COLUMN: Are you an emotionally healthy family?

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By John Lapp

"Oh, I can’t wait to read this one.” I hope you are saying this to yourself because that is why, in fact, it is the title and content of this week’s column. My whole purpose for doing the work that God has allowed me to be engaged in for more than four decades is to help develop healthy marriages and healthy families.
I get great pleasure in doing this, the emotional pleasure of seeing the end results of the many hours of effort put into what is actually “healthy,” albeit not perfect. In fact, if you are hoping to have a perfect marriage or family in your future, my advice is your best path may be to remain single. That is not intended to discourage you from putting forth the effort to have the best possible marriage and/or family.
I love my marriage of 55 years to my best friend ever, and our two children, six grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.
So let’s attempt to describe what constitutes the family considered to be “healthy”? My original mentor at the beginning of my college pursuits was Dr. Clyde M. Narramore of the Narramore Christian Foundation, who at that time was only one of two known psychologists whose practice was both Christian in intent and content.
He had been engaged on the national Attorney General’s Task Force to study family violence along with eight other professionals from various walks of life. The task force had traveled across the country to many locations and had listened for many months to many testimonies about the home conditions in which the witnesses had been raised.
Some of these men and women traced their unhappy lives back to their childhood, from homes both wealthy and poor as it related to family income. The conclusion of the task force’s findings directed to the most obvious finding: The emotional environment of their homes had been extremely unhealthy.
It is obvious to me, as a licensed practitioner in the vast world of mental health and marriage and family therapy (and it goes along with much of the older and current literature still being presented): That if a child grows up in a home where good, happy feelings are developed on a regular basis, he has the basis to become an adult who is well-adjusted and who reflects those happy childhood years.
I have too often heard the painfully expressed words of adults, often in their 30s and beyond still struggling, often expressing themselves with emotional tears of what their childhood years were like as they were a member of a family described as sick or, at minimum, unhealthy.
One of the obvious things I have known for many years, not only as a practitioner, but also with childhood friends, and even some close and some distant family members, is that the emotionally healthy family, while not perfect, has developed and tried to maintain respect for each other. That does not in any way reflect that brothers and sisters will always get along with each other and never quarrel or fight, but that while this can and does happen, there still remains a certain measure of respect, one for the other.
I have regularly stated, and even did it today as I counseled a young, professional, very nice couple whose marriage was coming unraveled, and who also have one child: “One of the most important legacies you will give your child while still in your care is ‘This, my child, is what constitutes a good, loving marriage,’ by being that example before them as you regularly treat each other with kindness and love, showing by example that this is what marriage can be for you.”
Mrs. Lapp and I have been fortunate to have lived in very close proximity to both of our children’s families, and now in the same house, in a condo-type setting (we live on the lower level and they on the upper level). I have expressed it verbally with all five of our daughter’s children, in a one-on-one, non-lectured style: “You have no excuse for not having been taught by two generations of parents, your own parents and your grandparents, that marriage when both the husband and wife each give themselves to the other can be a true, blessed and happy relationship.”
Their “Papa,” as my name has wonderfully become, will hold their feet to the fire if they don’t also find themselves as “best friends” as have both their parents and grandparents. (Thank you, God.)
A healthy family also has many opportunities to pass on encouragement to each other, and mix both the verbally and physically expressed measures of discipline by a verbally and physically expressed appreciation for each other. Someone, anonymously, stated something very profound, but it can often be overlooked: “A child’s school drawing is just as important to him as a big business deal is to a parent.”
I remember as a child, the second of four male children, that I literally loathed/hated the taste of liver, no matter how it was cooked, and to this day, I have never tasted liver since I left home and no doubt never will again. Yuck. How could an animal taste so bad? I mean, I love beef, pork and fish, but that stuff is nasty. You may have a thought: “You have never tasted it the way it can taste, you may even like it.” Trust me, don’t waste any more thoughts about this, I’ve heard them all. It is still liver. After hearing back then about all the starving children of the world who would love to have some liver, I have often had the thought that if I had the money or the means to package it up and send it to them, I would have ridden my bike to the post office and gladly let them have my piece, even a whole slab.
Another way to help develop healthy family ways is to discover and develop talents. Too many times, the child, for instance, who does not necessarily want to participate in competitive sports, or develop musical interest or talent, is pushed to do that due to the parents’ desires to see the child succeed in an endeavor that the parent believes is good for him. However, the God-given potential skills that one child has is not consistent with that of another child, yet he feels less than appreciated by the parents because of the failure to please them. Many a very successful adult who was encouraged to follow his or her intellectual and/or creative interests when he or she was a child has become a happy and enjoyable adult child whose parents have been thankful that they allowed the child to explore for themselves this goal.
Now, to end this column is not to say that I have adequately covered the subject, but this is a good start. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, need to do all they can to help each child discover his or her own natural abilities and use them in leisure time and in hobbies. One example of a family member of mine is now the professional videographer for a national major sports team because he chose, as a child, not to pursue sports as an engaged athlete but loved photography and was encouraged in that area. The results of his parents’ encouragement obviously helped develop what today is his profession.
May God help you as you try to develop healthiness in your family. For more information, 477-2818.