COLUMN: So you want your family to be healthy?

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By John Lapp

What I am writing about today does not come with a “money-back guarantee,” but is considered to be strong suggestions and helpful hints that will ensure that your family is, or will be, more healthy than unhealthy.
No, I haven’t written a book about this subject, but I have been in family practice for nearly 45 years with all types and sizes of families, and have seen the extremes of both types. Before I present my thoughts on this subject, I will make a couple of recommendations of books that you will find helpful as you help develop the kind of family you desire. One of the books is entitled “Boundaries,” (1992), co-authored by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, who have followed with “Boundaries With Kids,” both books with workbooks to help with application of the many principles presented.
Another book is “Adult Children of Fairly Functional Parents,” by Freeman and Arnold. This is a humorous presentation of why the authors entitled it as they have. These books can be located at most book stores, and you may even find a copy at the local library.
Well, now that you know about sources that may help you, let’s proceed. Healthy families I have worked with and known both personally and professionally, seem to have most of the same ingredients. One of the main things is that each member of the family is considered to be as important as any other member. For example, if you are regular in your attendance where one of your children is participating in football, dance, choir, the school play, the science fair or any other activity, make sure you give the same amount of personal attention to the child who does not participate in one of these. Some children have said even though they are now adults that “I was not as important as other of my siblings,” at least that is what they experienced as a child. In addition, even though you have several children, each of them needs your personal time. Although it is not always true, it has been found that when the family does engage in any activities, it is always as a family, with the mistaken belief that this should be the only way to be a family. I suggest that you take the time to pay attention to each child because they are individuals and not just conglomerate members of your family.
Take time to take each one of them for a personal trip to McDonald’s or shopping or to go with you when you just go to the store to buy a few groceries. That may not seem like a lot, but it will be something that each one will store in their long-term memories. You, as a father, may take each of your daughters for a “date” to a sit-down (not always expensive) time at a local restaurant, even if it is a fast-food. If it seems possible, mothers may ask one of the sons to go with her, sort of a twist in the usual way of the guy is usually the one who asks his potential date to go out.
It is of utmost importance for parents to regularly display a sense of warmth between them, a genuine respect and love that the children not only see (with their eyes) but sense what would normally be displayed by two people who are really lovers. Along with this, it is also a sign of a healthy family when the parents regularly go on dates with each other. This takes more of the ingredient of time than just money. Children think it is neat to see their parents holding hands and walking along with their arms around each other’s waists. Love is not something that is done to display the ingredients of love, but is something that is done so naturally that they feel safe, happy, even confident with the future of their family.
A final thing that is evident in the healthy family is a sense of respect, not just as it relates to how children should display this toward the parents, but how the parents do the same toward the children. And although children will get into their little spats with each other, they also are respectful toward one another.
Anger is expected and disagreements are very normal, but being disagreeable to the point of being hateful in displays of being contrary to one another is not, and never will be healthy.
And, while you may have seen or heard the phrase “Families that pray together, stay together” — and they probably will have a much healthier family than many others — that is not enough. It is also equally important that “families that play together, stay together.” Neither of these are absolute guarantees, but when both of these are regularly done with family participation, there is better opportunity to be a healthy family.
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