Working Together On Life's Issues

Family Time

You must be the change that you wish to see in the world. - Ghandi

Family Time

I must tell you of a wonderful experience that I shared recently with my youngest son. Several of his teammates decided to join us after basketball practice for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

To break the ice, I thought it would be interesting if we shared how we spent the holidays. One young man eagerly jumped in. He told me that his father was one of 13 children. Most siblings were living, a good number had settled in the United States, and several resided in California. The family originated from Jamaica. He began to laugh as he recalled some of the antics that had taken place between himself and his cousins, including a bit of mischief and an occasional prank, sandwiched between love and acceptance.
It was obvious that he came from a close family. I could see the pride on his face and a fun-loving twinkle in his eyes as he recalled past Easter get-togethers. I could only begin to imagine how that household might have appeared: bushels of cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, all reunited to share good times perpetuated over the generations.
I started to think about the qualities that compose a successful family. But then, I had to stop and rethink of what really constitutes a family. Today, families come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some people still hang on to the belief that there is only one kind: mom, dad, 2.5 children, a dog and an SUV.

The reality, of course, is that the “American Family,” a la “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Leave It To Beaver,” and “Father Knows Best,” has given way to “The Brady Bunch,” “Full House,” “Two and a Half Men,” “The Simpsons, mixed in with a bit of “The Osbornes” and “Kardashians.” There is no such thing as a typical American family these days. Yes, the nuclear family of a stay-at-home mom, employed father and their own biological children still exists. However, what has now become typical are: the stepfamily, two-paycheck family, blended family, extended family, adoptive family, single-parent family, foster family, gay and lesbian family and perhaps others that have yet to be labeled. Each family type offers something special.
There is no “right” type of family, and there is no such thing as the perfect family. Why? For one thing, we are all different. What might be considered perfect by one may be another’s nightmare. Each family has its own set of problems, and some problems that will never go away, and yet they only serve to make us stronger and allow for individual growth.

What are the traits of a healthy family? A good place to begin is with mutual respect. Respect does not come with the title of “parent.” We earn this respect through our actions and examples. Talking a good talk is ineffective if we do not practice what we preach.

It is important to realize and accept that our children have feelings, wants, and needs. Family rules with reasonable limits, established and managed with consistency and structure, are important elements. Of course, both parents must be on the same page to effectively parent. In other words, if one parent does not allow gum chewing in the home, it is not alright for the other to allow the children to do so. Encouragement, praise and freedom to express feelings also help. While nourishment is important; human kindness, compassion, love, admiration, consideration and respect all contribute to a comfortable, healthy family, no matter the shape or size.

This year, begin a new tradition in your household. Try to eat at least several meals together. While you are all seated, let one person begin by complimenting each family member, and then conclude by saying something positive about him or her self. In the Freedman household, we passed the salt shaker. The person with the salt shaker spoke while the others listened. Then the salt shaker was passed to the next seated person. Each family member took a turn. I truly believe that this was the only time when there was complete and utter silence at the table, as each person wanted to listen closely to what the others had to say. Just this simple exercise will go a long way in fostering love and closeness. Try it and let me know of your results. As the saying goes, “It works if you work it.”