Ten Keys to a Strong Family

Our world today is complicated. Daily we are reminded that life is fragile, and downright unpredictable. We feel incredible stress and anxiety, uncertain of what the future holds for ourselves and those we love. Many of us hunger to know the secrets of caring families — families who make good times better and tough times more endurable. How do we create and sustain families that strive to make life safe and meaningful for each member?

“Strong” is only one word for such families. We can call them functional, if we want to be technical, or opt for more inspiring words such as balanced, happy, successful, or content.

Most families have the capacity to grow stronger. These are the principles strong families live by:

“Our family comes first”

Strong families support each others dreams; they sacrifice to show support. A friend turned down a company trip to the Bahamas so he could attend his son’s championship soccer game. “The beach will always be there but my son won’t always be 14 and team captain.” This “family first” attitude begins with a bond of loyalty between marital partners. But single-parent families can be just as successful in raising strong children if they develop a “family first” attitude.

“We belong together — and apart”

Strong families use the word “we” a lot, but “I” is never forgotten. Family members know they have the freedom to go off on their own, even if the direction is one that “we” have never followed before. The family message is, “We’re behind you, so you can be you.”

“We are a democracy”

While parents are naturally in a leadership role, strong families strive to share decision-making. They resolve difference by respecting other viewpoints and accepting compromise solutions. One family decided to spend money on a son’s music lessons rather than replacing worn carpeting. The compromise was to pitch in and clean the carpet. In another family, everyone but the youngest daughter loved to ski. They rented a vacation condo with plenty of activities for the daughter, and the skiers accepted an hour’s drive to the slopes.

“We treat each other well”

In strong families, positive strokes outnumber negative broadsides by a wide margin. Members regularly express appreciation: “Thanks for fixing the drainpipe.” “You look so nice in that dress.” “The dinner was great.” Criticism is offered gently. After all, strong families figure, if we can be kind to strangers, why not to one another?

“We roll with the punches”

A 25-year study of more than 21,000 families found that the successful ones are adaptable. Recently, I heard about a retired couple whose son, after a business failure, returned to live with them along with his pregnant wife and two children. At the same time, the retired husband’s aged mother moved in. Plans for travel were put on hold, but this family expressed no regrets. Indeed, the wife talks about the joys of having four generations together. She sees a challenge rather than a setback. Strong families are flexible in everyday matters too. They don’t “sweat the small stuff — crabby kids, traffic jams, and bad hair days.” They just breathe deeply and move on.

“We pay attention”

Strong families are good listeners, whether the talk is large or small — about a pending layoff at work or a Little League practice. They make sure they understand, using phrases such as, “I’m not sure I know what you mean. Can you say it another way?” A good rule: Don’t read minds; listen with your heart.

“We cherish family time”

According to a Harris poll, a large majority of men and women aged 20 to 40, value a work schedule with enough time for family. But strong families do more than hope for time; they insist on it. They set work boundaries and prioritize family fun. “At work, I give 100 percent,” a young mother told me. “I won’t even take a phone call that doesn’t relate to the project at hand. But bring work home with me? Forget about it.” She added, “No job lasts forever, but a great family does.”

“We want to improve the world”

In disproportionate numbers, strong families volunteer in local organizations, serve on school boards and town councils, and coach sports teams. They help in individual ways, too, making house repairs for elderly neighbors, shopping for the home-bound, babysitting for frazzled young mothers. “What goes around comes around” is an adage well-known to strong families.

“We have faith”

Religious belief, trust, a sense of connection to the universe — no matter what you call it, there is a spiritual component to strong families. They see their lives imbued with purpose, reflected in the things they do for one another and the community. Small problems provide a chance to grow; large ones are a lesson in courage. A mother whose son died of a brain tumor bravely returned to the hospital where he died in order to set up a research fund. When she saw the parents of children who currently were suffering, she told her son’s doctor: “If any research you do produces any advance, my son’s passing won’t have been totally without purpose.” It takes a certain type of spiritual grace to see beyond one’s own misery to the needs of others. Strong families try to live so they can look outward — and inward — every single day.

Parade Magazine, December 1, 2002.

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It’s Playtime — School’s Out!

Summer brings the end of the school year and more time to play with friends, hopefully. Recently on vacation and playing with my granddaughters reminded me of so many things I enjoyed as a young child.

One song comes to mind about a playmate, sliding down rain barrels, and being jolly friends forever…  I searched YouTube to see what I could find, and this version done by a little girl who insisted her mom didn’t have the lyrics right was very cute! Enjoy!

Posted in Elementary School Child, Parenting, Relationships, Toddlers & Preschoolers, Warm Fuzzies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Too Much Stuff

With spring comes spring cleaning — most years. Sometimes we get lazy and skip a year, or two. But this year I am motivated. 🙂

Today I took a car trunk fully of clothing and shoes from my house and my daughter’s house and donated it to the local consignment shop that funds domestic violence programs in our community. That felt good. Not only did stuff disappear from my house, but helped to save my busy daughter a trek across her town to do the same. One item crossed off the long “to-do” list.

Then I got lucky and learned that the termite/pest control man, who visits quarterly these past twenty years, has two young granddaughters willing to take ownership of the two large bags of stuffed animals I have been saving in the attic for way too long! Still not sure why I saved them. Nostalgia? Probably. My 30ish daughters don’t play with them anymore. Little granddaughters have their own favorites. But, new homes have been found for long-forgotten toys! Two items now crossed off the list.

Last week I sorted through three huge stacks of papers, most of which went in the recycle bin. And fifteen unused Rubbermaid totes got donated to my daughter’s attic for her family storage needs. Guess you could say that I am on a mission to get rid of “stuff.” Saw this quote recently…

“I spent the first 2/3 of my life acquiring stuff that doesn’t matter only so that I can spend the last 1/3 getting rid of it. What a stupid game of consumerism we Americans play.”       ~ Linda Moran Stichtenoth

Our obsession with collecting stuff starts innocently enough. A piece of pottery here, coffee mugs there. Before you know, you are buried under an avalanche of possessions you no longer want or need. If you feel controlled or possessed by possessions, there are steps to take to break the cycle to de-clutter your home and your life.

Here are some ways to purge the stuff not worth saving. Stuff that weights you down and complicates life.

SELL IT!!    Consider yard sales. E-Bay. Consignment shops. Flea markets.

GIVE IT AWAY!!    Regift, as I did with the stuffed animals. To friends and neighbors and extended family. To charities, such as your local homeless shelter, hospice centers, or the Salvation Army. My daughter has been giving away some of her children’s outgrown toys to the preschool that her girls attend. The school is very appreciative of such donations. Try Freecycle.org and the “free” section on Craigslist. Many things can be disposed of greenly through these sites, such as computers, appliances, furniture, and children’s play equipment, like swings and trampolines. I have also found Habitat for Humanity to be a wonderful organization to give to. They will come to your home to pick up items too large to transport. Check out Parade.com/stuff for a comprehensive guide to where to send specific items, like eyeglasses, toys, or sneakers.

TRASH IT!!   Recycle all that you can. Take the rest to the curb. Items that are stained or broken, or irreparably damaged belong in the trash, along with unwanted mementos that are meaningless to no one but you. A couple of months ago I put a very rickety wooden child-sized art easel by the curb. Since it was not there the next morning I conclude that someone else found a treasure useful to them or their family. Yeah!

Here is a list of 10 things you should throw out TODAY. If you want to declutter, but not sure where to begin, these items are a must-toss for any household.

  1. Computer printouts
  2. Paper copies of paid bills
  3. VHS tapes, cassette tapes, or old video games
  4. Home gym equipment
  5. Worn-out linens (although these make good cleaning rags or can be used for countless art or craft projects)
  6. Old hair accessories
  7. Outdated cell phones
  8. Extra coat hangers (although places like hospice centers or nursing homes might find these helpful)
  9. Reminders of past hobbies
  10. Single-use kitchen gadgets

Get started today!!! Take small steps. That will inspire you to take bigger steps! Oh, and mop the floor when you finish a room… 🙂

Happy Spring Cleaning!


Posted in Anxiety & Stress, Marriage, Middle Age, Relationships, Retirement, Self-Care, Work & Family | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Too Much Stuff