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Five characteristics of a healthy family

The ability to express anger without denying love.
Children as well as adults need to be accepted for the full range of human expression to feel loved. Conditional love involves an emotional disconnection when anger arises. An inclusive love accepts anger without emotional connection. (Practice saying to your children, " I do love you and I am very angry about your actions." Parents find that by saying this out loud to young children, they can actually feel the difference of their emotional love AND anger simultaneously in their physical bodies. Both they and advertisement their child are reassured, and anger can be expressed without the emotional withdrawal which so often accompanied our own childhood experiences. Once you have mastered this response with your children, try it with your spouse when the opportunity arises!) Can members of your family express anger without emotional withdrawal or lashing out?

The ability to accept differences in opinions and feelings.
Psychological safety is created in an atmosphere that does not discount or denigrate an individual for his or her opinion, but does allow for the passionate expression of differences. This sets the stage for effective conflict resolution, too. Problems can be solved and compromises reached when empathy develops out of safe and full expression of differences. Is there "room" for different viewpoints and opinions in your family?

The ability for clear and direct communication that allows feelings to be expressed separately from action.
It is safe to have feelings when these feelings are acceptable to have and not "acted out" on a family member. Families that develop an atmosphere which tolerates ambivalent feelings accepts the realities of
the human experience. For example: A mother may feel disappointed that she cannot attend a social gathering of her colleagues due to family responsibilities. Her feelings of disappointment can be expressed (and met with empathy) as she chooses to forgo her event. By making room for "unpopular" feelings, resentment and guilt are more likely to be replaced by appreciation and a fair sense of "give and take" in the future. Is there "room" for feelings in your family?

The ability for family members to depend on the larger community.
Families do not exist in isolation. Resources outside of the family must be incorporated into family life for children and adults to feel a part of a larger "whole" and to acquire needed resources for development. A family atmosphere that is supported by outside forces, such as a father's group for a new father, or a mother's group for the mom allows for affiliations and outlets for life's frustrations which may otherwise result in internalized pressure in the family. Friendships, hobbies and activities which help us release tension gives us more of a buffer in our daily lives with those who are most intimate to us. Though we develop family "spirit" and togetherness, it must be balanced with a support network that extends beyond the family. How healthy is your community network? Do you have close friendships (other than your spouse, for example) that you can talk to when you feel down or pressured? Men are particularly vulnerable to ignoring the need to develop male friendships and may overburden their marriage with ALL of their emotional needs. If you are a single parent, who do you turn to for discussion of your own ups and downs and troubles that naturally arise in relationship with your children?

The ability to gradually hand over age-appropriate decision-making to growing children and support independence.
In a healthy family system, support to eventually separate from the family is not viewed as a betrayal, but a natural resolution to a child's growth. Connection allows for a child's growing development away from the family, and healthy family connection continues when there is a slow and evolving change towards adult friendship, which gradually replaces parental-child interactions.
Families sometimes "get stuck" in negative parental-child
relationship patterns when parental responsibility is abrogated too early, or a child's growing independent decision-making is discouraged. Finding a healthy balance is the key to maintaining healthy connections to your children over a lifetime! How did your parents do? Did they maintain a vibrant relationship with you through your adult years? How do you envision your relationship with your children as adults?





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