Do you wonder if your family is dysfunctional? What is the difference between health and dysfunction? Most families have strengths and shortcomings, just as every individual possesses strengths and weaknesses. No family is perfect but certain conditions can make a difference in whether the climate is healthy or destructive. Here you will find some of the qualities that define a reasonably healthy family. You may judge for yourself the status of yours.
In a healthy family, members are open and free in exhibiting love and affection, are able to provide mutual support and communicate clearly and honestly. They work together while respecting each other’s differences and accept one another’s shortcomings. Everyone feels a sense of belonging. It is safe to be your own person in a healthy family.
Love is the basis for any healthy relationship, whether it be between two people or within a group. In a loving environment everyone is thoughtful, considerate and respectful; love is given and received. The atmosphere is lighthearted and serene.
Mutual support is a hallmark of healthy family life. Each individual is encouraged to be his best. Compliments are given freely but honestly.
Parents listen without judgment. When they hear errors in thinking or values they ask questions to clarify. Then they teach what they believe to be correct, and follow through by setting positive examples. When discipline is needed parents explain the reasons, and set limits that are appropriate. They are taught the values of responsibility and dependability. In functional families children are not grounded for six months because they forgot to put out the garbage.
Positive communication between parents and siblings is an essential part of an effective family. Everyone is taught to listen with respect, to offer opinions without judgment. Part of good communication is acknowledging feelings, both positive and negative. In a healthy environment it is safe to say, “I feel angry or hurt when you don’t pay attention to what I’m telling you.” It is never safe to yell, pout, slam doors or hit each other. The manipulation and criticism common in dysfunctional groups has no place in a healthy environment. Differences are discussed, not argued over. If problems arise, all parties listen and hear each other, withhold judgment until all data is gathered, and jointly decide how to resolve it.
Chores are an essential component of any functional group, whether family, commune or house full of guests. A home should be clean, neat, comfortable and conducive to calm and productivity. It should also be pleasant. That means work, which is everyone’s responsibility. To participate in the menial jobs of a household increases a sense of importance and belonging, especially for kids. Assigned tasks can be rotated so everyone can take turns doing what they prefer. Cooperation negates the need for threats, arguments and punishment.
Parents are in charge, know what limits are appropriate and how to set them respectfully. When children are respected, they learn to respect themselves and others. They naturally test limits but good parents will firmly, lovingly hold the line. Children need to develop autonomy but too much power allowed by weak parenting seriously upsets family balance, where no one feels emotionally safe. Parents are supposed to make decisions that children have neither the wisdom nor experience to make.
In functional families, parents run the show with love, respect and foster a spirit of cooperation. Children feel comfortable bringing their friends home. In fact, such a home often becomes the neighborhood hangout because everyone feels so at ease and has so much fun there. The healthy, well-functioning family produces solid contributing citizens who are major assets to society.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island, with 33 years of experience as a therapist, in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and the University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Stanton also is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy and is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Comments and questions and may be submitted by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 394-2861.