Whether yours is a traditional family, foster family, blended family or single-parent family, you can be a healthy family.
Healthy families have basic functions that meet the needs of every member.
Food, clothing and shelter are provided. If the furnace breaks down, someone repairs it. When clothes are outgrown, someone provides new ones. If you are hungry, someone feeds you. One or more work to make this possible.
Safety, warmth and nurturing are present. People care for each other, provide appropriate touch, laugh together, cry together, share joys together and protect each other from harm.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow noted the importance of feeling loved and a feeling of belonging. Just as we need a sense of belonging, we also have a need for autonomy or separateness.
Children are allowed to find out what they like and don't like about the world, can choose a sport, art, debate or music lessons, etc., and what they want to do for a living. They are allowed privacy and a sense of uniqueness. Adults too are able to change their minds about things like careers and extracurricular interests. Parents and children are allowed to love each other without having to be enmeshed and tangled up in each other's lives.
Healthy families promote self-esteem and a sense of worth through recognition, not criticism, healthy skill building rather than pushing and demanding of a perfect performance. Each person is recognized as having value and something important to offer to the family and to the world.
Healthy families get to make mistakes. There is room for human error and imperfection. My favorite sign at Disneyland sits on the street corner of Mickey Mouse's house and reads “Wrong Turn OK.”
Healthy families have fun. Being silly, playful, creative and “letting your hair down” is important. Families that allow this kind of play typically produce children who are more creative and also able to solve their own conflicts and stresses.
Spirituality is also an important function. I am not necessarily speaking of a formal religion but rather a relationship with creation, that ineffable, unexplainable around us — the cosmos, the universe, or a higher power. Spirituality often teaches us to let go of what isn't important and to persevere with what is.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.