Any time you add a new family member or start a new school year or have a phase change of some sort, you’re in the scary/awesome position of being
forced able to re-evaluate everything. Are we doing the things we say are most important? How often do the bathrooms really need to be cleaned? What are we going to do about these attitude problems? And why on EARTH am I spending so long making breakfast every morning?
Basically, for me anyway, having four children now means I am taking a fresh look at what it means for us to be a happy family. Perhaps because I’m in this unique spot, or perhaps because of my kids’ ages (7 1/2, 6, 4 1/2, 3 months) Bruce Feiler’s book The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More struck me as an amazingly helpful and easy-to-read-and-implement resource.
The book covers a range of research and anecdotal accounts about happy families, all of which is pretty interesting, but the things that stuck out to me most included:
- Getting past some of the hassle of logistics by using checklists and putting kids in charge of things they can handle (this one probably wouldn’t work as well if your kids are under five)
- Using family meetings to help us all keep perspective
- Making up fun traditions and using meal time conversations more effectively to give children an “intergenerational perspective” to build family identity and help them cope with challenges
- Making a cool graphic of your family’s purpose statement–a collection of words, phrases, and ideas that express your family’s core values and what makes you unique
- REALLY helpful ideas on how to teach kids to have productive conflict. With elementary aged kids the squabbling can sort of take over, and I remember as a kid feeling helpless from not knowing how to avoid fighting with my brother. The conflict handling ideas seem very doable for kids (as well as helpful for adults)
- Making sure you include your kids in your decor–hanging some of their artwork, incorporating mementoes of trips they went on, and so forth acts like “visual comfort food” for kids
I found so many helpful ideas in The Secrets of Happy Families, but I also found it to be very encouraging. As the author points out,
“All families have conflict; strong families have enough communal high points to outshine the low ones.”
While it might prove a bit theoretical for parents of really young kids, I think if your kids are in the K and up range, you’d really get a lot out of this book and I highly recommend it!
What is something your family does that makes you happy?
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