Happy families

What does it take to raise a happy, well-adjusted family? Far from being flawless the answer lays in admitting our humanity says Dr. Asma Naheed

In the classic novel Anna Karenina, Tolstoy posited that ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ While I can’t say I completely agree with the former, it does beg the question of why are some families happier than others? What happens to give some parents and children have higher levels of wellbeing than others?

This is no small matter, after all family wellbeing is vital pillar to thriving societies. The decisions taken by parents and those in authority have a lasting impact on children, even as they grow into adults. Families who feel able to make informed decisions, manage their basic needs, and tackle pressing human and community issues are almost invariably better equipped to lead happy, healthy lives that those who do not. 

So, what does it take to raise a happy family? Research shows that children who class their childhood as ‘happy’ often say that their family was brought closer together by small rituals and family traditions. This is not about the once-in-a-lifetime holidays or events, but rather the joy and comfort found in the shared everyday – certain dishes on set days, special cakes for their birthdays, traditional field trips and annual events which all combine to provide a sense of belonging and security. Others note that having at least one meal a day together was the most important custom of all. Having dinner together regularly, despite busy schedules, allows families to talk and bond with one another.

Unsurprisingly a lot of family happiness rests on parenting styles. Psychologists have identified four categories: Authoritarian, where parents have strict rules, expect their child to be mature and compliant; Authoritative, where parents are assertive, not restrictive, supportive yet monitor behaviors closely and show clear standards; Permissive, where parents rarely discipline, are responsive and allow their child self-regulation and, sadly, Uninvolved, a style speaks for itself and has no place in positive parenting. 

Research consistently shows that an important factor in raising a happy well-rounded family is what is termed as ‘Positive Parenting’ – if parents can find their own balance between mind, body, spirit this leads to a more balanced way of thinking, feeling and intuiting what a child needs at each stage of development.  

A key part of a positive parenting environment is allowing the child to experience self-regulation. A cohesive family is one that unites, learns together and grows together yet allows each individual the opportunity to explore their own passions within the safe interdependent framework.  Healthy functioning parents serve their child’s wellbeing with unconditional love, personal space and mutual respect. These factors all stimulate the child’s psychological and biological growth. 

As parents our job is to support our children, catch them when they fall, dust them off and send them on their way again. The key is to instill good values, be a positive role model and practice mindful parenting.

While we are often led to believe that a happy family needs leaders and part-time superheroes – and of course on occasion it absolutely does – but mostly what a healthy family needs are parents who are willing to show their own flaws, emotions and struggles – parents who admit their mistakes. It is these underrated but beautiful attributes that make them human and give their child permission to do the same.

To steal a line from Graham White, ‘the most powerful way to change the world is to live in front of our children the way we would like the world to be.’

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