7 Keys to Building Strong Families: Introduction

If you survived a nuclear disaster, when the danger was over and you came out of hiding, what would be the first thing you would look for? If you are like most of us your answer is simple and wouldn’t take much thought.

You probably wouldn’t be too concerned about the paint on your house, the flowers in your garden or the football game that had been interrupted. You wouldn’t look for a thing. You’d look for a person. You would frantically search for your husband or your wife, your son or your daughter. You’d want to find your family and make sure they were safe.

Some time ago I saw an interview of a couple who had lost their home and all of their possessions but had barely escaped the fury of hurricane Georges. They were exhausted, soaking wet and holding onto each other and their children.

After answering questions as to what they had lost the husband turned to the reporter and said, “Most of what we lost we can replace. It may take some time, but we’ll bounce back.” He then looked at his wife and his kids and with a lump in his throat said, “I just thank God we were able to save what we could never replace.”

The quality of family life influences every other part of our life. Surveys tell us that the greatest source of happiness in life is the family. The same surveys tell us that the greatest source of frustration and disappointment in people’s lives is dealing with family problems.

Every one of us, including you, is part of a family. In fact we’re part of several families. You didn’t have any choice in the matter. God has designed the family as the basic unit of all society. As goes the family, so go our communities. As go our communities so go our states. As go our states so go our nations. As go our nations so go entire civilizations.

You may be surprised to learn that there is a clear pattern to the rise and fall of great societies such as Rome, Greece and Egypt. When they were at the peak of their power and prosperity, the family was strong and highly valued. However, when family life became weak, when the family was not valued, when they began to value things rather than relationships, when society became extremely individualistic, the society began to deteriorate and eventually fell apart.

Some time ago I heard an interview with former President George Bush. He expressed regret over his failure to help American families more during his term in the White House. “I thought of all the things I had the power to do as President,” Bush said. “I moved half a million Americans over to the desert to show the world that aggression would not stand. A president has great power over foreign policy.”

“But if I had a chance to do one thing, it would have been to further the return to this country of an internal moral compass. We cannot continue to produce generations born into despair. We must say every choice is a moral choice, and some things are simply morally wrong.”

Bush said his experience since leaving the White House – as a grandfather instead of president – has been enlightening. “We love having the kids around,” he said. “I really believe that family is what it’s all about. What kills me is the decimation and decline of the American family.”

I agree with Chuck Swindoll who writes, “How parents raise their children will have a greater impact on society than the way they vote, the art they create, the books they read, the technological problems they solve, or the planets they visit in space.”

Surveys and polls show that Americans are more concerned than ever before with decay and decline of the family . . . and for good reason! In 1990, Newsweek magazine devoted a special issue to “The 21st Century Family.” Their writers make the bold statement that . . .

“The American family does not exist. Rather, we are creating many American families, of diverse styles and shapes. In unprecedented numbers our families are unalike: we have fathers working while mothers keep house; fathers and mothers both working away from home; single parents; second marriages bringing children together from unrelated backgrounds; childless couples; unmarried couples with and without children; gay and lesbian parents. We are living through a period of historic change in American family life.”

Indeed times have changed. These changes are having a dramatic effect on the face of today’s family. There is increasingly clear evidence that many or the major problems in our society are associated with poor, negative, unsatisfying or even nonexistent family life. We know what’s wrong. But what can we do with our kids that can make a difference?

Over the past 15 years there have been numerous studies on characteristics of strong, healthy families. What does a healthy family look like? What do healthy families do? From my research, interviews, clinical work and from my experience as a father of three, I’ve identified, not 12 steps or a “Top 10” but 7 simple keys to growing healthy families.

In the weeks ahead I will be sharing these seven simple keys with you. Most of them are fairly common-sense basic principles that all of us have heard before. But, just because we’ve heard them doesn’t mean we do them. I don’t know about you, but in my own life, knowledge doesn’t always lead to action! Or when it does, it can lead to an attempt to accomplish too much change in too little time. That just leads to more discouragement and frustration.

Growth is a process. It takes time. It isn’t always easy. It can be frustrating. We read a book or leave a lecture excited and motivated, and often try to do too much or expect too much too soon. As a psychologist and a parent I’ve discovered that meaningful change takes place as a series of small steps.

I know that this column has readers that come from different places in life. However, each one of us is part of a family. Regardless of your age or marital status, I believe that you will find something in each article that you will be able to apply in your present relationships to make them healthier and more mutually satisfying.

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