How to Create a Close Family
How do you create a close family? To begin with, it is always wise to make sure you are prepared to start a family. Perhaps Stanford University’s 12 Simple Tests for Expectant Parents will help you decide. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
- Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems – first buy a live octopus and a bag made out of loose mesh. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out. Time allowed for this – all morning.
- Feeding them is not much easier – hollow out a melon. Make a small hole in the side. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side… Now get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon by pretending to be an airplane. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone. Tip the rest into your lap, making sure a lot of it falls on the floor. You are now ready to feed a 12-month-old baby.
- Always repeat everything you say at least five times.
- Before you finally go ahead and have children – find a couple who are already parents and berate them for their methods of discipline, lack of patience, appallingly low tolerance levels, and how they have allowed their children run wild… Enjoy it – this will be the last time in your life you will have all the answers.
These “tests” remind me of the importance of humor in the creation of a close family… Too much seriousness locks everything into place creating an atmosphere of tension and fear. The emotional climate that humor provides allows us to take a step back and ask… “How important is this really?”
And believe it or not, what seems like a nightmare today becomes a treasured memory tomorrow… a story to be told over and over again at every Thanksgiving Dinner for years to come. All thanks to our ability to step back and laugh at our own foibles.
So, there is a time for seriousness and a time for humor… knowing when to lighten the mood is an art form that pays very big dividends. Creating a close family is like anything else that’s worthwhile… it takes awareness, commitment, and action – but the return on investment is tremendous!
So what do close families do to achieve their cohesiveness? They have a Weekly Family Meeting and do the things outlined below.
The Close Family…
Procreation is that instinctive drive in each of us that ensures the survival of the human race… and contrary to popular belief – it’s not just about sex. It’s about selecting, courting, mating, nesting, teaching, nurturing and protecting… and it lasts throughout the life cycle of the family. Another often used term for it is “parenting”.
In the ideal situation, two people find each other, fall in love, settle down and raise a family… Children are planned for and anticipated with joy and excitement. Other times a pregnancy is not planned and children show up way too early in the process… Two people then marry out of obligation rather than love and compatibility – or they split up and another single mom joins the legions of others.
Either scenario is a bad set-up for the parents as well as the kids. Still, it’s possible to have a close family, but creating it will be more difficult due to wounded kids. What makes two people “click”? All we really know is that something draws them together… this “something” has been called chemistry, mysterious forces, and mother nature.
A more likely reason for our coming together is that we are compatible on two levels… a conscious level and a subconscious level… We have been programmed by our parents with three primary neural networks for relationships and family…
Our Parents show us:
- How men and women are and how they get along
- How husbands and wives are and how they get along
- How Dads and Moms are and how they get along
They either teach us “how to do it” or “how not to do it” depending on the decisions we make along the way. But whichever direction we go it’s based upon our neurological imprinting of their behaviors – i.e. our programming or “Map of the World”.
In other words, we tend to behave like them or just the opposite of them. Living “just the opposite” is like trying to un-bake a cake… Simply reversing the process doesn’t guarantee that we’ll have a better cake. It’s much more effective to start from scratch and use a different recipe – which means creating a different network.
A close family begins with a couple’s ability to create healthy intimacy and partnership…It’s easy to get close during the courtship period. But on the day we get married the neural network for “husband and wife” fires up… sometimes dramatically.
I’ve worked with people who have said…”The day we got married he changed – Just like that!” Frequently it turns out that they both changed because their programming for husband and wife gradually took over their relationship.
Many of us have had the “Omigosh…I’m becoming my father/mother!” and/or the “Omigosh!… I married my mother/father” moments. This does not mean one is doomed to relive their parent’s relationship… it simply means one needs to make choices about how they want to do these relationships…
You can pro-actively-create the patterns you want… even if that means reaching out for help early on. If your programming is not what you want it to then get help – go to counseling, a community support group, or a church group where they work on self-awareness and change.
When a couple becomes pregnant, another neural network kicks in – the mom and dad network. Now there are two relationships evolving between them. The husband/wife relationship is supposed to be where the couple get their adult needs met… like recharging their emotional batteries.
The dad/mom network is draining because it has to be all about the kids. Keeping a good balance between these two relationships is essential. A trap many people fall into when they have their first child is to neglect the husband/wife relationship as things get busy…
This is a mistake because the patterns we set early on soon become ingrained into the neural networks being formed at the time… better to set good patterns in the beginning than to unlearn them later on.
The neural networks of a couple tend to “synchronize” over time… This synchronization is often described as the “dynamics” of a relationship. It has also been referred to as the “Dance” that we learn to dance with each other.
Family dynamics are that set of behaviors that are played-out repetitiously between members of a family. It’s these dynamics that determine the nature of our relationships…and whether or not we have a close family. For example, the quality of our communication is a result of the communication dynamics that take place between us. If I refuse to open up and share what I really think with you then we cannot have close, authentic communication.
But if I do choose to allow myself to be open and vulnerable we can enjoy healthy intimacy – provided that your response reinforces my choice to open up. If you – on the other hand – repeatedly respond in a hurtful way to my attempts to be open then I soon decide it’s not okay to be open. In other words – we co-create our close family through the attempts we make at healthy dynamics and our partner’s supportive and authentic responses to those attempts.
In a dysfunctional family, the “Dance” is called the Drama Triangle. The unspoken rules are “Don’t talk”, “Don’t Trust”, and/or “Don’t Feel”…none of these dynamics foster a close family atmosphere. Both parties share responsibility for co-creating their close family by co-creating healthy intimacy in their husband/wife relationship and teamwork in their mom/dad relationship.
Most people are already aware that good communication is essential to a close family – or any other close relationship for that matter. What many can’t seem to figure is why it’s so hard to communicate. There are several reasons for a break-down in communication…
- Lack of Training – Beyond the instinct to cry, good communication is not an inborn trait – it must be learned. The primary way we learn to communicate is through the role-modeling and reinforcement of our parents. If they are good at communicating we get adequate training. If they are not trained themselves then we will have to re-program our neural net for how to communicate as soon as we acquire the self-help motivation to do so.
- Trust and Safety Issues – It is sometimes a risky thing to put yourself out there by authentically communicating what you think and feel. If we have made ourselves vulnerable in the past but got hurt because the other person violated our trust or otherwise made it unsafe then we probably developed a “Don’t Trust” or “Don’t Talk” rule in our communication network. Safety is a prerequisite of the close family.
- Self-Interest – While I do need to keep track of what’s in my best interest, if I lack the skill of empathy then my capacity for healthy communication is seriously impaired – a close family is impossible. To learn more about empathy check out this information about perceptual positions.
- Emotional Flooding – If something is very important to me… or if I have impulse control problems… or if I have emotional regulation problems… or if I simply “want what I want when I want it” then I am likely to be prone to emotional flooding. I can become so flooded with emotions that my intellect or thinking brain is overwhelmed… I become highly reactive and impossible to communicate with until the flood recedes.
- Misunderstanding – Many times a simple misunderstanding can lead to a gigantic unnecessary hassle. Check out the information on Nominalizations and/or Reality Check to learn why it is so easy to have misunderstandings.
- Lack of Effort – When we become so overloaded with activities and responsibilities that we cannot find time for anything else we might not make the effort to communicate which can become a “steady-state”… Then one day we wake up next to a stranger. Or maybe we feel we tried and tried to no avail so we just give up trying. Either way our close family is but a dream and our future together is in serious jeopardy.
- Lack of Organization – Running a household and having a close family requires as much organization as a small business – Busy work schedules, community involvements, after-school activities, family events, holiday gatherings, doctors appointments, dentists appointments, shopping for supplies, birthday parties, household chores, yard work, use of limited resources such as the bathroom, emergencies, taking the dog to the vet, dropping the little one off at daycare, picking up the kids after school, unplanned sicknesses (flu or cold, etc)… Whew!!! How in the world are we going to develop a close family with all this going on? We’re NOT… Unless we organize. The best way to do that is at the weekly Family Meeting.
Participation & Cooperation
In order to create a close family, it’s necessary for all members of the family to participate and cooperate in making it so. The Family Meeting offers a great environment to meet the many needs of the close family while also involving everyone in ways that gain their support.
Qualities that help to gain the participation and cooperation of family members include:
- Commitment – Members who commit to the family have chosen to make the close family a priority in their lives – They can be relied upon, they spend quality time with the family, they are interested in family business, and they work through problems with mutual caring and respect.
- Connectedness – Connectedness is a feeling of closeness, of being an important part of the family, and having a sense of unity and partnership with the other members.
- Acceptance – With acceptance, there is permission to be uniquely you… differences are allowed and respected.
- Appreciation – Individual contributions and successes are acknowledged and appreciated in the close family. The members try hard not to take anyone or anything for granted.
- Trust and Safety – Trust and safety go hand in hand. Measures are taken in the close family to establish and maintain a safe and trusting environment. We tend to trust people who demonstrate that they are trustworthy. We also trust people who deal fairly with everyone… whether they are in the family or not.
- Truthfulness – Honesty and integrity foster respect from others. If there are problems in the family it is best to work them out in the family when possible. Of course, there are limits – such as individual privacy or husband/wife issues. If marital problems are obvious to everyone then it’s wise to acknowledge that the problems exist and that mom and dad are taking care of it.
- Flexible Rules – The functioning of the close family depends more on honest discussion, negotiation, and compromise than it does with the letter of the law. This approach demonstrate awareness that the needs of family and its members are constantly changing. Of course, there are a few non-negotiable rules, but everything else should be open for discussion at the weekly Family Meeting. This offers opportunities to learn and practice some important skills such as problem-solving, conflict resolution, and decision-making. (discussions should be time-limited and end with a decision)
- Response-Ability – Within age-appropriate limits, everyone in the family has the ability-to-respond to situations that arise during the week… we call them choices. Close family members accept accountability for those choices as well as the consequences that go with them. Parents accept and encourage response-ability by not doing for their kids what they should be able to do for themselves.
- Healthy Boundaries – A personal boundary is that edge between us where I end and you begin. It can be visualized as a bubble that surrounds a person. When parents are too intrusive they tend to get over-involved with their kids. This can interfere with the development of adequate boundaries of the child. Such a child may find it difficult to remain emotionally present when someone tries to get close. In a close family, the parents’ own boundaries are well-defined… they recognize and respect the children’s separateness and individuality. This is increasingly important as the child goes into adolescence.
Again, the Family Meeting is an excellent time and place to accomplish many of these things.
“Families that play together, stay together”… or is it… “Families that pray together, stay together”? It’s probably both! The close family does things together as often as they can. Granted – the developmental tasks of the teenager gradually takes them away from family activities… but in a close family they still need, value, and make time for family no matter how old they are.
In dysfunctional family teenagers may not care to be home at all… especially if they are not getting what they need. The basic emotional needs of children include time, attention, affection, and direction. For teens, increasing needs for freedom, fun, and power begin to surface as well.
Families can have lots of fun together if they take to time to include it. If you hyphenate the word you get a more accurate idea of what it means… Re-creation… We re-create ourselves when we play and have fun together. Remember that kids learn through play. When they are playing they are in learning mode so it’s a great time to teach important things like teamwork, sharing, sportsmanship, etc.
Playtime is also considered “quality time” by most children… Their needs for time, attention, and affection get met during these periods where the god-like creatures in their life take time to play with them. The quickest and strongest bonds are the ones created through sharing fun times. Play is also how kids connect with others. It isn’t necessarily the activity that they enjoy most… it’s the connection – Playing with them is like joining them in their world.
Play is also essential to adults. Remember that laughter is the best medicine. Regular playtime not only ensure a close family, but it is also extremely healthy… Chronic stress gets washed out of the system with fun, laughter, and exercise.
And finally, take it from me… every fun time you ever have with your kids becomes a priceless gem after they grow up and leave home. Make as many of those memories as you can… you only get one chance.
Close families take time to evaluate how they are doing as a group and what they can do better. Perhaps one Family Meeting every quarter can be devoted to such an evaluation. Family and individual goals can be reviewed and updated to meet the ever-changing needs of family members. Again, the family business is just as important as any other business… what business would not take the time to review how they are doing every quarter or so?