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We all know them. We all have one of those mother’s at the PTA meeting who always comes with baked goods, has 2.5 happy smiling well-adjusted kids, perfect hair and a gorgeous husband. We all have one of those friends who never seems to fight with their parents, plenty of allowance money, great family vacations and a seemingly endless supply of afternoon snacks and supportive remarks at the dinner table. We all have one of those dads who has a cushy secure job, a supportive wife, kids that help out on the weekends and get good grades.
They are those ‘happy’ people, perfect people, that we normal people create in our heads so that we can strive towards something. I have four parents, I see teens and parents privately everyday for parenting coaching and family managing, I speak to large groups of parents and teens who ask for advice, tell me their worries and share their stories. They all mention these so called ‘happy people’ to me and ask, ‘what’s their secret?’
I found these ‘happy families,’ hundreds of them, and when I interviewed teens and parents for You’re Grounded! I realized, of course, there are no perfect families. Everyone has their lows and ups and downs and their secrets. But, I also began to see patterns. I realized that certain families seemed to have recipes, tricks and certain characteristics that made them more harmonious, more happy.
This post has been a long time coming, and there will be Part II’s and Part III’s as I meet more families, but I tried to distill many of these concepts down into a simple list of what I have learned so far after meeting thousands of parents and teens.
My Observed Patterns to Friction Free Families:
1) Love, Love, Love
This was overwhelmingly number one on my list. Families who seemed to have the least fights, and were able to work through lows together, literally dripped with love. The first time I really met one of these families I was 6 years old, and just being in their house made me feel good. The parents constantly told their kids how much they cared for them and supported them. The kids were taught, including my friend’s older teen brother, that the best thing the could do was show other people compassion.
-Patterns Observed: Constantly giving supportive statements (“Well, you are so good at English, even though you did bad at Math, what can we do next time?” “I love you” “How can I help you?”)
-For You Right Now: Write down what you love about everyone in your family and give them the list.
2) Private Space Private Time
I was surprised to see families that got along best had designated alone time. In these families, each family member had ‘their thing’ or hobby that they did, where there was a common understanding that no one bothered them during that time and that their space was private. This seems to give kids something sacred that is theirs, and gives parents a break and a space that is uninterrupted.
-Patterns Observed: Each family member has designated physical space in the house that is kept private (i.e ‘Abby’s Corner’ ‘Mom’s Study’ ‘Josh’s Porch’) as well scheduled daily or weekly alone time.
-For You Right Now: Be sure your kids and spouse know that their room is their private space, if they or you share a room, find a place where you can keep a small chest for books or a blanket and when you are there, people know that they need to wait until you are done. Think about: Do you get enough alone time?
3) Family Time
It seems that when people get adequate space, family time is much more welcome. Private time is valued just as much as private time. Usually families will schedule it in and have rules like no cell phones, friends or disruptions. Because kids get their space and private time uninterrupted by parents and siblings, kids seem to follow these rules easily and actually enjoy the family time!
-Patterns Observed: Lots of different family activities planned, they were actually planned ahead with specific times and there were rules like no cell phones etc.
-For You Right Now: Have a family meeting where everyone can give two really fun suggestions for family activities, make sure everyone is heard and encouraged and then make a plan to do some of these activities.
4) Something Bigger
Christian families constantly spoke and acted on Charity and giving, Jewish families had Tzedakah jars and supported organizations, Non-religious families had a foundation they supported. It seemed that many of these families had a ‘cause’ that they all rallied around and supported together.
-Patterns Observed: One family cause that the entire family supported, Charity Jars and frequent donations of old clothes and toys (less clutter and good perspective).
-For You Right Now: Make one of your family activities to search the web or local papers for a cause. Pick a shelter, charity, hospital or organization that you all want to support where you can donate time, energy, money or whatever you can together. Plan a post-Christmas Garage Sale.
5) Speech Patterns and Voice Tone
This one is a little bit harder to explain, but it is definitely something that was clearly different about harmonious families. Sometimes when my family is in a rush, or irritated or had a long day, we can snap, make short comments or use harsh tones of voice. Many of the families that fight less, I found, would actually say to each other: “hey guys, I had a really bad day, just letting you know so I need to blow off some steam.” Being really aware of voice tone as well as comments such as “You are so slow, hurry up!” can be harmful to relationships because they set a bad mood with family members.
-Patterns Observed: Clear statement of bad moods or negative feelings so other family members could be aware and keep their distance. Less use of exaggerations and negative words or criticisms.
-For You Right Now: Wear a rubber band around your wrist, for one day, every time you say something negative or use a negative tone, lightly snap the band. You will be shocked at how often something accidentally slips out (I was, I am really trying to work on this one!).
6) The Understanding that No Family is Perfect
I would like to end on and emphasize this one simple concept. Even the so-called ‘happy families’ I mention in the title have their fights, issues, tantrums, door slams, and low moments. I seek out families who seem ‘super happy’–the families that other clients and people tell me ‘are the perfect family.’ Guess what: there are none. These ‘super-families’ all have their moments of friction, but the happiest ones I have met have many of the ingredients above.
-Patterns Observed: Families that get along really well and have less friction than most, never think they do.
-For You Right Now: Understand and think about all of the families or people who you might think ‘have it perfect’ and realize that every family is different. Write down all of the unique characteristic about your family dynamic and why you cherish them.
Please remember, the most important one of all is number one, love, love, love. No one is perfect, this list is far from complete, but it is a start in the right direction. This holiday season try to do one thing for each of these ingredients and pass on the positive message to friends and families.
Parents need a younger perspective on their relationship to gain a deeper understanding of what is going on for their teen, and I want teens to know that they are not alone and they can do anything they set their mind to, even if people tell you that you can’t.
I am going to try to send this to Ellen Rakieten to see if this is a show topic she could be interested in. This woman is a wonderful lady spreading positive messages to her viewers everywhere! Wish me luck!
Lastly, I am so thankful that my interviewees, clients and audience members who felt comfortable enough to open up to me about their experiences because it has enabled me to share them to help others.
Dream big, work hard and you will get there,
Vanessa Van Petten