Family therapist Quentin Hafner pinpoints 10 characteristics of modern families that keep them happy, healthy, and hanging together.
What does it take for the modern family to be successful? Statistics paint a fairly gloomy picture for the modern family. We hear stories about divorce, out-of-control teens, infidelity, “broken homes,” and sometimes even physical and emotional abuse. Definitions of a successful family vary, but most sociologists and family therapists agree on a few key fundamentals that differentiate successful families from unsuccessful ones. So, how do we define success in a family? This is the definition of a successful family that I’ve come to adopt in my family therapy practice:A successful family promotes a sense of positive family and individual identity, fosters satisfying and fulfilling interactions among all members, and copes with stress in a way that results in more flexibility and cohesiveness in the family.
I recently gave a presentation at Hoag Hospital to expecting/prenatal couples on what’s needed for couples to transition to family-hood in a way that can be identified as a success. I wanted to share with you some of the highlights from this talk—the 10 characteristics of a successful contemporary family.
1. Successful families have clear roles
Members of successful families know there is a clear, equitable, yet flexible structure in the family that helps each member know their role in the family. Also, as it relates to roles, successful families also have a clear understanding of how decisions are made in the family. Parents in successful families are leaders, are rarely authoritarian, are clearly in control, yet openly accept influence and input from their children.
2. Successful families are socially connected
Successful families are not isolated socially and maintain strong bonds to a wider society. One way this shows up for successful families is their ability to draw upon resources outside the family for help. As the cliché goes: It takes a Village! Successful families understand the importance of friends, neighbors, extended family, babysitters, nannys, and all the other ways to stay socially connected for social relatedness, as well as the importance of asking for assistance outside the family.
3. Successful families see the big picture
Religious orientation shows up again and again as one of the biggest factors that determine a successful family. Which religion families choose to participate in, or frequency in church or synagogue attendance is not of significance for the success of the family, but more broadly that the family is aligned around a subset of moral standards that orient the members of the family. Successful families see the big picture of the meaning and purposes behind their being a family.
4. Successful families know how to adapt
Successful families have the ability to demonstrate flexibility in the face of stressful life events for the family. Conversely, families that become locked in rigid family rules and family roles are generally unable to successfully transition through important family life-cycle milestones and family crises due to an unhealthy sense of rigidity in the family. Successful families know their roles, but can move in and out for the betterment of the family.
5. Successful families encourage one another
Successful families are encouraging of the individual members in ways that offer respect, support, and recognition. Strong families are always appreciative of the uniqueness of the individual members but also are able to cultivate a sense of belonging to the family as a whole. The family structure offers a sense of safe support for the individual members that encloses but does not feel confining.
6. Successful families balance the “me” vs. “we”
Time spent together is one measure that routinely gets reports in successful families—not only in quantity but also in terms of quality. Successful families appreciate their sense of togetherness and live in a way that fosters bonding and connectivity through quality time spent together. Also, successful families value the autonomy and individual needs of each member and work to facilitate individual and family development simultaneously.
7. Successful families honor the marriage
Successful families understand that the marital relationship is the foundation and the glue that holds the family together. If the marriage isn’t doing well, the success of the family begins to be jeopardized. The introduction of children into the marriage results in a natural—and normal—disconnection in the spousal relationship, but successful families traverse this family life-cycle period and return to a high quality marital relationship.
8. Successful families communicate well
The presence of effective communication is one of most frequently reported qualities of a successful family. Communication in successful families is clear, open, and honest, and family members communicate with each other frequently to show care, inquire into each other’s lives, and manage conflict in healthy ways. Healthy family communication is strongly correlated with high self-esteem for family members. Successful families understand there may be no right answers, but only right ways to solve problems.
9. Successful families appreciate one another
Successful family members offer each other a high level of positive reinforcement in their day-to-day living. Successful families appreciate each of the family members and maintain communication patterns that support and nurture this appreciation through positive daily interactions.
10. Successful families are committed
Successful families a clear sense of identity, unity, and kinship with one another. They act as a team and inherently know each family member is a reliable teammate. It’s not uncommon in successful families for members to band together in the face of family adversity to preserve the welfare of the family.
Creating the atmosphere for a successful modern family and cultivating each of these 10 factors can be tough work and feel like a daunting task, especially if relationships in the family are strained. It’s natural for families to experience emotional “up’s and down’s” in the family life-cycle, especially during difficult periods such as a having new babies or having a teenage member of the family, which are natural ebbs and flows of the family rhythms. If you are struggling with any of these 10 factors, please consider finding a trusted therapist to help get your family back moving toward success.
Originally published on QuentinHafner.com.