families. And as kids grow older, the changing culture makes parenting more difficult.
In the past our culture tended to support family values and served as a safety net, but now our culture is no longer “family friendly.” Families face stress on all sides—from inflation, downsizing, and job loss to overscheduled calendars and guilt for not accomplishing more. Children are deprived of things that mean the most—opportunities to enjoy and have fun with their family, time around the dinner table to laugh and talk about the happenings of the day, the in-depth conversations with family members, and the chance to work together to resolve family differences.
Family researcher Dolores Curran observed, “We have focused so long on weaknesses in today’s families that we’ve ignored their strengths.”1 It’s no wonder that nearly every family member admits that he or she is looking for some help: help with communicating, help in dealing with conflict, help in strengthening family relationships. Well, we have some good news. That help is here!
In the midst of our stressful world, healthy families do exist! We know so because over the last couple of decades, dedicated family researchers have looked closely at what healthy families do right. For over twenty years, researchers at the University of Nebraska have joined with other universities around the world to study the question, “What constitutes a strong family?” More than seventeen thousand family members in more than twenty-five countries have been involved in these studies. Prominent researchers like Nick Stinnett, John DeFrain, David Olson, and Ben Silliman have helped to identify the top strengths of strong families.
Based on this body of research, in the following pages we will consider seven characteristics of strong families and will offer you a smorgasbord of fun, easy, and practical ways to strengthen your family in these vital areas. Real ways that real families interact to build family strengths. Take your pick from the many suggested tips and family projects and have fun ensuring that the following seven statements describe your family!
Before we begin, think a moment about how you would describe your family. Perhaps the words “strong and healthy” don’t describe your family at all. Maybe your relationships are strained; perhaps your children are constantly arguing with each other and with you. And you may have little hope that things can be different in the future. You may not believe that your family can ever become “strong and healthy.”
Let us assure you, tomorrow can be better. You can take steps to build better family relationships. We’re not talking about having a perfect family or a family without crisis, stress, or conflict. But we are talking about a resilient family where you love and are committed to each other. Marriage and family counselor Manny Feldman came up with this definition that to us describes the strong family we want to be:
A family is a deeply rooted tree with branches of different strengths, 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 the good of the group.
A family is where holidays are celebrated with feasting, birthdays acknowledged with gifts, and thoughts of days gone by kept alive with fond remembrances.
A family is where each can find solace and comfort in grief, pleasures 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.2
To Manny Feldman’s definition we’d add that a family is where you can blow it, forget to take out the trash, and still be loved. Brothers and sisters can argue and still be friends. All can be less than perfect and still stick together.
It’s great to aim high in our goals as a family, but remember, no one is perfect and no one has a perfect family. You can’t have a perfect family, but you can have a strong one! And wherever you are in life, strengthening your family begins with one step. Let us invite you to take it!