Parents are responsible for the overall management of family life, including setting the values and seeing that everyone’s needs are met and that everyone is thriving. There are several good ways to focus the time you have with your family so you all stay physically and emotionally healthy.
- Have Individual and Family Goals
In our complex technological society, it can become very easy to get over-involved with a heavy schedule of chores and obligations. If you want to do something more than just deal with what’s urgent, take some time to define your goals. Make sure some of your “urgent” activity each week is working toward your goals. Family goals might be diverse: to spend an evening each week playing together, to buy a new or bigger house, to take a trip to Disneyland by the time the youngest is five, to see that each child gets a solid education or to help all family members be as healthy as they can be. Individuals also have goals: to become an Eagle Scout, make the dance team, change careers or get more education.
- Family Meetings
Sharing goals can lead to greater cooperation. When we know a family member’s goals, we can support her in achieving them. If Mom wants to go back to school to finish college, and the teenage son needs to be at basketball practice three nights a week, the family can come up with ways to help both of them get their needs met. Maybe Mom could take one less course this term, and the son could fix dinner for the family on the evening that Mom has class. A healthy family is one in which each person’s individual goals are taken into account as well as the family goals. If the goal is a family vacation to Disneyland, someone could take a part-time job to add to the vacation account, or the kids could agree to contribute a certain percent of their allowance each week. Family meetings let people bring up concerns, appreciations and the normal conflicts that arise when two or more people are sharing a life together. Conflicts almost always arise over issues like who will do the dishes. Actively resolving the conflict, at least temporarily, without a screaming match, can happen in a family meeting.
- Open Communication
Open communication occurs when people know they can safely share their hurts, hopes, needs and longings without ridicule or retaliation. When a child feels safe enough to tell a parent when he is upset or angry, he is more apt to be honest and direct expressing his feelings. Parents model openness by the quality of the relationship they have with each other. Listening to a criticism or complaint of a spouse without sparring or fighting is a sign of maturity. Children learn how to live in the world by the example their parents set.
- Managing Conflict
Conflict is part of most relationships. Two people rarely have the same goal in the same time frame. One style of conflict resolution is to declare one person the authority who makes all the decisions for all the family members. This can work, but it frequently leads to resentment, and decreases closeness. Another frequent solution is to use some method of allocating authority for different parts of family life to different people, often following gender norms. Although this type of family structure was common in the past, most modern people in the Western world establish families in which both genders have a significant voice and responsibility in the family life. Instead of passively agreeing to a plan someone has made unilaterally, family members should talk about what they want and reach a compromise in which everyone gets part of his needs met. Negotiation and listening skills will get stronger as a person learns how to better manage conflict.